Photo credit: Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images
As university students slowly receive their final marks for their classes, we here at The Raptors Insider decided to grade the players of the Toronto Raptors.
From May 18th to June 3rd we’ll be releasing a report card for a Raptors player, giving our opinion on their individual performance.
Fred VanVleet felt the impact of this adversity filled year, calling this past season “the most un-pure year of basketball” he’s ever been a part of. Through a difficult time for all of the Raptors players, VanVleet missed 20 games due to a lingering hip injury, a suspension and a three-week battle with Covid-19.
When on the court however, “Steady Freddy,” was as steady as ever, recording a career-high in points and points per game, while continuing to showcase his outstanding talent as a two-way guard. Following a great start to the season, including a historic 54 point performance, VanVleet was a notable Eastern Conference All-Star snub.
As he has done throughout his entire basketball career, VanVleet made the most out of a trying year in which he saw a far higher usage rate. While struggling with his efficiency, VanVleet’s confidence, leadership and two-way performance flashed his overall potential, solidifying himself as a core member of the Raptors backcourt going forward.
Additionally, VanVleet made Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster look like geniuses for the four-year, $85 million extension he signed before the season. As we continue to give out our Raptor report cards on the year, VanVleet may have arguably been the most complete student.
Let’s take a deeper look at his performance this past season.
Fred VanVleet has improved his point total in each of his first five seasons in the NBA, and this year was no different. Assuming a larger role, Freddy showed slight improvements on the offensive side of the ball, averaging 19.6 points in over 36 minutes per game, both career-highs.
VanVleet was second to only Julius Randle in average minutes per game, while he remained steady with his playmaking abilities. While missing half of the final 36 games, VanVleet was second on the team in scoring and assists, and was seventh in the Eastern Conference with 6.3 assists per game, virtually the same mark as last year.
VanVleet displayed excellence at times this season with six 30+ point games and an extraordinarily efficient franchise-record performance in February. Shooting 11-14 from beyond the arc and 74% overall against the Magic, VanVleet scored 54 to break the Raptors record for points in a game, also surpassing Moses Malone for the highest point total by an undrafted player in a single game.
While historically efficient that night, VanVleet struggled on the year with consistency and saw a decline in his shooting percentages, as he so often relies on the three-point shot.
VanVleet’s increased point total can largely be attributed to an increase in usage. He shot a career-low 36% from beyond the arc and below 40% from the field for the first time since his rookie season. In addition, VanVleet recorded the worst true shooting percentage (53.4%) since his first year in the league.
Shooting nearly 100 more field goals this year compared to last and over 100 more three-point shots, VanVleet saw an over two point percentage drop in each category. As a prominent perimeter shooter, over half of his total points (51%) this season came from deep shots.
|Season||Points (per game)||FG (%)||3PT (%)|
|2019-2020 (54 games)||952 (17.6)||319-773 (41.3%)||146-374 (39%)|
|2020-2021 (52 games)||1019 (19.6) +2.0||338-870 (38.9%) -2.4%||174-476 (36.6%) -2.4%|
While top 20 in the association in both three-pointers attempted (476) and made (174), VanVleet ranked outside the top 100 in efficiency from beyond the arc (36.6%). VanVleet has proven himself as a productive scorer in the NBA and should improve on those totals with a full off-season of training and a return to Toronto.
With his energy and relentless play, it is no secret that VanVleet is an incredibly solid defensive player. Rarely will Freddy not make an impact on a game. On the nights he struggles with his shot, VanVleet is filling up the box-score with steals, blocks and deflections.
Dating back to his defense against Stephen Curry in the 2019 NBA Finals, VanVleet can match up with anyone (any guard, at least). He led the Raptors in steals for the second consecutive season, averaging 1.7 per game – good for third in the league.
Countless times this season VanVleet was able to work the transition game to perfection, creating a steal and running up the floor to lead to a fast-break sequence. With VanVleet’s presence on the court, the Raptors led the NBA in forced turnovers (16.1) and points off turnovers (18.6).
I think Sportsnet reporter Michael Grange sums it up the best. By “betting on himself,” VanVleet has undoubtedly set himself up for a successful post-basketball career. He got an opportunity this past season to showcase some of his talent in a few different roles.
“Steady Freddy’s” personality has made him a fan favourite and he was given the chance to jump on the TSN broadcast and speak to the viewers during the last game of the season this past year.
While missing 18 games in the second half of the season, VanVleet was able to display his leadership qualities as a voice off the bench. Fans, reporters and the broadcast often showed VanVleet hyping his teammates up from the sidelines, as he filled in as an “assistant coach.”
While being a great family man, VanVleet is also a tremendous advocate in the community. Most recently, he matched a donation to support relief causes in Gaza.
During an unusual year, VanVleet played good basketball and put up solid numbers when he was not held off the court. His full potential shined through during various moments this year and he continues to grow into an outstanding two-way guard.
While dealing with Covid-19 and a hip injury that sidelined him throughout the season, VanVleet’s play should instill confidence within the Raptors front office, especially given the uncertain future of Kyle Lowry. Despite all the questions facing the Toronto Raptors this off-season, VanVleet’s status as a core player and leader of the franchise is surely not one of them.