The Toronto Raptors have a decision to make at shooting guard. What are the odds that Fred VanVleet wins the starting job this season?
With Danny Green moving onto pastures new in the form of the Los Angeles Lakers, there is a sizable hole in the Toronto Raptors starting lineup. The shooting guard position that was occupied by Green is now wide open.
Conventional wisdom suggests that Norman Powell is on course to be the new starting shooting guard for the Toronto Raptors, but what are the odds that Fred VanVleet could earn the two-guard spot come October 22, the opening day of the NBA season?
VanVleet had his best season to date last year, averaging 11 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game, shooting 38-percent from three and 41-percent from the field. After finishing third in the Sixth Man of the Year voting a season prior, VanVleet was pushed into a larger role with the Raptors in 2018-19.
While he only featured in 64 games this season – and thumb injury kept him out for a significant amount of time – VanVleet would end up starting in 28 games for the Raptors. A mixture of Kawhi Leonard’s regimented load management campaign along with niggling injuries to Kyle Lowry pushed VanVleet into the starting lineup.
The results were largely positive for the former Wichita State Shocker. He averaged 13.9 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 5.7 assists per game, shooting 38-percent from three.
What would VanVleet bring to the role?
Well for starts, VanVleet would bring what the role really desires: scoring. VanVleet averaged 19.1 points per 100 possessions last season and as a starting shooting guard, while that won’t translate as cleanly as the numbers suggest, VanVleet could still provide complementary scoring numbers if given the opportunity.
He wouldn’t be the teams main offensive outlet, but nor would he be expected to be. That role will belong to Pascal Siakam this season. Siakam is expected to have a big campaign, hopefully taking over from where Kawhi Leonard left off last year.
That doesn’t mean VanVleet wouldn’t be a leading light in the Raptors offense. During the playoffs, the Raptors leaned on VanVleet in heavy spells, namely against the Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors.
VanVleet averaged 11.8 points, 1.8 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game on 47-percent shooting from three during the final two series of the playoffs. He was hot. That led to him receiving one vote for Finals MVP, his impact was that great.
What’s stopping him from starting?
By virtue, it’s nothing against VanVleet. He would be a good fit for the role, but the hole that would be left on the bench would be catastrophic.
VanVleet functions as the Raptors back-up point guard, and below him on the team totem pole is Cameron Payne. If you’ve been keeping track on Payne’s NBA career up until this point, that news won’t particularly excite you.
Payne has averaged six points, 1.8 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game on 39-percent shooting from the field while bouncing between three teams in his first four seasons. For a team that aspires to be in championship contention once again, Payne can’t be the go-to guy to run the back-up unit.
Along with that, a large portion of the benches scoring would dry up. Norman Powell and Serge Ibakahttps://www.basketball-reference.com/players/i/ibakase01.html would be tasked with leading the bench scoring. Both are more than capable of that task, but VanVleet has proven to be a consistent shooter from three and is able to score around the rim despite his diminutive size.
What are the odds?
Despite VanVleet being more than ready for the role, it doesn’t feel as if the Raptors will want to mess up the chemistry with how VanVleet operates. It’s likely that, even as the back-up point guard, he’ll run with the starters often – it works just too well.
As well as Kyle Lowry and VanVleet operate well together, they are both only 6-foot. Even with the NBA going through a small-ball renaissance, that’s a small combination to run. Maybe too small.
Both are hard, gritty defenders who aren’t afraid to put their body on the line, but as Kyle Lowry begins a very slow decline, he may begin to lessen the physical toll he allows his body to take, which could harm his value as a defender.
That could all be moot, and the two could continue to excel together, but the Raptors might prefer to keep VanVleet as that off the bench scorer that he’s so accustomed to.
Finals odds: 30-percent
Those odds seem relatively fair. VanVleet remains one of the best bench scorers in the NBA and the Raptors have a good thing going with him in that regard. Subject to change, it’s unlikely that VanVleet will usurp Powell from the starting spot, but maybe that isn’t such a bad thing.