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Extension Candidate: Greivis Vasquez

Marc Stein of last week tweeted a list of players whom GMs see as legitimate candidates for rookie-scale extensions, and perhaps the most surprising name on it is Greivis Vasquez. He was the runner-up in Most Improved Player of the Year balloting and finished third in assists per game in his first year as a full-time point guard last season, but there are many who don't view him as a budding star. Pelicans GM Dell Demps and the rest of the team's front office apparently don't, since they gave up Nerlens Noel and a 2014 first-rounder to replace Vasquez at the point with Jrue Holiday, then shipped the former Maryland Terrapin to the Kings as part of the Tyreke Evans sign-and-trade.

Holiday scored more often last season, but he did so on a greater number of shot attempts, and he and Vasquez had nearly an identical field goal percentage. Holiday had the edge on three-point percentage, while Vasquez averaged one more assist per game. The most significant difference between the two players is probably their contracts; Holiday is entering the first season of a four-year, $41MM extension, while Vasquez has one more year left on his rookie deal. The Kings point guard probably has less room for improvement, since he's about two and a half years older, but the fact that the Pelicans gave up so much in the swap with Philadelphia indicates that they strongly believe the former Sixer is the better value. In any case, it seems unlikely that Sacramento GM Pete D'Alessandro and agent Arn Tellem, who reps Vasquez, work out a deal that pays as much as Holiday's does.

The strongest argument against a lucrative investment in Vasquez is his defense. The Pelicans (then Hornets) were woeful at stopping other teams with him in the lineup last season, giving up 108.8 points per 100 possessions, a mark that would have been worse than every other team in the league except the Bobcats if the number were extrapolated. New Orleans checked in at 28th in that category anyway, but when Vasquez went to the bench, the team only gave up 104.5 points per 100 possessions, a mark better than nine teams.

Sandwiched between New Orleans and Charlotte in that category last year was Sacramento, so there won't be much surrounding Vasquez to make up for his defensive shortcomings. The Kings also added Luc Mbah a Moute this summer, but they're going to need a lot more than that to improve on defensive. Complicating matters is that Sacramento's other rookie-scale extension candidate, Demarcus Cousins, was an even worse sieve last season, as the Kings gave up 109.5 points per 100 possessions with him on the court. It's hard to envision Sacramento having much success with a pair of defensive liabilities tied to long-term deals for major money, so unless D'Alessandro and company envision a major improvement for one or both of them, the Kings probably won't hand out extensions to more than one of them.

Cousins would probably be the team's first choice based on physical talent alone, but if the Kings don't feel like he can overcome his mental lapses, Vasquez offers some intriguing offensive value. The native of Venezuela improved his shot selection this past season, ditching midrange attempts for shots at the rim and behind the three-point arc. He's gradually built himself into a competent three-point shooter, improving from 29.1% accuracy as a rookie to 34.2% last year. His assist percentage, an estimate of the share of his teammate's shots that he assisted upon, trailed only Chris Paul, per Basketball-Reference. Many of Vasquez's assists came courtesy of his 6'6" height, which allows him to make passes other point guards can't, as Grantland's Zach Lowe pointed out this summer.

The Kings have had a revolving door at point guard the past few seasons, and ostensibly Vasquez brings some stability to the position. Isaiah Thomas is entering a walk year, and Jimmer Fredette keeping popping up in trade rumors. Still, D'Alessandro may want to see what he has in those two guys before he locks himself into Vasquez for years to come. Point guard might be a relatively weak position in the upcoming draft class, with only four point men listed among Jonathan Givony's top 25 prospects at DraftExpress (and that includes Dante Exum, who might not be part of the field), but the NBA is crowded with talented one-guards these days. 

Vasquez may be willing to capitalize on his success last year and take a steep discount, perhaps opening himself up to an extension worth less than $8MM a year, which was the cheapest average annual value among the extensions signed last offseason. Even so, the Kings are probably better off taking a pass, and seeing whether their new point guard can help them creep up from the dregs of the Western Conference, or if Thomas or Fredette can have third-year breakthroughs similar to the one Vasquez had in 2012/13. 

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