Fred VanVleet continues to prove doubters wrong. VanVleet has put the NBA and the Toronto Raptors on notice, he is a starting point guard in this league.
The Toronto Raptors have played the last eight games without Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka. After both suffered injuries in a win over the New Orleans Pelicans, most outsiders wondered how the team would fair without two of their top seven players. In response, the Raptors have posted a 6-2 record, including signature wins over the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers.
Entering the season, the Raptors did not appear to be a team with much depth. Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson were brought in to shore up the bench. However, both struggled early and were called out by coach Nick Nurse. Recently, Hollis-Jefferson has shown signs of life and become a solid contributor. Johnson is currently injured and has failed to crack the rotation at any point this season.
Outside of Hollis-Jefferson, both Terence Davis and Chris Boucher have been thrust into larger roles. Boucher is still rail thin and questions remain about his ideal position moving forward. But Boucher is active on the court and someone who provides shot-blocking and rebounding.
Davis, on the other hand, looks like the latest diamond in the rough to be spotted by Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster. Davis has been tasked with running the second unit and his playmaking skills have been more advanced than anticipated.
Davis signed a two-year, non-guaranteed contract in the offseason. If the early returns are any indication of future success, the Raptors are all but certain to pick up the second year. Davis will then have to hope he can follow Fred VanVleet’s lead and secure a more lucrative second contract.
VanVleet had his own questions entering this season. Lowry was in the final season of his contract, before agreeing to a one-year extension. It seemed like the time was right to hand the reins over to VanVleet in order to determine his viability as Lowry’s successor.
Publicly, VanVleet expressed happiness that Lowry signed a new deal to remain in Toronto. But it’s a little more complicated than that. VanVleet has also let it be known that he wants to be a starter in this league.
When Lowry was healthy, the pair were starting together in the backcourt. At this point in his career, Lowry is comfortable playing on or off the ball. He is a good shooter and taking a step back to let VanVleet initiate the offense should help ease Lowry’s workload in the long run.
But Lowry will be 34 years old next summer and 35 at the time his contract ends. The Raptors need to see if VanVleet is capable of leading this team moving forward.