Coming into the season, one of the biggest storylines for the Sacramento Kings was how they would handle the point guard position. After the first handful of games, it's clear the team's point guards are headed in the right direction.
The Kings have received solid production from the tandem of Greivis Vasquez and Isaiah Thomas. Vasquez is the newcomer, with the team acquiring him via an offseason trade. Thomas was the incumbent and Sacramento's starting point guard for the majority of the past two seasons.
Between the two of them, Sacramento has two floor generals who could start on many teams. The fact that one of them has to come off the bench might create tension for more selfish players. But both Thomas and Vasquez have done well in their respective roles, and the two have also been successful when on the court together.
Through this early juncture, there's not much more the Kings could ask of the point guard position. That's saying a lot considering the duo has only played a total of 10 regular-season games together.
Greivis Vasquez Is the Right Man to Run the Offense
When the Kings acquired Vasquez from the New Orleans Pelicans as part of the sign-and-trade involving Tyreke Evans, the team knew it was getting the type of facilitator it'd been lacking. After all, Vasquez led the NBA in total assists in 2012-13, was third in assists per game and second in assist percentage.
Now in a new setting, it's been a work in progress for Vasquez through the early part of the schedule. He's certainly had his moments, like the 17-point, 12-assists performance against the Brooklyn Nets, but he's not yet fully acclimated to his new surroundings, as he acknowledged last week.
"I just feel like I’ve still got to pick my spots," Vasquez said. "It’s a different culture, it’s a different team, so I’ve got to adjust myself. That’s my homework. That’s on me. I’ve got to do better at that."
Vasquez's adjustment period was to be expected. On top of having to familiarize himself with his new team, the point guard was also recovering from offseason ankle surgery. To expect a seamless transition was unrealistic.
In the big picture, despite the spirited play of Isaiah Thomas, which we'll get to in a little bit, Vasquez is still the right man to lead the Kings offense.
It's fair to note that his assists are down compared to last season, yet Vasquez is still finding open players in assist opportunities. In fact, he's creating 11.7 assist opportunities per game, according to NBA.com/stats. So part of the problem is that the Kings are missing open shots, and you can't get an assist if your teammate's shot doesn't go in.
Beyond that, he's also protecting the ball. Vasquez is only averaging 2.6 turnovers per 36 minutes, which is a career low. That's certainly a contributing factor in the Kings committing the least amount of turnovers per game, according to TeamRankings.com. To provide some perspective, last season Sacramento was 16th in turnovers per game.
However, the biggest reason Vasquez is the right man to lead the offense is because of his track record. While he's admittedly not in his groove, when he gets there Vasquez is a better floor general than anyone else currently on the team.
The 9.0 assists he averaged last season indicate Vasquez's prowess running the point. That ability doesn't just go away overnight, especially when you're only 26 years old, as Vasquez is.
Give him some time for his ankle to get back to 100 percent and his comfort level to rise with his new team. At that point he'll start turning in games like the one against Brooklyn with much more frequency.
Isaiah Thomas Is the Perfect Sixth Man
It's probably not what Isaiah Thomas wants to hear, but he's the ideal sixth man for the Kings. In fact, we know it's not what he wants to hear because he's said so himself, per Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee.
"I would like to start but I’m a player that’s just going to do whatever is asked by the coach and try to do it to the best of my ability. I view myself as a starter but at the same time I view myself as a team player and I want to do what’s best for the team and whatever I can to help the team."
As Thomas says, he wants to do what's best for the team. At this time, the best thing is for him to come off the bench as the team's sixth man. In that role, the 24-year-old is providing a huge spark for the Kings.
Thomas is averaging 17.8 points and 4.9 assists in 28.2 minutes of action. He's also been incredibly consistent, scoring in double figures in each of the team's games.
With him coming off the bench, Sacramento has its second-best scoring threat ready to provide a spark. The team also has a player who can come in and immediately change the demeanor of a game. That's part of the reason coach Mike Malone still has him coming off the bench.
"He’s definitely qualified enough to be a starter," Malone said. "He had a tremendous preseason for us. But for right now, I still like him coming off the bench, being a guy that can change the speed of the game, the complexion of the game. He’s going to close most games for us anyway. So if he’s not starting, he’s closing a lot of games and he’s very important for us."
As Malone points out, just because Thomas isn't starting games, doesn't mean he's not finishing them. The point guard is currently averaging 10.8 minutes during the fourth quarter. According to NBA.com/stats, that's the most for any player who has played more than three games this season.
It's not a coincidence either. Thomas is playing in the fourth quarter because he's productive in the fourth quarter. He's averaging 8.1 points during the period, which is fourth among players who have played at least seven games, per NBA.com/stats.
So in this case, what Thomas provides finishing games is more important than him starting them. Besides, just because Vasquez is the starter and Thomas is the backup, doesn't mean the two aren't capable of playing together. In fact, it's something the Kings have dabbled with throughout the season.
Thomas and Vasquez Compliment Each Other When on the Court Together
You can't have the best of both worlds.
Well, sometimes you can. That's what the Kings have tried to do in playing Vasquez and Thomas on the court together.
So far the duo has shared the court for 70 minutes, according to nbawowy.com. With them on the court together the Kings are averaging 1.062 points per possession. The opponent, on the other hand, is averaging 0.992 points per possession. So overall the Kings have had an advantage over their counterparts when Thomas and Vasquez share the floor.
Thomas, in particular, is one of the main beneficiaries when they play together. His field-goal percentage is 59.3 percent and he's averaging 1.32 points per possession.
Part of their success together can be attributed to the versatility both provide. They're both capable with the ball in their hands, which can force the opposition into a tough situation.
"I like playing Isaiah [Thomas] and Greivis [Vasquez] at times together because now you have two capable ball-handlers and playmakers," Malone said. "I think that puts a lot of pressure on the other team."
Vasquez echoed Malone's sentiments in what the two can provide on offense when on the court together.
"I think we can finish games together," he said. "Sometimes he can handle it. Sometimes I can handle it. Like I said, it’s not a competition about who’s going to start, who’s going to play the most minutes, it’s about winning."
Yet Vasquez also pointed out that despite their difference in size (Vasquez is 6'6"; Thomas is 5'9"), they can be effective on the defensive end. This is mainly because of Vasquez's above-average size for a point guard.
"With him, playing with him, it’s to my advantage because it’s uptempo," Vasquez said. "I can guard the 2. We can switch defensively too."
There are limitations to how much the two of them can play together, but it's not because they're not compatible. It's because playing them together either means both Marcus Thornton and Ben McLemore are on the bench, or the Kings are rolling with a three-guard lineup. Neither scenario is ideal for extended periods of time, which is why they've only shared the court for 70 minutes through 10 games.
As the season goes forward, much could change in way of the team's rotation. We've already seen a shakeup to the starters during this early portion of the season. However, one thing that shouldn't change is the alignment at point guard.
Vasquez should continue to round into shape as the starter. Thomas should remain a stalwart off the bench.
That's the best way to handle the dynamics between this duo.
Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
All stats are accurate through games played on Nov. 19 and come courtesy of Basketball-Reference, unless noted otherwise.
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