2. Fred VanVleet
While having a career year could be interpreted statistically, Fred VanVleet will have the most impactful year of his career in ways that can’t be measured.
With Lowry’s exit, the Raptors lost not only their floor general, but their undisputed leader. The prickly point guard’s hardscrabble demeanor and fearlessness came to embody the Raptors in their run to the 2019 NBA championship.
Well, there is no doubt who will now step into that void, and that will be FVV. There’s every reason to believe the 27-year-old veteran of five NBA seasons can evolve into every bit the leader was Lowry and come from a similar place that ensures the Raptors maintain their identity as it has come to be under Nurse.
Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet is impactful at both ends of the court.
No matter how you look at it, VanVleet is Toronto’s best in backcourt defender. And while it remains to be seen how VanVleet and former All-Star point guard Goran Dragic, acquired in the Lowry trade, fit alongside each other in whatever system Nurse deploys, FVV should find himself quarterbacking the Raptors offense more than in seasons prior.
As a facilitator and distributor, VanVleet will play a significant role in the progress of his younger teammates. He also has the opportunity to look for his own shot, and that’s something he’s certainly not afraid of.
In 2020-21, VanVleet averaged 22.2 field goal attempts per 100 possessions, and attempted 145 more threes than anyone else on the team despite playing only 52 games. He’ll need to improve on his 36.6% 3-point percentage from last season if he’s going to continue putting up such a volume of shots from downtown.
VanVleet averaged career-highs of 19.6 points and 4.2 rebounds per game in 2020-21 while dishing out 6.3 assists. This season, he should easily score north of 20 points per game. Making a leap will have as much to do with his playmaking, meaning he must provide the seven or eight assists that Lowry did every night for the last several years.