Mar 20, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Hornets point guard Greivis Vasquez (21) shoots against the Boston Celtics during the second quarter of a game at the New Orleans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Defending The Greivis Vasquez Trade

One of the bigger surprises of this season has been the excellent play of Greivis Vasquez, the Hornets point guard who spent his first NBA season in Memphis. He’s third in the NBA in assists, averaging 9.3 points per game, and is one of the more talented young point guards in the game. After seeing Vasquez breakout with the Hornets, it’s understandable that some Grizzlies fans wish the team had never pulled the trigger on this deal, especially when you consider how much Vasquez’s numbers dwarf that of Quincy Pondexter, who Memphis received in the trade. Upon closer examination, however, this deal was nowhere near as bad as it might initially look.

For one thing, if Vasquez stays in Memphis, we have no idea if this improvement even occurs to begin with. Mike Conley is firmly in place as the Grizzlies starting point guard, and Vasquez would have had a difficult time unseating him. His breakthrough last season came when Jarrett Jack – the Hornets starting point guard at the time – was out for a lengthy time, forcing Vasquez into the starting lineup. Conley misses games now and then, but not for particularly long periods. If Vasquez stays in Memphis, he would’ve continued to be a backup point guard, and probably not gotten the chance to show off his skills, or the additional experience that he got once he was brought into the starting five in New Orleans.

Secondly, let’s not underestimate the value of Pondexter. His numbers aren’t spectacular, and he may never become more than a bench player, but his value to the team is more significant than most people realize. He’s a solid three-point shooter on a team that is extremely lacking in that category. In the playoffs, when offense can be very hard to come by, this asset will come in quite handy for the Grizzlies. Admittedly, Pondexter has been off his game in this category the last few nights, but he’ll get his groove back soon enough, and we’ll be reminded of the value he brings to the team.

Finally, let’s not forget that for all of Vasquez’s offensive prowess, he’s not much of a defender. His defensive rating is a way-too-high 112, which hurts his value immensely. His win shares per 48 minutes is only .072, well below the league average of .100, and that’s almost entirely due to his weak defense. Admittedly, part of that comes from playing on a poor team, where it’s tough to hide a poor defender. If he had stayed with the Grizzlies, that may not have been as much of a problem. Still, for a team that thrives on shutting other teams down, Vasquez was an odd fit. Maybe his defense would have improved in the Grizzlies system, but the chances are equally good that he would have stood out as a weak link on an otherwise strong defensive unit.

Vasquez has turned into a solid player, but during his time in Memphis, he wasn’t exactly blowing people away. At the time, the trade felt perfectly reasonable. Now that he’s becme a quality point guard (in spite of his defense), it’s natural that there’s going to be some seller’s remorse from the Grizzlies side of things. But if Vasquez stays in Memphis, he probably never develops into the player we recognize now, and the Grizzlies never benefit from Pondexter’s solid three-point shooting. If we only look at the stats, this looks like a bad trade, but if we consider the circumstances, both teams made out well, and the Grizzlies hardly shot themselves in the foot by trading Vasquez. Yes, he blossomed into a starting point guard, but the Grizzlies already have one in Mike Conley, who is a much better defender. Maybe Vasquez thrives as the No. 2 point guard, but we’ll never know, and it’s not something Grizzlies fans should be losing too much sleep over.

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