Fred VanVleet is going to get paid.
If you watched the Toronto Raptors play at any point in the season restart, you almost certainly heard someone say that on the broadcast, and for good reason.
One, VanVleet is coming off of the best season of his career. Four years removed from being undrafted, he started in all 54 games he appeared in with the Raptors this season and posted career highs across the board of 17.6 points, 6.6 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game on 41.3 percent shooting from the field and 39.0 percent from the perimeter.
Two, VanVleet is arguably the best free agent available this offseason if Anthony Davis turns down his player option to re-sign with the Los Angeles Lakers, Brandon Ingram signs a max extension with the New Orleans Pelicans as a restricted free agent and DeMar DeRozan picks up his $27.7 million player option to spend at least one more season with the San Antonio Spurs, all of which are safe assumptions.
There is a good chance VanVleet simply re-signs with the Raptors – the franchise has made it clear that re-signing him is a priority – but there are a number of teams that could make him the type of offer he can’t refuse.
Whether it’s the Raptors or another team, what would they be getting in VanVleet? Let’s take a closer look.
According to NBA.com, VanVleet generated around three-quarters of his scoring this season on pick-and-rolls (31.8 percent), in transition (25.0 percent) and on spot-ups (16.4 percent).
He ranked around the league average in scoring efficiency on pick-and-rolls (50.5 percentile) and in transition (48.4 percentile) but was closer to the top of the league on spot-ups (71.6 percentile).
VanVleet also scored some in isolation, off of screens and on handoffs.
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A knockdown shooter with even more room to grow
VanVleet’s greatest asset on offence is his 3-point shooting.
According to NBA.com, more than a quarter (27.0 percent) of his shot attempts this season were catch-and-shoot 3s. He converted 44.0 percent of those opportunities, making him one of the most efficient catch-and-shoot 3-point shooters in the league.
That still made up only a relatively small portion of his offence, but it’s something we could see more of from VanVleet in the years to come.
VanVleet’s ability to spot-up and run off of screens makes him an easy player to build lineups around because he doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be effective. Having played with All-Stars such as DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam already in his career, he’s shown that he can complement high usage players. VanVleet was even closing games alongside Lowry and DeRozan as a sophomore because of the spacing he provided as a spot-up shooter, among other things.
VanVleet has also gotten better at creating 3s for himself, although he still has room to grow in that department.
The good? VanVleet was one of only 38 players this season to make at least 50 pull-up 3s.
He’s not someone teams can simply go underneath screens against anymore, something the Brooklyn Nets learned the hard way in the first round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs.
The bad? VanVleet knocked down his pull-up 3s at a 32.7 percent clip, the 11th-worst rate of that group.
Any team signing VanVleet long-term will be hoping he can continue to improve as a shooter off the dribble, as it’s the key to him becoming a better pick-and-roll scorer, something I covered in more detail here.
A limited scorer inside the 3-point line
It’s when teams run VanVleet off the 3-point line that he has trouble scoring.
Whereas VanVleet made 39.0 percent of his 3-point attempts this season, he made only 43.4 percent of his 2-point attempts, the bulk of which came around the basket.
VanVleet is shifty with the ball in his hands and is capable of finishing at the rim in a variety of ways, but he’s a 6-foot-1 guard who isn’t very explosive, the combination of which makes it difficult for him to finish over bigger players.
It doesn’t help that he hasn’t developed a reliable floater. According to NBA.com, he shot 15-for-68 (22.2 percent) in the non-restricted area part of the paint this season, otherwise known as floater range.
The result? VanVleet was among the least efficient scorers in the paint this season.
VanVleet has a soft touch, so you’d think that it’s only a matter of time until he develops a floater. He just hasn’t yet.
As for his finishing at the rim, VanVleet’s size is a big obstacle for him to overcome, but Lowry is a great example of a smaller point guard who became a more efficient paint scorer later in his career, as detailed by The Athletic’s Blake Murphy. The odds of VanVleet becoming a Tony Parker-like scorer in the paint in the next few years might be slim, but he has the potential to be better than he has been to this point of his career.
Despite his limitations as a scorer around the basket, VanVleet is a relentless driver. According to NBA.com, he averaged 14.3 drives per game this season, which was the most on the Raptors and one of the highest rates in the league. He averaged 8.1 passes per game out of those drives, putting him behind only Russell Westbrook (9.0) and DeRozan (8.7) for the highest rate in the league.
VanVleet thrives in a drive-and-kick offence. He loves getting into the teeth of the defence and setting up shooters or cutters when teams collapse.
VanVleet has developed into a solid playmaker for others. He doesn’t pick teams apart with his passing in the same way that LeBron James, Luka Doncic or Chris Paul do, but he does a good job of reading the defence and making the right play.
To boot, he rarely makes mistakes. In dishing out a career-best 6.6 assists per game to go along with 2.2 turnovers this season, VanVleet had one of the best assist-to-turnover ratios in the league.
An All-Defense level defender
It doesn’t necessarily show in some of the advanced numbers, but VanVleet is one of the better defenders at the guard position.
He spent a decent amount of time guarding primary options this season – more on that in a minute – but VanVleet is at his best when he’s roaming around the court as a help defender. Not only did he average the third-most steals (1.9) in the league this season, he led the way with 4.2 deflections per game.
VanVleet knows where to position himself when he’s not guarding the ball and has some of the quickest hands in the league.
Let your guard down even for a second, and he will pounce.
VanVleet defends the ball at a high level as well. It was him, not Lowry, who drew the assignment of guarding Stephen Curry in the 2019 NBA Finals. While VanVleet didn’t shut Curry down – the days of anyone being able to shut Curry down are long gone – he was able to make life difficult for the two-time MVP. He has the footspeed to pressure ball handlers all over the court, as well as the strength to stand his ground.
Additionally, VanVleet has proven to be a versatile defender, someone who is much more capable of defending forwards than you’d expect given his size. Not to the extent where he can guard small forwards and power forwards for long periods of time, but he can hold his own in a pinch, giving him some switchability.
Put it all together, and VanVleet isn’t someone you ever have to worry about defensively. It’s surprising he didn’t receive more All-Defense votes this season.
There are a lot of teams that could use VanVleet.
At the very least, VanVleet has proven to be a knockdown shooter, a ball mover and a pesky defender. He’s also a proven winner. Wichita State had some of its best years when VanVleet was running the show and he’s been a part of some very successful Raptors teams since entering the NBA.
VanVleet has improved considerably as a playmaker in recent years, although it’ll be interesting to see how much more he can improve, specifically when it comes to his 3-point shooting off the dribble and his finishing around the basket.
If he can improve in those areas, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see VanVleet make an All-Star at some point during his next contract.
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