The Toronto Raptors 6’6 backup point guard Greivis Vasquez is only in his fourth NBA season, but as a college senior when he was drafted, Vasquez is now 27-years-old, his experience and his maturity belie his years in the league. Last season, Vasquez led the entire NBA in total assists. He is brimming with confidence and completely unafraid of the big moment.
“He’s not (afraid),” Head Coach Dwane Casey said. “I thought he came in and gave us a jolt. Being afraid is not in Greivis’ vocabulary. When he speaks Venezuelan, he doesn’t know the word afraid, so he is going to put the pedal to the medal and that is what we need in certain situations. I thought he played an excellent ballgame.”
Vasquez came off the bench for 29 minutes in game one of the playoffs against the Nets and was a team best +8 points while on the court as he put up 18 points, 4 rebounds and 8 assists, shooting 45.5 percent from the field and hitting on 3 of 5 three-point attempts.
“I can tell you this, I am not afraid at all,” Vasquez said. “I am not going to be afraid of the moment. I like big moments and that’s just my personality since college. I just got to do whatever it takes to help the team win games. Whenever my name is called, I am just going to go out there and do my job. I am ready to go. It’s all about confidence and believing in yourself and I got all of that.”
The big guard has steadily gotten stronger as the season moved along. Still recovering from off season surgery at the start of the year, it wasn’t until after the All-Star break that Vasquez felt he was back to 100 percent. He finished the season strong averaging 14.6 points, 2.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 28 minutes while shooting 51.3 percent from the field and 56.5 percent from deep in April.
“You have to be a tough-minded player,” Vasquez said. “You have to have a mental toughness that is going to keep you (going) especially when you are not a superstar. There are only a few guys like Kobe or LeBron, the rest of the guys, we have to play hard, we have to find a way.”
The playoff series against the Nets is an ideal situation for Vasquez. The Nets like to run with point guards Deron Williams and Shaun Livingston together for big minutes as their lack of size forces them into small ball lineups to be successful. Vasquez has the size to matchup with Livingston and offset the Nets two point guard lineup for ball handling, playmaking and outside shooting.
“This is a good chance for me to prove what I can do,” Vasquez said. “Obviously, when I get the chance and the chance is given to me, I am happy to take advantage, but right now it is just about helping my team win whether I come off the bench or I start or whatever they want me to do. I want to be out there helping the team and I will be. I just have to keep playing my game. I have been shooting the ball very very well. I’ve been hot. I want to be out there, especially at the end of games.”
It has been obvious why Vasquez has become so successful with the Raptors as the team moved later into the season and Vasquez got physically stronger and found his rhythm. Their opponents will not leave Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan open on the perimeter and often play a man-and-a-half or double-team them and Vasquez is not afraid to take advantage.
After four years in the NBA, Vasquez knows how to get open, create for others and isn’t afraid to create for himself. Also, by playing Lowry off the ball with Vasquez initiating the offense, the floor is spread wide with three-point shooting that challenges any defense to keep up.
“To me, it’s fun,” Vasquez said after practice on Monday. “I am an underdog guy. I have to prove myself every day. It is fun when you face Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, KG (Kevin Garnett). I grew up watching these guys, especially KG and Paul Pierce. Now I get a chance to beat them. I can’t ask for anything better than that.”
Vasquez was the Raptors next best option in game one against the Nets and he should be looking at an even bigger role as this series progresses. He is not afraid.
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“It’s cool man. It puts everything in perspective. We are going to play a game. We are going to play a basketball game and we are going to have fun with it. It is an important game. It is on another level, but at the end of the day it’s a game and it is going to be fun.”
Greivis Vasquez Photo credit: Paul Saini