After getting his well-deserved payday to remain with the Toronto Raptors, the eyes on Fred VanVleet are at an all-time high. Ahead of the new season beginning, we’ll take a look at what the realistic expectation for the undrafted guard is.
From the moment soundbites were released of Fred VanVleet’s comments on JJ Redick’s podcast, Toronto Raptors fans began to worry about the guard’s future with the organization. Fred made something clear in his answers, that he was ready to cash out, and really who could blame him.
The always-doubted undrafted guard from Wichita State has been told his entire career that he’s too small or just not good enough. Now that he’s proven his doubters wrong and become a starter on a contending team (with a ring already in his back pocket), Fred VanVleet deserves every dollar he is going to make. Lucky enough for Raptor fans, those dollars ended up coming from the team that took a chance on him in the first place.
Much like Pascal Siakam last season, VanVleet is no longer a project. He’s getting paid elite money, and so the expectation naturally is that he needs to be an elite player. That can be a lot of pressure to put on a guard like Fred though.
Like Kyle Lowry, VanVleet does a lot of things that don’t show up on the box score, and so it can be hard to put specific number forecasts on him for next season. In this article, we’ll attempt to do that and more, as we discuss the realistic expectations for Fred VanVleet next season.
Playing Time / Role
In only his fourth year in the league last season, Fred VanVleet averaged 35.7 minutes per game with the Toronto Raptors. Up until now, Fred has seen an increase of at least 7 minutes per year, as his role has continued to grow with every passing season. For the first time in his career, VanVleet’s role in the new campaign will be very similar to the one he was already filling.
Despite the increase in pay, the Raptors don’t actually need VanVleet to bring much more to the table than he did last season in terms of his role. Siakam is still the first option on offense, and Lowry is still the de facto captain on the court.
Besides them though, the Raptors need an offensive threat that can get his own bucket, and VanVleet can be that guy. Especially in the bubble, it became apparent that Toronto is lacking a late-game presence like Kawhi Leonard that can close out a win, and the undrafted guard may have to be called on in these situations.
We saw how dangerous VanVleet can be in the 4th in the 2019 title run, and with Siakam occasionally struggling to get his own looks, the Toronto Raptors will need Fred to step up in these late-game moments. He’s being paid like a big-name player, and next season, he’ll have to prove he can be that guy in the fourth quarter when it matters most.
Fred VanVleet averaged 17.6 PPG, 3.8 RPG, and 6.6 APG last season, easily improving his previous career highs in his first year as a consistent starter. Coming into this season, the realistic expectation has to be more of the same. Many Raptors fans will be expecting massive numbers from the guard due to his contract, but in the flow of Nick Nurse’s offense where ball movement is key, it isn’t actually that important for VanVleet to be having massive individual performances.
As a gritty undersized guard just like Lowry, much of VanVleet’s value doesn’t show up on the box score, and so cherry-picking stats and numbers to determine Fred’s level of play next season may not give the clearest picture.
If VanVleet is moving the ball, spreading the floor, and hitting big shots down the stretch, he can have a very successful season without his season averages climbing much higher than their current numbers. VanVleet likely will never be a 25 PPG player, and there’s nothing wrong with that. He knows his role, and playing that role will be more important than leading the team in points on most nights.
While it’s true that VanVleet is only 26, it will be important for him to take a step next year in terms of leadership. As an undrafted guy who has had to work hard for everything he’s gotten, Fred can take the role of mentor to a number of younger guys on the roster.
One of the prime examples of this is the new Toronto Raptors first-round pick, Malachi Flynn. Much like VanVleet, Flynn is an undersized guard who has had to work extra hard to get his due and should be the kind of player that can fit right into this roster. VanVleet (and of course Lowry) are two great undersized point guards to learn under, and it will be important for Fred to take that sort of role.
Second-round pick Jalen Harris would also do well learning from VanVleet’s story, as well as any of the younger players on the team. One of the exciting things about this Raptor unit is that they have gotten a lot younger with the departure of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, but it also means that someone else will have to take on more responsibility as a leader, and even in his mid-20s, it seems like VanVleet is capable of doing just that.
Unlike in previous years, the expectations for the Raptors as a whole are not as lofty. There are some great teams in the Eastern Conference now, and Toronto will likely be in a dog fight to try and secure home court in the first round. With a bit more room for error, it’s important for VanVleet to grow as a player and as a teammate in his first season making big-name money.
With big money comes big expectations. Luckily for the Raptors, it seems like Fred VanVleet should be ready to fit that bill.