The Sacramento Kings franchise always seems to have some sort of problem. This past offseason, their franchise was threatened with a relocation to Seattle and every week it seems as if DeMarcus Cousins starts some sort of trouble. However, right now, the Kings have a problem that might benefit the franchise. The point guard battle between 5-9 Isaiah Thomas and 6-6 Greivis Vasquez is an intriguing problem to have. From first glance, one would believe that Vasquez would easily beat out Thomas for a starting NBA point guard position. He’s 6-6 and can see things on the court that Thomas will never be able to see at 5-9. Just being 5-9 puts Thomas at a distinct disadvantage in any position battle. So, how is it that Isaiah Thomas is making a strong case for being the starting point guard of the Sacramento Kings? Let’s see…
Both Vasquez and Thomas play the point guard position, but that does not define them. Both players have a completely different mindset when it comes to being a floor general. Greivis Vasquez is your traditional point guard, comparable to an Andre Miller style of play. Thomas has recognized this notion and had the following to say about the differences between the two:
“We’re not close to the same player. I mean he’s a bigger guard, slow-paced guard kind of like Andre Miller. He makes good plays, makes the right play most of the time, and he’s a guy that even if you pressure him, he’s not going to go faster than he usually does, he’s just going to do what he’s good at, and that’s controlling the offensive end … Me, I’m up and down, I’m 100 miles per hour.”
Isaiah Thomas, on the other hand, is an aggressive point guard that is a natural scorer but also has a unique skill-set to get into the lane, draw multiple defenders and be able to dish the ball to an open man. Vasquez can create scoring opportunities just from his floor vision and smart decision making, but Thomas has the ability to create havoc and use the attention drawn to him to find open shots on the perimeter. Look at this clip from a game the other night against the Clippers:
On the first play in the clip, Thomas has a matchup against the NBA’s best point guard, Chris Paul. Thomas identifies this matchup and uses a pick-and-roll to get the much larger, but slower Blake Griffin on him. Then, we see Thomas use his distinct speed advantage and dribbling ability to get past Griffin, slide through the lane and finish a layup among the trees. An NBA team has five players on the court, so look back at this play and notice that when Thomas slides into the lane, he draws the attention of every single player. Every pair of eyes on the Clippers are focused on Thomas. Even though he decided to finish the contested layup, he had a wide open Ben McLemore in the corner for three. Just this one play shows the type of explosiveness that Thomas possesses, but also the opportunities he can create as a point guard.
The second play in the clip is where the separation from Vasquez and Thomas is undeniable. With a traditional point guard like Vasquez, after a defensive rebound/blocked shot, he might pull it up and try to create offense in the half-court. As we see in this play, Thomas has a different mindset. As soon as Thomas sees the block, he starts sprinting towards midcourt waiting for the ball. When Thomas gets the ball he spins right past Chris Paul, not phased by him at all, forces three defenders to collapse on him and delivers a no-look dime to Jason Thompson in stride. These two explosive plays from Thomas show his explosiveness as a point guard and the opportunities he can create that a traditional, slower point guard can’t create.
Although the NBA season is only a few weeks young, Isaiah Thomas has been flat-out balling. Four games into the season, Thomas is averaging 20.8 points and 4.8 assists while playing 29.7 minutes per game. The player he’s trying to take the starting job from? Nine points and 3.8 assists. While those numbers show that Thomas is outperforming Vasquez on the court, let’s dig deeper into analytics and find the good stuff.
Being a point guard is all about being a floor general, right? In 70 minutes on the court with Vasquez this season, the Kings are averaging .912 points per possession. In 89 minutes with Thomas on the court, the Kings are averaging 1.093 points per possession. Having Thomas on the court is getting the Kings more points per possession, which literally means that the Kings are scoring more with Thomas as compared to Vasquez. To bring this point home, with Thomas on the floor this season, the Kings have scored 188 points total and 125 with Vasquez.
Another duty of the floor general is finding quality shots for teammates. We’ve already broken down Thomas’ game and how he can use that to dish dimes to his teammates, but let’s look at the numbers. When Vasquez is manning the point for the Kings, they shoot 38.8 percent from the floor, compared to 42.1 percent when Thomas is on the floor. Both percentages are nothing to scream about, but Thomas is getting better shots for his guys, a key component of a point guard.
The new SportsVU section over at NBA.com/stats gives us an opportunity to dive even deeper into the analytics between these two. As a point guard, both players’ main focus is to create points for their team, especially by assists. Isaiah Thomas is creating 11.8 points per game off of assists, compared to 8.6 for Greivis Vasquez. Even though Vasquez is known as the “true” point guard out of the two, how true is this notion? The numbers show that this season, Thomas is averaging about 52.8 passes per game, slightly higher than Vasquez’s 52.5 passes per game. There isn’t much separation there, but the fact that the numbers are so close (with Isaiah in the lead) speaks volumes since Isaiah Thomas is known primarily as someone who is a scoring guard.
Looking at Isaiah Thomas’ shot chart (above) from this season so far — I understand it’s early — and he’s shooting above the league average from deep and inside the paint. His weakest area is the midrange game, but he’s still comparable to the league average in that category. Thomas is showing a nice shooting stroke from deep (especially the corner) and the ability to take high quality shots. It’s no secret that good basketball shots are taken in the lane or from deep. Long twos are the worst shot in basketball and make every basketball analytic person cringe. Thomas has taken 78 percent of his shots from these high percentage areas (the lane and threes), showing a high basketball IQ that shows he knows how to pick and choose the right shots.
Above, we have Greivis Vasquez’s shot chart from the young 2013-2014 season. The main difference is the ability to finish in the paint. Vasquez is only making 33.3 percent of his attempts at the rim, compared to 63.6 percent for Thomas. Isaiah Thomas is making almost 50 percent more of his attempts at the rim. Making shots at the rim is extremely important for a point guard. It’s not just for scoring purposes either. If teams know that Thomas is making an insane 64 percent of his attempts at the rim, they will all collapse on him immediately when he goes to the rack, leaving his teammates wide open. Vasquez, on the other hand, is only making 33.3 percent of his attempts at the rim, will not draw as much attention as Thomas would going to the rim.
Hitting a high percentage of shots at the rim is important for scoring, but also for creating opportunities to get open shots for teammates, the main duty of a point guard. Vasquez has also only hit two out of eight from three-point land this season, shooting a measly 22.2 percent from deep. On the other hand, Thomas has made seven out of his 15 three-point shots for a Steph Curry-like 47 percent from deep so far. Thomas is effecting the game in every area, making the defense pay attention to everything he does, which leaves less attention to his wide open teammates. Thomas’ explosion in the early season may have something to do with DeMarcus Cousins averaging 18 points and nine rebounds this season.
The season is still young, but Isaiah Thomas is showing out every game. Thomas has had two games already this season scoring over 25 points and has scored more than 10 points every game. Vasquez, on the other hand, has only had one game (out of four) that he’s scored more than 10 points. The game where Thomas scored 29 points, he shot 69.2 percent from the field and went 3-3 from three-point range. The writing appears to be on the wall in this competition. Vasquez is suffering from the fact that true point guards are becoming extinct in the NBA, while explosive ones like Thomas are what’s being demanded. Think of guys like Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose, explosive point guards that run 100 miles an hour all the time.
This type of aggressiveness at the point guard position is what teams want to see. Isaiah Thomas has been outplaying Vasquez by miles this season and he should be named the starting point guard of the Sacramento Kings.
What do you think?
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