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A new era begins: Fred VanVleet is ready for the moment

Photo Credit: Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Fred VanVleet is now the man for the Toronto Raptors.

Following the long suspected departure of franchise legend Kyle Lowry this past offseason, “Steady Freddy” knows that he will take on the leadership role and is ready to fill the void left by the G.R.O.A.T.

Under the wings of Lowry and DeMar DeRozan for the first five seasons of his career, VanVleet will now step into the spotlight this upcoming year. He will be seen as the leader in a locker room featuring several young players and guards.

Entering his sixth season with the team – the longest tenured Raptor along with Pascal Siakam – VanVleet will rely on his confidence and leadership experience to bring the Raptors back to the playoffs.

The Toronto Raptors are Fred VanVleet’s team. [He] knows he will be central to any success in the future as the leader of the team,” longtime Toronto Raptors reporter, Doug Smith said at the conclusion of this past season.

The undrafted VanVleet is born ready for this moment. “Betting on himself” since his high-school days in Rockford, Illinois and throughout his entire NBA career, VanVleet has quickly rose up the ranks for Toronto and become an ultra productive two-way guard.

Lowry spoke about VanVleet’s leadership last month, saying that he, “is ready” to fill his void.

Having played in 331 career games with the Raptors, and being an integral player off the bench during the teams’ championship run, VanVleet has become a fan favourite in Toronto. His journey from going undrafted to the Raptors 905 to becoming an everyday player with the team and now the leader of the franchise shows VanVleet’s determination for success.

Consistent on-court success:

VanVleet has increased his point total in each of his first five seasons. After signing a four year, $85 million contract with Toronto before the start of last season, VanVleet went on to enjoy a career year with the Raptors.

While dealing with adversity throughout the entire season, including a hip injury, a suspension, and a battle with Covid, VanVleet was one of the more notable all-star snubs. He started in every game he played and flashed his potential on several occasions with six 30+ point games and a historic 54 point performance against the Magic.

While seeing a higher usage rate, VanVleet recorded career high game totals in points and rebounds. He also shot 88.5% from the free throw line, a career best, good for 10th in the Eastern Conference.

Starting in 52 games and seeing the third highest minute total per game in the association (36.5), only behind Julius Randle and James Harden, VanVleet averaged 19.6 points, 6.3 assists, and 4.2 rebounds. He was equally impressive on the defensive end, recording nearly two steals per contest and helping the Raptors lead the NBA in forced turnovers (16.1) and points off turnover (18.6).

In his five seasons, VanVleet has grown into a productive scorer as well as an energetic and relentless defender. While struggling with his efficiency this past season, VanVleet’s 54 point performance against the Orlando Magic in February displays the game changing abilities that he possesses.

He shot a remarkable 17-23 from the field while also recording three steals and three blocks, and broke two important records that night. VanVleet now holds the Raptors record for most points in a game, as well as the record for points in a game by an undrafted free agent, surpassing the likes of Moses Malone.

Character

VanVleet is driven by his toughness, tenacity and exceptional competitiveness. Similarly to Lowry, he is defined by his grit, team loyalty and heart. VanVleet runs on an extremely high motor which can be seen each time he is on the court, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

He displayed his toughness and grit to a global market during the NBA Finals two years ago when he masterfully defended Stephen Curry and put up 22 points in the championship clinching game six, showing the league that he is ready for this moment.

As one of the best change of pace guards in the NBA and with his impressive playmaking abilities, VanVleet has established himself as a player with an extremely high basketball IQ. Last year he created 17.3 points per game for his teammates, top-20 in the association.

Outside of his on-court success, what might make VanVleet so ready to fill Lowry’s void is his reputation with the fan base. As Lowry did so often during his time with the Raptors, VanVleet proudly represents Toronto and embraces the leadership role as a result of his confidence.

VanVleet is also seen as a family man, often engaging with his kids in the locker room and on the road, similarly to Lowry and the many memorable post-game press conferences he had featuring his daughter.

Photo Credit: @shontaineal/Instagram

VanVleet knows as well as anybody that he will have to improve on his shooting percentages from last year after recording his lowest totals since his rookie year. He will also need to take a step forward with his play-making abilities and will certainly get the chance to do that with Lowry now out of the picture.

After missing 18 of the final 36 games after the All-Star break, VanVleet will be well rested and healthy to take on the increased role. With a new era beginning for the Toronto Raptors, “Steady Freddy” will have a huge role in mentoring players like Malachi Flynn, Dalano Banton and Scottie Barnes, among others.

With his leadership experience dating all the way back to high-school in Illinois, VanVleet is more than ready for the challenge this upcoming season. His confidence shows that he is prepared for this moment and should instill optimism within the front office and fan base that the team is in good hands, even after the departure of franchise great Kyle Lowry.

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