Achieving Some Balance with Vasquez

Published: January 1, 2013

Greivis Vasquez has been the source of a good deal of discussion lately in posts, in comments, and in the podcasts.

There are at least two `sides’ here. There is a camp that maintains that Greivis is not starting material on most NBA teams. Another camp contends that he is actually superior to this.

These conversations lead to others like . . . do the Hornets need to upgrade . . . if so, when . . . will the return of Eric Gordon make him expendable or more valuable to the Hornets. . . should the Hornets trade him while his value is high for a player with different skills . . .

I’m pretty sure there’s a camp that just wants those conversations to just stop, or at least change.

After sitting back and watching this for weeks, I’m tossing up an article with how I see the situation, as the Western Conference Player of the Week Award as brought some new weight to the conversation. This is the first time the award has gone to a player for the New Orleans Hornets since Chris Paul won it for the week of November 1, 2010 – November 7, 2010, and indication of Vasquez’s output relative to what has been produced over the past two years.

We will look at what Greivis Vasquez is and is not good at, how he compares to other NBA players getting a large number of minutes, and if he fits on the New Orleans Hornets significantly better than he would on many NBA teams.

The following data was gathered from Basketball Reference, pulled on 2013.01.01 before the games of the day were integrated into the statistics.

We start with aggregate statistics that are not dependent upon minutes played per game.

  • Of the 91 players averaging at least 30 minutes per game, 3 players have the worst DRtg (expected number of points allowed per 100 possessions) in the group, which is 112: Greivis Vasquez, Mo Williams, Kemba Walker.
  • Of the 91 players averaging at least 30 minutes per game, 19 players have an ORtg (expected number of points scored per 100 possessions) equal to or worse than Greivis’ 101.
  • Of the 3 players with the high DRtg above, Greivis has the worst ORtg. Of the 19 players with the low ORtg, Greivis has the worst DRtg.
  • Of the 91 players averaging at least 30 minutes per game, 5 players have an ORtg-DRtg difference of -11 or lower: Greivis Vasquez (-11), Alonzo Gee (-11), Dion Waiters (-15), Byron Mullens (-16), and Andrea Bargnani (-16).
  • Of the 91 players averaging at least 30 minutes per game, 5 players have a WS/48 difference of 0.039 or lower: Greivis Vasquez (0.039), Alonzo Gee (0.031), Byron Mullens (0.012), Dion Waiters (0.004), and Andrea Bargnani (0.004). Clearly, these are the same players as the net rating detected and in nearly the same order.
  • Among these, Vasquez’s 34 minutes per game is the most among these five players. Going up the list, the player with the lowest net rating getting more minutes than Greivis is Ty Lawson (-7 at 35 minutes per game, WS/48 of 0.062).

The above statistics paint Greivis as a lower-level starter at best, or a lower-level player getting starter minutes if you wish.

30m is a nice line in the sand, as Vasquez’s minutes land him 46th among those 91 players . . . so 45 players get more, 45 get less. This also means that Vasquez gets the 46th most minutes per game in the NBA. Of these 91 players, only 2 have played less than 500 minutes: Steve Nash and Baton Rouge’s own Garrett Temple. Only Steve Nash ends up in the comparisons directly (below). Feel free to change 91 to 89 or 90, etc. in article if that seems right . . . the conclusions are not sensitive to this.

This is not the whole story, however. The whole of the offense and defense do not fall on his shoulders no matter how much floor general talk there is. Vasquez is on the floor to do specific jobs, not just generally help out.

  • Of the 91 players averaging at least 30 minutes per game, 17 players (none of which are Lillard) have an AST%/TO% ratio exceeding 2. Only 10 players have a ratio higher than Greivis’ 2.228: George Hill (2.261), Jrue Holiday (2.353), Deron Williams (2.423), Kyle Lowry (2.437), Raymond Felton (2.628), Kemba Walker (2.746), LeBron “I’m not a point guard” James (2.966), Russell Westbrook (3.088), Tony Parker (3.313), and Chris Paul (3.383).
  • In this list, however, only Kemba Walker, Jrue Holiday, and Raymond Felton have a WS/48 below 0.1 (considered to be the production of an average player in a regulation game). Greivis’ is the lowest in the list until Waiters shows up at 27th.

So, Vasquez is very good at distributing the ball relative to his turnovers. His large assist rate is pointed to by his supporters, while his large turnover rate is pointed to by his detractors. Both are high because he passes more than most guards. Criticisms can be made of who he distributes to, but his overall passing game is effective. This very good skill, in the second tier in the NBA, on a great value contract is nothing to take lightly. However, his tremendous ability here in light of the low level of play among these high-minute players actually makes the rest of his game look that much worse.

  • Of the 91 players averaging at least 30 minutes per game, 15 players have a TS% under 0.500. Greivis Vasquez has the highest TS% among these 15 players at 0.499. The other guards on the list are Dion Waiters, Raymond Felton, Ty Lawson, Monta Ellis, Alonzo Gee, and Brandon Jennings.
  • Of the 91 players averaging at least 30 minutes per game, 17 players have a STL% of 1.1 or less. Greivis Vasquez is one of these players with a STL% of 1.1. The other guards (at least sort of) are Joe Johnson, Brandon Knight, Aaron Afflalo, J.J. Redick, and Steve Nash.

These are clear weaknesses that feed into the low summary numbers above and to the evaluation of Vasquez as a low-level starter or good backup.

Clearly, Vasquez is capable of very good games and very good stretches of games, as the Western Conference Player of the Week award indicates, and he is skilled at the primary job he has been tasked with, which is distributing the ball, which he does effectively and at a high volume. He’s also clearly passionate, a hard worker, and is focused on doing well in New Orleans.

Also clearly, Vasquez has meaningful holes in his game, being nearly one-dimensional in overall play. It’s unrealistic to expect every player to be at least average in all categories . . . this is actually pretty rare . . . but it is realistic to expect a basketball player getting a large number of minutes to have a few aspects of their game that are above average.

Hopefully the return of Eric Gordon and ongoing coaching by Monty can help Vasquez be placed in situations where he is most likely to succeed until that game develops.

Some quotes from Monty today:

“It is (a nice honor) for the organization and Greivis. I’m sure they threw a parade for Greivis somewhere in Venezuela – he’s such a hero down there. We’re proud of him. He’s worked his butt off. I’m harder on him than I am on anyone else on the team – it’s not even close. To see this kind of recognition is good for the team and good for our young guys, to see that we’ve been through a tough time, but the league recognizes that he’s playing well.”

“I’m tough on him because I think everybody wants to be coached. Guys don’t like to be embarrassed, but they still want to be coached. I don’t want anyone to leave our program and feel like they didn’t get better. I’m tough on everybody. If you really want to be good, (a player perceives it as) coaching. If you’re shallow, it’s criticism. It depends on who you are.”

“He’s got to keep his turnovers down and defend the pick-and-roll. That’s his biggest, if he has any negatives – and we all do – that’s a big one for him. Keep his turnovers down, and knowing when to make the home-run play. He’s a young guy who is still learning, but he’s getting better every day.”

So, Monty echoes the facts above, giving Greivis a vote of confidence while indicating areas of need.

Finally, if he’s such bad overall player, then why is he playing?

  • Of the 355 players averaging at least 10 minutes per game, 20 have a DRtg of 112 or less, the lowest being 114. 5 of these players are on the Hornets’ squad: Greivis Vasquez (112), Roger Mason (112), Lance Thomas (112), Austin Rivers (113), and Brian Roberts (113).
  • Xavier Henry and Ryan Anderson each have a DRtg of 111, for reference.

See all the Hornets guards? Part of the reason Vasquez is a clear starter on this team is the fact that there are not two guards on this team that offer significant upgrades on defense (a known key for Monty), and Greivis, as noted, is the best distributor among them.

This just reinforces that it’s this situation that is allowing Greivis to thrive.

I think every Hornets fan is happy that Greivis is playing as well as he is and is working hard to get even better, but to say that he will thrive on half the teams in the NBA is unsupported.

The good thing for us and him is that we only need to worry about him starting on this team, even in terms of trade partners since Vasquez has such a small contract ($1.19m this season, $2.15m next season, with a qualifying offer of $3.2m to make him a restricted free agent in the following offseason).

Everyone knows the back court is going to be overhauled, and Greivis is on the inside track to get the job if he can make the adjustments necessary to be the Hornets starter when those improved alternatives are available. Monty is there telling him exactly what he needs to do, after all.

((If you feel that another analysis should be added to this, indicate it clearly in the comments, and I may do the analysis if it seems like a good idea and I have time. The point of this to have a complete look, which I tried to do; if it fell short, I’d like correct that.))


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