Breaking Down the Sacramento Kings' Point Guard Predicament
The 2013-14 NBA regular season will mark the beginning of a new era for the Sacramento Kings. Sacramento hired a new head coach, Mike Malone, parted ways with franchise player Tyreke Evans and welcomed in a star rookie in Ben McLemore.
Before Kings fans can get too excited, a question needs to be answered: What should Sacramento do about its point guard predicament?
Sacramento acquired point guard Greivis Vasquez and two second-round draft choices upon trading Evans to the New Orleans Pelicans. That low return value would certainly suggest that Sacramento has high hopes for Vasquez to become the team's franchise point guard.
Just don't jump the gun so quickly.
Currently on the roster is Isaiah Thomas, who has gone from the final pick in the 2011 NBA draft to one of the best up-and-coming point guards in basketball. He's a respected player in the locker room who, even during the Kings' past two seasons of disarray, has provided infectious energy and effort.
With two quality players who could both start and play high-quality minutes, coach Malone has a tough decision to make.
Making the Case: Greivis Vasquez
Greivis Vasquez is a fourth-year veteran out of the University of Maryland. He stands at 6'6" and 211 pounds, and with each passing season, he's learned to use his size to his advantage.
In 2012-13, Vasquez posted season season averages of 13.9 points, 9.0 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 3.2 turnovers in 34.4 minutes of action. He posted a slash line of .433/.342/.805 and converted 30.0 percent from three-point range after the All-Star break.
What is Greivis Vasquez's upside?
The pro here is that Vasquez ranked No. 3 in the NBA in assists, but the con is that he's a defensive liability.
That's what it comes down to for Sacramento, as it must take the good—elite facilitating—with the bad—lackluster jump shooting and below-average defense. Fortunately for Vasquez, the Kings are in dire need of that positive aspect.
Not only did Sacramento rank 25th in the NBA in assists per game in 2012-13, but it hasn't had a player average at least 8.0 assists per game since Reggie Theus in 1986-87, per Basketball-Reference.com. It's no coincidence that the Kings have nine postseason appearances in that 27-year span.
During their most recent period of success, Sacramento had a cast of stars including the likes of Chris Webber, Mike Bibby and Peja Stojakovic—something that it currently lacks. For that reason, the Kings are in dire need of a player who can facilitate the offense and help the young players shine.
Vasquez is the best player to serve that specific purpose.
Making the Case: Isaiah Thomas
Isaiah Thomas is entering his third year in the league after being selected No. 60 overall in the 2011 NBA draft. Standing at 5'9" and 185 pounds, Thomas lacks the ideal size to serve as a starting point guard, but his intangibles are off the charts.
Over the past two seasons, Thomas has been source of rare hope in Sacramento with his infectious and unbreakable two-way motor. In 2012-13, he turned that effort into a very strong season with averages of 13.9 points, 4.0 assists and 2.0 rebounds in 26.9 minutes for a Player Efficiency Rating of 17.58.
What is Isaiah Thomas' upside?
After the All-Star break, Thomas took his game to the next level by averaging 17.3 points, 5.4 assists, 2.5 rebounds and 1.0 steal on a slash line of .451/.413/.897 in 30.6 minutes.
That type of production is on par with some of the best point guards in the NBA and it displays just how rapidly Thomas is progressing. He raised his three-point field goal percentage by .098 points after the All-Star Break.
That type of dramatic improvement should carry over into the 2013-14 season as Thomas, 24, moves forward in his young career. Seeing as Thomas' greatest improvements came during games that he started, his ideal role is clear.
The issues for Thomas are clear, as he stands a full nine inches shorter than Vasquez and isn't the same caliber facilitator. For a Kings team that needs a point guard who can step in as a distributor and help pace the team to quality success, that puts the former Washington Huskies star at a disadvantage.
With that being established, Thomas' scoring prowess, three-point marksmanship and non-stop intensity is something that the starting lineup is in dire need of.
Thomas possesses the energy and leadership traits necessary to help guide the Kings to a bright future. Vasquez has the facilitating ability to lead Sacramento's offense to consistently strong scoring outputs, which is critical for a Sacramento team that ranked 19th in field-goal percentage in 2012-13.
Which player should be the starting point guard?
That may not be the most ideal answer, but Thomas' development into an all-around offensive force who can shoot, facilitate and create off of the bounce makes him the better bench option. Vazquez is a very good player, but his struggles as a scorer are undeniable.
Seeing as the purpose of a sixth man is to provide a scoring punch off of the bench, there isn't much of a reason to place Vasquez in that role when Thomas fits it so perfectly.
I, for one, would love to see Thomas used in a Stephen Curry role as the starting point guard, but Sacramento needs a quick fix at point guard to help DeMarcus Cousins and company find an offensive identity. That makes the standout distributor, Vasquez, the selection as the starter.
Thomas is the future for this team, but if Sacramento wants to help Cousins and Ben McLemore make strides towards becoming elite in 2013-14, the present should be the pass-first Vasquez.
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