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Greivis Vasquez and the need for stability

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Greivis Vasquez may have his faults, but he's the imperfect point guard the Sacramento Kings need.


As a 23-year old drafted with the 28th pick in 2010, the odds were against Greivis Vasquez. Late-first round picks don't have a great track record in the NBA, as they often go to playoff contenders who can't offer them much playing time. Vasquez, one of only five seniors taken in the first round, didn't have the luxury of waiting, either. If he couldn't play right away, he didn't have the upside to be a developmental project.

He had two unremarkable seasons as a reserve in Memphis and New Orleans before being thrust into a huge role last year, almost by default. And while he made the most of his opportunity, finishing second in the Most Improved Player voting, he was never part of the Hornets' long-term plan. After being dealt to Sacramento in the off-season, Vasquez is on his third NBA team in four seasons. If the Kings don't extend him next summer, he looks headed for an itinerant career bouncing from city to city.

But the good news for Vasquez is that Sacramento doesn't need a miracle worker at point. They just need some stability at the position, someone who can run the offense, control the tempo of the game and get the ball to DeMarcus Cousins. Under the previous administration, the Kings seemed to acquire players haphazardly, drafting the biggest name on the board -- Tyreke Evans, Cousins, Jimmer Fredette, Thomas Robinson -- without any regard to how they fit together. Acquiring Vasquez was new owner Vivek Ranadive's way of beginning to rectify that problem.

At 6'6 and 210 pounds, Vasquez is a unique point guard, simultaneously one of the biggest and slowest players at his position in the NBA. A second-team All-American as a senior, he struggled with the transition to a smaller role at the next level. While his size allows him to play both backcourt positions, he only shot 29 percent from three as a rookie, making him a liability without the ball in his hands.

Last year, the key for Vasquez was his improved shooting form as he shot 34 percent from three. He may never be an elite shooter, but just the threat of the three-point shot opens up the rest of his game since opposing guards can't go under on the pick-and-roll.

His size allows him to see over double teams, making it almost pointless to trap him. Vasquez is a gifted playmaker who can make every pass in the book; not only did he lead the league in assists last season, most went to players at the rim (3.9/game) or the three-point line (2.2/game).

When he's at his best, he's making plays for others and scoring only when needed. Without an elite first step, he can be exposed if asked to create too much 1-on-1 offense. He shot only 38 percent from 16-23 feet last season, according to HoopData. This is the area of the floor guards often end up at when they're trying to make something happen at the end of the shot clock. Vasquez doesn't have much margin for error and he's not a guy who should be forcing the issue on offense.

He's imperfect, but his specific imperfections make him a good fit in Sacramento -- a team with a surplus of scorers and a shortage of playmakers. The Kings were in the bottom five in assists in each of the last two seasons. For the most part, it was every man for himself: Evans, Fredette, Marcus Thornton and Aaron Brooks are all score-first players, more comfortable looking for their own offense. Isaiah Thomas was Sacramento's only guard with an assist-to-turnover ratio better than 2:1.

But if your offense is designed around a back-to-the-basket scorer like Cousins, you want your best passer to be taller than 5'9. It's a matter of physics; the shorter a guard is, the more difficult it will be for him to see over the top of the defender and enter the ball into the post. Feeding the post is a lost art for NBA guards, who are more comfortable spreading the floor and playing uptempo as opposed to station-to-station basketball in the half court.

However, the faster the game, the less effective a traditional big man like Cousins becomes. He needs time to get down the floor and establish position on the low block; if there's too much traffic and confusion in the paint, there's no room for him to operate. When that happens, he has the tendency to float out to the perimeter, where he's dramatically less efficient. Last season, Cousins shot 64 percent at the rim, 40 percent from 3-9 feet and 32 percent from 10-plus feet, according to HoopData.

A guard who can shoot the ball and control the tempo of the game is a big man's best friend. On some teams, the most important thing a point guard can do is slow things down, walk the ball up the floor and get everyone into the offense. It's no coincidence that Indiana and Memphis, who employ Roy Hibbert and Marc Gasol, are two of the slowest teams in the NBA.

If Vasquez can improve the Kings half-court offense this season, he could offer some much needed long-term stability next to Cousins and rookie shooting guard Ben McLemore.

As for their defense? That's a 2015 problem.

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