The annual discussions for league MVP and Sixth Man of the Year are the most followed, however, the Most Improved Player award should be just as notable. While the flashiest and most highlight-producing players often receive the majority of the consideration, underdogs like Greivis Vasquez deserve more attention.
After the trade of Chris Paul, the future of the New Orleans Hornets seemed assured by the draft. Taking Anthony Davis first overall was thoroughly predicted, and the Hornets acquired a big man with much potential. Selecting guard Austin Rivers at 10th was the Hornets' next move, and while Rivers' play has been underwhelming to say the least, Vasquez has been a bright spot.
The third-year point guard is averaging 14 points and 9.4 assists per game this season, along with 4.6 rebounds. Vasquez is currently tied with Rajon Rondo for most double-doubles by a point guard at 20, a number he will surely elevate by the season's end. His 6'6" frame gives Vasquez a distinct advantage over the smaller players at the 1, making his job all that much easier.
The Hornets thoroughly rely on Vasquez's play to ensure victory, which has come in short succession with a dismal 18-34 record. New Orleans currently possesses the league's sixth-worst record, however, a distinction in the guard's production in wins and losses is evident.
In defeats, Vasquez averages 12.6 points and 9.3 assists, with shooting percentages of 41.5 and 30.2 from the field and from three-point range, respectively. Conversely, he is able to lift his production to 16.6 points, 9.7 assists, a 47.2 field goal percentage and a blistering 44.6 clip from beyond the arc in wins.
While he makes a case for the Hornets' personal MVP, Vasquez has improved his play enough to merit what should be a huge consideration for Most Improved Player. Vasquez's numbers has a starter from last season will be used, as it gives a better sample size in terms of comparison.
He put up 12 points, 2.9 rebounds and seven assists as the primary point guard, with 44.9 percent shooting. Vasquez's numbers from this season aren't all that different, but it is his impact on the team that is the main argument.
With him on the court last season, New Orleans shot 46.2 percent as opposed to 43.8 percent when he went to the bench. The team also scored 91.7 points in contrast to 86.1 points per 48 minutes in the same context of Vasquez's presence.
This year, however, the level of separation is much more prominent. The Hornets score 96.3 points on 47 percent shooting per 48 minutes with their starting point guard, which drops to 85.8 on 41 percent without him.
As aforementioned, Vasquez has 20 double-doubles in 52 games for the Hornets thus far. He also registered his first career triple-double against the Atlanta Hawks on Feb. 8, with 21 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists.
Last year, Vasquez secured just six double-doubles in 66 games. His role with the team may have been lessened, yet it remains a solid point of understanding his improvement.
While New Orleans hasn't been the most successful team this season, much of the credit is due to Vasquez's play when they are. He has improved his overall play, which is evidently due to development rather than increased playing time.
There is a plethora of candidates for this season's Most Improved Player award, but Vasquez deserves to be at the top of the list.
All statistics sourced from NBA.com/stats