By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
June 11, 2012
Hornets.com continues its look back at the 2011-12 season with player-by-player analysis of the team:
Late in the 2011-12 campaign, Hornets head coach Monty Williams often said that Jason Smith achieved the biggest in-season improvement of any New Orleans player. With that being said, Greivis Vasquez probably made the second-most strides of anyone on the Hornets’ roster.
After playing sporadic backup minutes as a Memphis Grizzlies rookie in 2010-11, Vasquez was traded to the Hornets on Christmas Eve, giving him precious little time to adjust to his new club prior to its Dec. 26 regular season opener at Phoenix. In a dramatic one-point New Orleans victory, Vasquez provided a positive omen for his second pro season by scoring 10 points in 27 minutes against the Suns, despite being introduced to his new teammates only a day earlier.
Vasquez came off the bench in his first 22 appearances of the season, before moving into the starting lineup at point guard due to a Jarrett Jack injury. The Hornets went 4-8 in February with Vasquez as a starter, which doesn’t sound all that impressive, until you consider that it doubled the team’s season victory total to eight.
The native of Venezuela returned to a backup role for most of March, but was back in the first unit for 14 of the team’s final 19 games. New Orleans enjoyed easily its best stretch of the 66-game season, going 8-6 in Vasquez starts. Add it up, and the Hornets went 12-14 in the 26 games Vasquez started, while going just 9-31 in their other 40 contests.
Vasquez improved his assist-to-turnover ratio to 2.4, dishing out 10-plus assists six different times, no small feat given that New Orleans was the NBA’s second-lowest scoring team (89.6 points per game). After logging 860 minutes as a Grizzlies rookie, Vasquez nearly doubled that figure as a Hornet, accumulating 1,706.
“This has been a great opportunity because I’m seeing things I didn’t see last year,” compared Vasquez. “I’m making progress. But I’ve still got so much room to get better. It has been a great situation, because I’m playing minutes. Obviously I’d rather win games, but in terms of seeing what I’m doing, and the progress that I’m making, I’m motivated because I see progress.”
“I’m sure when the season started and he was in Memphis playing behind (Grizzlies starter) Mike Conley, he didn’t forecast this,” Williams said. “I know he’s happy about his situation. You have to be ready when your opportunity presents itself.”
Overall, it appeared that the game slowed down for Vasquez, who played more under control and was more effective as a floor general. He also put his 6-foot-6 frame to greater use as the season progressed, often posting up against smaller point guards in the paint.
“Decision-making, I’m a lot better, more solid,” he said. “Not making those home-run plays. Other than that, defensively I’m doing a better job of keeping guys in front of me and using my size. It’s hard sometimes against a quicker guy. But on offense I can use my size to post up, maybe get him in foul trouble and get him out of the game. My size is my advantage.”
Here’s a trivia question: Who was the first opposing starting point guard to register a win against the Knicks’ Jeremy Lin? The answer is Vasquez. On Feb. 17 in New York City, at the height of “Linsanity,” the Hornets posted an 89-85 road victory over the Knicks. It ended New York’s headline-generating, seven-game winning streak. By producing 15 points and 11 assists, Vasquez outplayed Lin, who coughed up nine turnovers, the most by any Hornets opponent this season. The Hornets entered their longest road trip of the season with a 5-23 record, but went 3-3 on the six-game trek, showing markedly improved chemistry while defeating the Bucks, Knicks and Cavaliers.
Prior to the late January 2012 deadline, the Hornets picked up the option on Vasquez’s contract for 2012-13, ensuring that they would hold his rights for at least next season. The Hornets are looking forward to seeing how much more progress he can make in his third NBA campaign.
“I think he proved that he’s one of the better backups in the league and has a chance to be a starter someday,” Williams summarized, saying that Vasquez capitalized on his unexpectedly large role. “Greivis is a guy who we thought could play, but now we know he can play on a consistent basis. And I don’t think we would’ve been as confident as we are now had we not gone through a season like this (filled with injuries).”
Vasquez, who thrived under Williams’ guidance: “What I’m excited for is that I think I can play better. I know (Williams is) going to push me. He has been pushing me all year. It hasn’t been easy at all, and I like that. I like the way he coaches. I haven’t gotten anything easy in my life. I had to earn it. I think he’s going to get me ready to be the point guard I can be.
“I’m motivated. I can’t wait for training camp. I want to show Coach that I can be that point guard. I want him to count on me, whether I’m coming off the bench or starting. I don’t care. I want to win. I’m all about winning. What I like about him is he’s a player’s coach. He understands. He’s definitely going to try to help me in any way.”
|ADDITIONAL 2011-12 SEASON IN REVIEWS|
|JASON SMITH||JARRETT JACK||GUSTAVO AYON|
|MARCO BELINELLI||LANCE THOMAS||XAVIER HENRY|
|EMEKA OKAFOR||CHRIS KAMAN||ERIC GORDON|
|GREIVIS VASQUEZ||AL-FAROUQ AMINU||TREVOR ARIZA|
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