COMMENTARY | On a headline, it seems laughable that the man who spawned "Linsanity" could be compared to a poor NBA peasant like Greivis Vasquez.
The thought that this is just another writer doing his best to bash Lin for publicity is absolutely naive, and if you watched basketball last year, you realized that Vasquez's season was comparable to Lin's.
Lin went from fringe-NBA player to international superstar during his "Linsanity" time in New York -- a 25-game stretch where Lin averaged 18.2 points, 7.7 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 2.0 steals, and 4.7 turnovers per game, while posting percentages of 45/37/80.
There's no doubt that Lin played amazingly well for those 25 games, but, two years earlier, a guard put up even better numbers during a coming-out party of his own but didn't get near the same kind of media attention because he wasn't playing in The Big Apple. During the 2009-10 season, after Chris Paul went down with an injury, Darren Collison stepped into the New Orleans Hornets' starting lineup and went on a blistering 25-game streak.
Here are Collison's numbers from that stretch next to Lin's 25-game stretch:
Lin: 18.2 points, 7.7 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 4.7 turnovers, 45% FG, 34% 3PT, 80% FT
Collison: 19.3 points, 9.8 assists, 3.6 rebounds, 4.5 turnovers, 47% FG, 40% 3PT, 82% FT
While Collison's overall numbers are better, Lin did get to the line more, and he did lead his team to more victories. But the point I'm trying to make is that Lin wasn't in uncharted territory during "Linsanity."
I'm not taking anything away from Lin here, as the opening act to his career was about as memorable as they come. All I'm saying is that he isn't the only guy to make those kind of waves to open his career, and that his location played a part in him being regarded as this top-flight point guard, when, in reality, he's just about as good as Collison (and both will make great backups during their careers, which is nothing to be scoffed at).
With that foundation already laid, let's throw out the fact that Lin has already received universal acclaim for what he did in New York, and that Vasquez is a virtual unknown.
Let's compare the two players based on what they did last season:
Lin: 13.4 ppg, 6.1 apg, 3 rpg, 1.6 spg, 2.9 TO, 32.2 mpg, 44% FG, 34% 3PT, 79% FT
Vasquez: 13.9 ppg, 9 apg, 4.3 rpg, 0.8 spg, 3.2 TO, 34.4 mpg, 43% FG, 34% 3PT, 81% FT
At a glance, the numbers are pretty similar to one another. How the two of them came to get these numbers is an entirely different story. Obviously, Lin was the starting point guard for a playoff team, finishing as the team's third-leading scorer and leader in assists. Vasquez led the entire league in total assists (third in assists per game), while serving as New Orleans' third-leading scorer and top playmaker.
If you swapped Vasquez for Lin for the 2012-13 season, Vasquez could have averaged 11 assists a night, benefiting from a better supporting cast and an increased number of possessions per game. On the other hand, Lin's scoring numbers could have been around 18 a night in New Orleans, with assist numbers similar to last season's 6.1 per game, if not a little higher (with turnover numbers through the roof). Taking into account how their roles dictated their numbers, it's clear that numbers alone don't create separation for one player being better than the other.
Lin: Wins Shared 5.4, Offensive Wins Shared 3.0, True Shooting Percentage 54%, Player Efficiency Rating 14.9, Assist Percentage 29.4%
Vasquez: Wins Shared 3.8, Offensive Wins Shared 3.0, True Shooting Percentage 50%, Player Efficiency Rating 16.3, Assist Percentage 44.9%
I'm not a fan of advanced statistics, but when trying to compare players at the same position who provide different functions to their teams, they can sometimes strengthen an argument. Here, we can see that both players are remarkably close in most areas, with the only category that is lopsided being assist percentage, where Vasquez edged Lin by 15 percent.
Meanwhile, both players struggle shooting the ball with great consistency, but they both compensate for that flaw in different ways. Lin can score in bunches (which has led him to be called a volume shooter), but he lacks the ability to consistently hit spot-up jumpers, something he did poorly last season. Vasquez doesn't have the scoring chops that Lin does but as a passer, floor general and playmaker, he makes up for his inability to create shots for himself.
Basically, it comes down to what kind of point guard you want: a streaky scorer with some passing and handling ability, or a below-average scorer with a traditional point-guard skills? Again, these numbers reinforce the idea that there isn't much separation between the two point guards.
Lin: 8.8 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, 3.3 turnovers, 32% FG
Vasquez: 14.5 points, 10 assists, 3.3 rebounds, 2.5 turnovers, 45% FG
In the fourth meeting between Houston and New Orleans on January 25, Vasquez played just six minutes in the second half, as the Rockets blew out the Hornets by 18 points. Even with Vasquez and his teammates playing so poorly that last game (it was one of those midseason games that makes you look forward to the playoff atmosphere that will be coming soon), he still managed to destroy Lin statistically head-to-head last season.
Even worse, was the January 9 matchup, where Vasquez, Roger Mason and Jason Smith all scored 17 points, and New Orleans held Houston to just 79 points, despite James Harden scoring 25 and shooting 50 percent from the field. In that game, Lin and Harden combined for 12 turnovers, and, I have to admit, that this was one of the games where it became apparent to me that Lin wasn't going to excel next to Harden. In that game, and in the first three game against New Orleans last season, Lin looked shaky with the ball, shot poorly, and let Vasquez do whatever he wanted offensively. Vasquez set the tone for New Orleans in all three of those games, dictating pace and providing leadership, while Lin was disappearing on offense and getting manhandled on defense.
I'm not going to say that Vasquez's assist numbers last season make him a better player than Lin, because they were in totally different situations. However, Vasquez showed tremendous leadership skills and never came close to losing his starting job, while Lin found himself benched in the playoffs for Patrick Beverley (I'm not buying Lin's injury as legitimate) and found himself benched in favor of both Beverley and Toney Douglas during crunch time on several occasions.
What separates the two players is their style of play. Both of them will get chances to start this season (Vasquez should get heavy minutes for the Sacramento Kings, who have been in dire need of a traditional point guard since Mike Bibby left), but I still feel as though both will cozy up in backup point-guard roles eventually (with Vasquez having a 20-percent chance of becoming a starter, but only with an ideal supporting cast).
As backups, Lin will play similarly to the Memphis Grizzlies' Jerryd Bayless, serving as a second-unit leader with scoring duties superseding traditional point-guard duties. On the other hand, Vasquez will serve as a backup floor general, controlling the second unit as their leading playmaker and facilitator, much like Andre Miller did last season for the Denver Nuggets. If Vasquez is to succeed as a starter, he'll need to have a pair of stellar wings to play alongside him, which would help thwart his lack of shooting prowess and maximize his skills as a floor general.
Here's the bottom line: Both Lin and Vasquez are top-30 point guards in the league, and they will both have successful, long careers in the NBA. For now, they're both starters, with one playing for a likely contender and the other playing for a rebuilding squad. While I hope Lin can emerge as a solid starter for the Rockets' sake, I just don't see it happening. As time goes on, it will be interesting to see if both players can see continued success as starters or if they move into important bench roles, where I feel they could both flourish.
M. De Moor is an NBA junkie and a general columnist on Hoopshabit.com. He has followed the Rockets from the championship days of Hakeem Olajuwon, to the years of Francis and Mobley, to the McGrady and Yao era, and will continue to follow them through Harden and Dwight's reign of destruction.
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