Ceiling #1: Fringe Pro
Greivis Vasquez was supposed to be done, more or less, after college; he was a system player that lacked athleticism and a shot. DraftExpress ranked him the 7th best point guard of a weak point guard class (lodged between Armon Johnson and Sherron Collins in 2010), but more importantly, it wasn't particularly clear that he had a real position in the first place.
28th picks don't stick around too long in general.
Vasquez landed on a Memphis team with established starting options in the backcourt and a number of players sharing the remaining wing minutes, including O.J. Mayo, Xavier Henry, Sam Young, Acie Law, and Ish Smith.
When Jason Williams flamed out, Vasquez had his opportunity, and he became a preferred backup. His rookie stats weren't spectacular, but he hovered right around the league average assist percentage for backup point guards (25%) and he upped his game tremendously in Memphis' two playoff series, going from a 9.4 PER and -10 offensive efficiency differential during the season to an 18.8 PER and +10 offensive efficiency differential in the 13 game playoff sample.
And so by the end of the 2011 season, there were clear signs Vasquez might be the rare late 20s pick that stuck around. The Hornets, of course, had a similar player of their own in the 26th pick, Quincy Pondexter, and the eventual Vasquez-Pondexter swap filled positional needs for both teams.
Ceiling 2: Backup Point Guard
My notes on the trade when it happened:
Vasquez comes to New Orleans with very similar issues; in many ways, he's the point guard version of Pondexter.
Positionally, the deal makes a lot of sense of course. The Hornets are currently starting a fringe starter/backup at the point, and backing him up with a third or fourth string option from the DLeague. Vasquez will at least be able to run the offense adequately off the bench.
That, in a nutshell, was what I envisioned Vasquez could become -- an average backup that could keep things moving while Jarrett Jack sat. The statistical profile -- the backup average assists and so forth -- indicated it'd be a role Vasquez could possibly grow into.
Instead, Vasquez posted tremendous improvement across the board, in many areas I didn't envision at all, and rather than spell Jack exclusively, Vasquez played alongside him with frequency and effectiveness.
The -10 offensive efficiency differential of 2011 ramped up to -4. The average 25% assist percentage jumped 10 whole points to 35%. The nonexistent three point shot creeped up towards league average (32%).
Suddenly, Vasquez had become a good backup. I wrote many, many times last season that despite 2011-2012 being a lost season in every sense of the term, the Hornets were slowly, surely cultivating the bench of their next contender. To me, that was essentially three pieces -- the excellent Gus Ayon, the already solid Jason Smith, and the unexpectedly impressive Greivis Vasquez.
The fringe pro was now a solid second option, perhaps even for a future contender. Of course, I was convinced that was where it'd stop.
Ceiling #3: Bad Starter
I disliked the Jarrett Jack trade because (a) I wanted something in return, and (b) I really wanted a "starter quality" point guard to kick off the Anthony Davis era.
To quote myself again, this time from September:
Vasquez' fast rise from late first round pick to strong playoff contributor in 2011 to NBA starter in 2013 likely stalls here. We'll see relatively quickly that he's a very competent backup point guard but not a top end starting one.
This time, I was sure I was right. Vasquez would be 26 in the middle of the season, and I'm of the belief that most significant player growth -- especially in the realm of stars and starters -- occurs by age 24 or 25.
Here we are though, in January of 2013, faced with the very real possibility that Greivis Vasquez is a "top end" starting point guard. I'll define "top end" here as one of the 15 best point guards in the league.
Point guard is, of course, the most difficult position on the floor to quantify. So many all-encompassing statistics leave the assist out altogether since it's virtually impossible to quantify its value. Moreover, how does one reconcile the combo lead guard with the pure passing lead guard with the all around lead guard? Each shows an entirely different statistical signature, one that may miss overall value altogether based on system need and so forth.
Vasquez's case for the upper half is relatively clear, and it starts and ends with his assist game.
Vasquez ranks 3rd in the league in assists per game (9.1 to Chris Paul's 9.3 while playing on a much slower team than Paul's Clippers) and 2nd in assist percentage. He's done it with decidedly few legitimate offensive options so far, with Ryan Anderson his only consistent, good offensive teammate.
His assist percentage has risen from 25% as a rookie to 35% as a sophomore to 47% in his third year.
Vasquez is also the league's best defensive rebounding point guard, knocking Rajon Rondo off his perennial perch and greatly boosting a team that, at times, has desperately needed the help on the glass. Monty Williams' system prevents him from having a proportional impact on the offensive glass, but he ranks among the league's top-3 point guards in total rebounding percentage nonetheless.
As far as scoring goes, Vasquez is certainly not elite. His offensive efficiency differential has risen to -2 this year, from -4 last year and -10 as a rookie, but it's still a negative number. But his high usage really has to be factored in here; Vasquez ranks in the top-10 among starting point guards in usage rate, right below Deron Williams and right ahead of Chris Paul. He uses a lot of possessions at very close to a league average clip, and for a team that's struggled tremendously to generate even average looks, that's a boost.
It's also important to include Vasquez' newfound ability to space the floor as an aspect of his scoring. He's hit 39% (!!) of his threes this season, 4th (!!) among point guards. I don't know if it'll last (it's a 100+ three sample so far), but the work he's very clearly put into his shooting game since entering the league is remarkable.
Turnovers are Vasquez's biggest weakness offensively, and he ranks at the bottom. Among starters, only Jeremy Lin and Rajon Rondo have posted worse turnover percentages in 2012-2013.
So overall, we're looking at a top-3 passer, top-3 rebounder, close to average scorer, and close to last turnover player; that seems to merit consideration for a top-15 spot at worst.
We can take offensive win shares to be a reasonable alternate estimate of offensive ability here too, since it factors in both efficiency, turnovers, and usage; Vasquez ranks 15th among starting point guards, in a virtual tie with one of the big-name free agent point guards of the upcoming summer, Brandon Jennings.
(It should be noted that I've largely ignored defense, an area of the game Vasquez has been truly terrible at. His footspeed isn't nearly enough to stay with opposing point guards and he's been caught out of position on perimeter rotations about as often as any other Hornet.
But two things mitigate this to an extent. Point guard's the one position where a team can get away with playing a poor defender because point guard defense matters less than defense at any other spot. Look through Jeremias Engelmann's 5+ year regularized adjusted defensive +/- numbers, and you'll notice a startling lack of perimeter players (and especially so for point guards) at the top. In the modern game, it's terribly difficult for a point guard to make a significant impact on defense without the legal perimeter contact that players like Gary Payton had access to.
The flip side is true as well; point guard defense can be covered for in the modern game more easily than poor defense anywhere else. The problem lays in the fact that Vasquez has had absolutely nobody to cover for him, either alongside on the perimeter or behind in the post. That changes a bit with the return of Eric Gordon, who's noticeably improved the perimeter D already.
Second, defensive rebounding is a huge, underrated component of overall defense, and as mentioned earlier, Vasquez is doing that better than any other point guard in the league right now).
* * * * * * * * * *
And so here we are. Fringe pro to legitimate, NBA-caliber starting point guard.
It stops here because it must stop here. Unless, of course, it doesn't.