The Toronto Raptors haven’t been great, but you know who has been great: Fred VanVleet.
There’s not much good going on with the Toronto Raptors. They’re off to a 1-5 start, watching their offense feels like a chore, Siakam isn’t the player he was last year; to put it simply, watching this team has sucked. But if there is one thing that is keeping us from closing the TV (or stream nowadays), it has been the inspiring play of Fred VanVleet.
Fresh off his $85 million contract, people had mixed feelings towards his new worth. Is that an overpay for a guard who can’t be a primary playmaker and struggles to score from everywhere inside the three-point line; or was it the perfect contract for a player who is good at just about everything (with exception of his three-point shooting which is great).
We’re only six games in, but if Fred VanVleet does keep up this level of play, the contract might actually be looking very good down the line.
VanVleet’s improved efficiency as a scorer
Though it is on limited sample size, VanVleet has improved his efficiency on offense. He is averaging a career-high 21.8 points per game while having a 56.9 effective field goal percentage — that ranks him among the 65th percentile of all players in his position, per Cleaning The Glass. VanVleet always had the ability to score, it was more of a question if he can do this on higher efficiency (besides the three, which he’s elite at).
In the 2018-2019 season, VanVleet averaged 11 points on a 51 effective field goal percentage. In the 2019-2020 season, that efficiency would barely improve to a 51.1 effective field goal percentage — his points per game did improve to 17.6 due to an increased role.
An effective field goal rate of 51 percent is by no means bad, but it does get easily inflated because of how good a shooter he is from three — an area he has been ranked in the 83rd percentile or over since 2017-2018.
So how did his effective field goal rate improve by almost six percent this season so far? Let’s look at his shot percentages in the last three seasons, including the one we’re in.
- Accuracy at the rim:
- 2018-2019: 52 percent (20th percentile)
- 2019-2020: 51 percent (18th percentile)
- 2020-2021: 54 percent (35th percentile)
- Accuracy from mid-range (shots outside 4 feet to the three-point line):
- 2018-2019: 34 percent (28th percentile)
- 2019-2020: 26 percent (11th percentile)
- 2020-2021: 45 percent (42nd percentile)
As previously said, it is still a very small sample size; however, the eye test also does show us that there has been some improvement with VanVleet’s touch around the rim and shot from mid-range. The numbers aren’t breathtaking, but it is an improvement nonetheless and a much-needed one.
If VanVleet at least hovers in the 55-57 percent area for effective field goal rate throughout the season, then that’s a big win for VanVleet himself and the Toronto Raptors. Scoring is a scarce resource for the Raptors right now and they are going to need everything they can get from VanVleet on an elite level.
VanVleet’s importance to the team
The highest average amount of threes VanVleet has shot over a season is 6.9 attempts, this was last season and he shot it at a 39 percent rate. Although his three-point percentage hasn’t changed this season, what did change was the number of threes he is taking. This season, VanVleet is shooting 9.8 threes per game — the 7th most in the league.
That accounts for 21.88 percent of the whole team’s three-point shooting and he helps the Raptors from having the worst three-point shooting in the league. The Raptors as a whole shoot 33.5 percent from three (which is already bad), and if you remove VanVleet from that equation they’d be shooting 32 percent from that range.
VanVleet has been one of the only reasons the Raptors have had any success on the offensive end. When Fred VanVleet is on the court, the Raptors score 6.2 points more per 100 possessions — third-highest on the team and first is Lowry with an insane +27.
The team may still be 1-5 at the end of it all, but they could’ve also realistically been 4-2 or 3-3 with how close some results have been. And we have Fred VanVleet to thank for the many close games. He has scored over 25 points in four of the six games so far and is currently riding a three-game streak of 25 points or more.
He’s doing everything we would expect and more after signing his lucrative contract: improving offensively, still playing defense at an All-Defensive level, and shooting three at an excellent rate. But VanVleet can’t do it all himself and he is going to need help from his teammates if the Toronto Raptors want any chance at being a competitive team this season.