How Fred VanVleet is relishing decreased role

For most of the season due to injuries, Toronto Raptors point guard Fred VanVleet has been forced into heavy minutes and usage so the Raptors could keep afloat in the Eastern Conference. Now with everyone back, the All-Star candidate is continuing to be a high-impact player despite having the ball in his hands less.

Video Transcript

- Let's move on to Freddie VanVleet. Talked about him a little bit, and I think it's worthy of talking about him a little bit more extensively. Because I find that he is now-- Over the past five games or so, he's shown his flexibility as an offensive player. Fair enough?

- Yeah. He's what, 48%? I saw on catch and shoot threes, he made 18 of 30 threes going into-- from the last three games going into that Bucs match up. His shooting is just so clean. It's just like clean, clean, clean shooting, which has been fantastic to watch. And then personal bests, assists, scoring and rebounding, all that stuff doesn't hurt, either. But yeah, his offensive game, it's just gone to a whole new level.

- Yeah. With the catch and shoot threes, I think that's an element where we look at Fred, or who he who he was when he entered the NBA. And I asked him about understanding defensive reads when he came into the NBA. Because this is like a couple of months ago, when we saw a lot of the rookie players. They were asked to do a lot more and they were struggling on defense. And I asked him about what did he do to get himself game ready? Because he was like that from the get go. He wasn't missing anything. And he's like, brother, if I didn't know it, I wasn't going to play.

Because, remember, he came on when the Raptors were a really good team. So if he wasn't doing the things that the coaching staff were asking him to do, he wasn't going to play at all. And so having that kind of in his back pocket, that experience where he had to, obviously, not just on the defensive end but also on the offensive end, being an off-ball mover. Do the small things and execute at a very high level. So now that's made him such a versatile offensive player, when he's being put in a position now, where he had to do a lot more point guard play.

And some people felt like he wasn't really ready for it, how was he going to do it, is he going to be able to be a good enough playmaker, yada yada yada. And then he was doing it. Right? He was doing it nonstop throughout the season when the Raptors were kind of injury riddled, and now he's at a point where he's kind of reverting back to that player that he was kind of. Because Pascal, what he is on the offensive end, you have to use it. And now he's being asked to be a player that, you're an off ball cutter, you're an off ball mover, you're a screener. And I think that's an area that isn't really appreciated, is that Fred as a point guard, he's able to do so many things that probably most point guards in the NBA aren't willing or capable of doing. What I'm talking, like screening and cutting, and being that off ball mover. A lot of them, they can't do it, or they don't have the strength to do it. But Freddy can do it all. Which is incredible.

- Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Yeah. And I think a lot of that comes from the tenure of being under Kyle Lowry for so long, obviously, as someone you're looking to study. But I think a lot of that, if you want to touch on what we were talking about DeMar DeRozan earlier, comes from Fred VanVleet being a worker consistently, right? And how do you get known as one of the best point guards in the league when you don't really have the lights out shooting capabilities of a Steph or a Dame. Right? You need to do those things that other point guards aren't necessarily willing to do, and round out your skill set by figuring out what's going to set you apart. So he's done that.

I think you made such an apt point of the fact when he had to shoulder so much of the burden, when a lot of his teammates were out this season, and now you're seeing him shift quite fluidly back to having that-- He's still playmaking, but now you're seeing him be so generative of the offensive energy and on the offensive side of the floor for the team. Which, it must be a little bit of a relief, right? To have the weight off your shoulders of being like, taking a breath and be like, oh, OK. I don't have to do everything now. I can just kind of pick my moment and shoot.

So I think sometimes pressure, pressure relieved, gives you some of the best results because you've been preparing up to that point. But I also think that Fred VanVleet just has that quiet work ethic throughout his game at all times.

- Yeah. Yep. I appreciate his in-between game, too. It's an interesting quality, to be able to be calm when you're 6 foot tall, you're under the basket, and you got so many big players. Just seven footers barreling down on you. And there's so much traffic. And he's just doing his little Harlem Globetrotters thing, just dribbling around, making circles.

[LAUGHING]

And then he finds a way to get a mid-range shot off. There's a calm there. There's a steadiness. Wow, I can't believe I said steadiness. Steady Freddy. I know.

- You fell for it. He also did have that great block--

- Oh my.

Last night. You know in last night's game. [LAUGHS]

- Holy.

- Bless him. Yeah.

- Kind of perfectly.

- Very brave player, too.

- He's made comments about how a lot of the blocks-- He gets a lot of blocks, but they're really steals. But for some reason the NBA awards them as blocks. And you say, like, you're taking away my steal category. That's my bread and butter. But last night, that was a block. That was a Jack Armstrong "get your garbage out of here." That's what that was.

[LAUGHING]

Truly. Truly.

All-Star voting is coming up. Actually, the first round is being released shortly, today. And then the next round is, I believe, on the 13th, with the All-Star voting round together on the 22nd of January at midnight. So we're going to see how things go. Obviously, I think, with the Raptors-- I think Iman and Yasmin, they're going to do a podcast later on today. So you guys can check out that. They're going to go a little bit more in depth with how things are going to round out for Fred when it comes to the All-Star Game and what his options are, prospects, could it really happen. But overall, the Raptors need to get higher in the standings. That's kind of what it is. They keep on doing that. And his numbers speak for themselves. And it's been very interesting to see a lot of US media outlets putting graphics of Fred VanVleet. This is what he's doing over the past five games. This is what he did last night. 33, 12, and 5. Look at that. Look what Fred VanVleet's doing.

I was like, wow. What is this? Where am I? What dimension am I in that a player like Fred VanVleet-- Not even like a Kyle Lowry, someone who's well-established. Or even DeMar back in his day with the Raptors. Someone who is well established. Fred's kind of coming on. Yes, he's a champion. But in this role that he's in now, his numbers are comparable to what Kyle Lowry was doing in his peak years with the Raptors. But that's happening this season. There isn't this years of experience where we're seeing him do it. He hasn't been an All-Star yet, either. But it's been kind of surprising to see all these people really giving him his shine. Why do you think that is? Why is this happening this year, Katy?

[LAUGHS]

- I think the Raptors winning four in a row has helped. I know part of it is competition and this attention span. This idea of the attention span in the NBA being so short, and I think hinges so much on immediacy. Some of that is recency bias. Some of that is just competitiveness in a league that, especially this season, positions are shifting quite frequently and rapidly, and I think much more than they have in past seasons. So Toronto being and looking competitive again-- Which I want to make clear are two totally different distinctions. But I think that's really helped. I also think, maybe much to its chagrin, it does help the NBA to promote a rising star, to make VanVleet a rising star figure. Even if Toronto fans understand he's been on this steady incline for years. But it's good for broadcast like cross market.

I think it's good for page views. It's good for everything in that marketing sense to intere-- It's very annoying as a Toronto person because you're like, why are you introducing this guy? This guy's been around for so long now. But I think at some point, stubbornly, the wider discourse-- if you want to say that's led by ESPN, if you want to say that's led by a lot of these bigger publications-- had to catch up and get on the same page with VanVleet, I think, as the rest of us are. So I'd say that's probably the more boring optics and broadcast parts of it. But of course it's deserved.

I think it's completely deserved. I saw Taylor Rooks tweeted something about, like, she disagrees that the Rap-- with what Nurse said, that the Raptors need to get some wins in to get Fred kind of climbing up the stakes. She thinks it comes down to player performance. And she thinks Fred VanVleet is totally deserving of that. Which of course you and I will echo, too. So it is nice to see there are also smart people out there that recognize his work as an individual just as much, if not more, outside of what the team is starting to accomplish again.

- And I'm with her, too. I think it's kind of ridiculous that a team's record does factor into whether a player is an All-Star. I remember a few years ago, Bradley Beal was having an insane season, right? And he wasn't an All-Star because the Wizards weren't doing very well. And I think it's a misstep in the NBA, with how they view NBA voting for the All-Star game. But that's neither here nor there.

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