One of the revelations of this years ACB season has been the sudden revival of Barcelona big man Fran Vazquez. Already left for dead after struggling to get off the bench last season playing for the very strict and demanding Dusko Ivanovic (now in Tau), Vazquez has taken full advantage of the opportunity presented to him by new head coach Xavi Pascual, emerging as one of the most productive rebounders, shot-blockers and finishers in European basketball. He ranks #1 in both in the Euroleague and ACB in blocked shots per-40 pace adjusted, 4th in the ACB in rebounding, and 1st in the ACB in FG%. Physically, he looks better and his confidence seems to be way up.
Coach Pascual has done an excellent job simplifying the game for the physically gifted, but not terribly skilled or smart big man. His role is essentially to run from rim to rim and back, maximizing his strengths while minimizing his weaknesses. Almost all of Vazquezs shots come in the immediate area of the paint, where he is an awesome finisher thanks to his freakish length and athleticism. He makes an incredible 82% of his attempts around the basket according to Synergy Sports Technology, and is a constant target for lobs and simple drop-offs from his very generous teammates.
Vazquez gets to the line at a decent rate, and shoots a solid 75% once there (69/92 this season). He has a very nice looking stroke from mid-range, but hardly if ever gets a chance to show it, as he usually plays alongside the perimeter oriented David Andersen on a team that has quite a few players with quick triggers. Inside the post, Vazquez is pretty limited with his back to the basket, showing insufficient strength, poor footwork and a pretty average feel for the game, not being particularly fluid or graceful when forced to create his own offense. Not much of a passer, Vazquez regardless knows how to stick to his strengths and doesnt seem to be very turnover prone these days.
Speaking of strengths, Vazquez has really embraced his role as defensive stopper this year, showing terrific activity level on this end of the floor. As mentioned, per-minute he ranks as the #1 shot-blocker in both the Euroleague and ACB, and his impact extends beyond the paint, as hes able to accurately hedge pick and rolls and even stay in front of opposing guards. As a post-defender, Vazquez is not quite as effective, as he lacks the strength to hold his ground against the bigger and burlier big men hell go up against at times, and also some awareness not biting on fakes on such, as hes not the smartest guy youll find around. Still, his combination of size, length and athleticism makes him quite a presence on this side of the floor, and would also make him a valuable asset in the NBA. Not particularly known for his mental toughness, and never considered much of a self-starter, hes done a better job staying focused and motivated this season, even when things arent going his way.
Even though his development was stunted somewhat as he struggled to live up to expectations since being drafted back in 2005, Vazquez seems to be back on the right track and is clearly having the best season of his professional career. Still only 25 years old, Vazquez is very clearly an NBA caliber rotation player, and relative to his price would be an excellent addition for the Orlando Magic if they were somehow able to bring him over.
Vazquez has just one more year on his contract after this, and considering his salary slot on the NBAs rookie scale as the #11 draft picknearly two million dollarscould still be a realistic target if Orlando (or any team that trades for his draft rights) were able to bring him over. Talking to his NBA agent Marc Cornstein about that, he thinks that from the Magic's perspective "the door has always been open for him if he wants to play in the NBA," although he pointed out that he has not discussed that matter recently with them. "With Fran it's always been more a matter of desire rather than money."