Veteran Greivis Vasquez and rookie Austin Rivers will engage in a heated battle for the New Orleans Hornets starting point guard job. Both men bring a unique set of skills that helps make their case for why they should be in charge of the Hornets' offense.
Vasquez will open camp as the incumbent starter. He played in all 66 games last season, making 25 starts. He averaged 8.9 points and 5.4 assists a game in his first season with the Hornets, which was also his second season as a pro. Vasquez is a big point guard at 6'6", and his size is a huge advantage at a position dominated by smaller men.
Rivers, meanwhile, was the No. 10 overall pick in this past June's NBA draft. He was a shooting guard in his only season at Duke, but the Hornets are confident they can reform him into a viable point guard. Rivers was a dynamic scorer for the Blue Devils and has a great NBA pedigree as the son of former pro/current Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers.
What you are about to see is a series of videos showcasing what both men are capable of. These highlights will help get a better understanding of both players as well as break down why either man is right for the job. In the conclusion, I will offer up who I believe should be the Hornets' starting point guard.
Leading off will be former Maryland Terrapin star Greivis Vasquez. In this highlight reel from New Orleans' December clash with the Phoenix Suns, you get a mix of everything in Vasquez's bag of tricks.
First, there's the range on his jumper. Vasquez isn't a great shooter, but he shows the ability to drain shots from behind the arc from time-to-time. Consistency on his jumper will definitely help him stay in the starting lineup.
Next, take a look at how Vasquez maneuvers around the pick. In the first play, he calls his own number and nails the three at the top of the key. The next play, he fights out of the double-team and hits Jason Smith for the mid-range jumper. You'll also see, throughout the reel, Vasquez's rebounding skills. With his height advantage, Vasquez can be a factor on the boards.
The next video is from Vasquez's best game of the season, which is once again against the Suns. Vasquez scored 20 points and dished 12 assists in this game. Early on, you see how Vasquez uses his big body on the smaller defender and bullies his way through.
Often in this video, Vasquez posts up at the perimeter and then either drives to the hoop or kicks out to a teammate. In either instance, he is looking to get someone involved.
The video mainly showcases Vasquez's passing, which gives him another edge over the more score-first Rivers. You also see how Vasquez has the instinct to play the passing lanes as well as penetrate and take it to the hoop. He shows a great balance between knowing when to take the shot and when to dish the rock. That kind of mentality will come in handy with so many floating pieces in this Hornets offense.
Now, let's take a look at what Austin Rivers can do.
In this video of his 29-point performance against rival North Carolina, you see much of Rivers' offensive game on display. Unlike Vasquez, Rivers looks to call his own number on offense first. He falls in love with his long-range jumper, at times, and he is an excellent shooter. He also is fearless when taking the ball inside and has the body control to make some tough shots even with defenders in his face.
The play that will stand out the most comes in the closing seconds of the game. Down by two with just under 10 seconds to go, Rivers hits the buzzer-beating three to win the game. The common theme you'll notice is, even when he brings the ball up court, Rivers is looking to let off a quick shot from deep first. He doesn't have the same mentality to try to get others involved that Vasquez has.
The next video is from Rivers' summer league debut against the Portland Trail Blazers. Rivers notched 14 points and two assists. He turned the ball over four times. Just like in the game against UNC, you see Rivers' scoring acumen. This time, Rivers shows a little bit more of his passing ability. It's obviously a work in progress, but you see signs of him trying to get others involved.
Rivers would have a better passing game in his second and final summer league outing against Milwaukee. He dished out five assists and only turned the ball over twice. He scored just six points as he injured his elbow in the first half. The numbers don't really jump out at you, but, if there's a sign of hope in terms of Rivers' point guard transition, the Bucks game is it.
So, who should be given the keys to the Hornets offense?
If it was up to me, it would be Vasquez. He's a better passer and has more experience at the position. A team as young as the Hornets needs a steady hand running things. Their best player played all of nine games for them last season, and their potential franchise big man is a rookie whose not even old enough to drink yet.
I've said in the past that I think the best move is to keep Rivers at his natural position and have him provide offense off the bench. As anxious as the Hornets may be to see if Rivers can be their point guard of the future, they should at least kick the tires on Vasquez running the show. His height provides a huge mismatch for defenders, and he's shown flashes of being a solid point guard.
The time will eventually come for Rivers to shine as the starting point guard for the Hornets. That time isn't now. The best thing for him and the Hornets to do is have him spend the next couple of years backing up Vasquez and learning the position. There's no need to rush the development of one of your building blocks on a team that won't contend for awhile.
Both Rivers and Vasquez bring intriguing elements to the table. It's a good problem to have if you're the Hornets. However, Vasquez earned his stripes last season and deserves the first crack at being the starting point guard. Rivers has the rest of his career to try to budge Vasquez from that spot.