Will Fred VanVleet sustain impressive play?

Fred VanVleet and the Toronto Raptors are hoping the point guard will be named an NBA All-Star in the coming days after not just a terrific season thus far, but a recent stretch that has put him into a different echelon of guards. Now the question is, can he sustain it?

Video Transcript

AMIT MANN: Moving on to Fred VanVleet, his recent stretch that he's been doing that's kind of got him in-- more so into the All-Star conversation. And I think he's going to be an all-Star one way or another. But do you think-- is this who he is now? Like, is he a 45% from 3 shooter?

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YASMIN DUALE: I'd say he's-- I say right now he's on a like a red hot streak. If this is who he is now, we're talking best player in the NBA. I don't know that's the key, but I do think Fred is like-- I think that Fred at his best, but not on this you know more unsustainable streak, is probably like a top 15 player.

Like, I think that's he's really made-- people are making it sound like it's come out of nowhere. But when you factor in the fact that he's just as good on defense as he is on offense, and you factor in the fact that he's been showing like-- it's been exponential growth, but it's been steady. Like, we've seen everything that he's added to his game over the course of a few years. You can track the progression.

Last season he was doing this, but he didn't have the finishing skills. He added the finishing skills. That's what we're seeing the product of. We're seeing a product of an improved mid-range-- not even improved mid-range shooting. He was good at mid-range shooting last season but it wasn't as-- the frequency was lesser. So he's doing it at a higher volume.

He's improved as a finisher, and I think we're just seeing a more complete game that's been the product of years of steady, trackable-- traceable growth. So it's not something that's come out of nowhere. So, I think that as he is, no he's not going to be shooting 35-- he's not going to be making 35 points a night.

He's not always going to be capable of closing out games. Like last night, he struggled against the length. He's going to encounter that. Against smaller teams, I'm more comfortable with Fred being the closer. Against bigger teams, I'd like to see Scottie, Pascal, OG handle that in the final minutes. I think it should be just a matter of making the best shot, not a matter of, OK let's make this guy our closer, blah, blah, blah.

But yeah, I think that Fred is just a legitimate-- among the top point guards in the NBA. I think that especially-- it's very interesting because as he's ascending now, he's really getting into his prime. And Steph Curry is getting older so I feel like the case for best point guard is something that a lot of young point guards are going to be vying for.

We already see Ja Morant making his case. We see Fred VanVleet making his case. So it's going to be really fun seeing the next like three years seeing this-- all the players battling out for that title, you know, as Fred-- as Steph Curry gets older. So yeah, I'm excited to see it pan out.

AMIT MANN: Ja Morant, man, I think he's going to be most improved this year. He's like-- he's 5 points better than last season. He's around 24 points or something like that, so I think he's got that kind of solidified. But on Fred, I agree with you. I mean, he may not be 45% for 3 but all season, but he is shooting 7% better on twos.

And that's kind of what you were talking about. He's being-- you know, his change of pace. He's very optimistic with his finishing around the rim. He's not kind of like-- I think a few seasons ago, we'd see him just bulldoze down there. He get blocked by Joel Embiid or whoever. And it's like, all right, well, at least you tried, Fred. Thumbs up. At least you tried. You got in there and you did it.

But now, he's like-- he's being very choosy with when he does that. His basketball IQ is kind of taking over, his change of pace, his screen manipulation. I mean, the working of defense is like now you have to really game plan for Fred VanVleet and his 3-point shooting. And then he's using that ability to kind of create offense for other people.

Yesterday was an example where, you know, if you don't have the pieces around him to be successful-- like he's missing Gary Trent, the 3-point shooting. And you have like Khem Birch and Precious Achiuwa out there, not just for Fred, for anyone. Like, there's going to be a lot less points available. Like, he's going to have to be hitting shots from half court. And well, it seems like he's able to do that now or at least a little bit inside of it, but it's going to be a lot harder to make those shots and to be, you know, as effective on the offensive end.

But now that he's kind of figured out a different elements of his game and he's kind of established that he is going to be this guy night and night out, who you have to game plan against from the line, he's going to be a lot more off ball, I think, which I think we're probably more used to seeing him there. I think he can be on ball, but for the Raptors, they want Scottie, they want Pascal with the ball in their hands. So then you have Fred VanVleet in the corner, and he's just waiting for an open 3. And that--

YASMIN DUALE: Yeah. Yeah. My favorite is when Scottie or Pascal are running down the court. Fred is trailing a little bit. Everyone's trying to wall off the paint from Scottie or Pascal, and then they kind of just throw it back to Fred. That's like a very easy few points every single quarter that they've managed to get before teams adjust, but that was missing the last game, or it was just it was too crowded to do so. But yeah, that's also another thing that's been great about Fred is that he's just as good off ball as he is on ball.

I think before there was always, he's far better off. He's a shooting guard. But now he's really made the case that he's equal on both sides of the spectrum. He's really established himself as a point guard. Before, it was like, this guy's an undersized, scoring shooting guard because he struggled with the-- he wasn't always looking to pass. I said-- I should have say that he struggled with the pass.

He still struggles with the pocket passing I feel like. If there's two defenders on Fred off the pick and roll, he really struggles to get that wrap around pass and bounce it to the roller. That was so easy for Kyle. But outside of that, he-- outside of that, he has really kind of balanced those two sides of his game, whereas before it was very, very unbalanced.

AMIT MANN: Sure. Having yourself a good pick and roll partner would be beneficial. Do you see the CP3 and DeAndre Ayton combo? Like--

YASMIN DUALE: Oh my god, yeah.

AMIT MANN: That's a rare combo. I mean, CP is a point god for a reason, but like they're so in sync with everything. And then when you have that kind of connection, like Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, like that was automatic. And if you had someone like--


AMIT MANN: Right, it'd be cool if he could kind of create that chemistry with Pascal a little bit. We'll see how that goes. But that would really-- again, a different dimension to his game is going to make him that much more effective.

YASMIN DUALE: Yeah. Yeah, I think that's like-- I feel like there are two things that are missing to his game. It's mastering that kind of pocket pass and also nailing the-- he's been attempting it more these games. I don't know if he saw my tweets. I shouldn't give myself that credit.

But I feel like the one thing that I think he's missing offensively is the running pull-up 3, where you're running into it, that we saw from Kyle often. It just-- you know, that heatcheck 3. Fred kind of will roll into one when he's wide open, but Kyle would be running full speed, stop on a dime, get some height on his shot.

And we've been seeing-- I don't know if you've noticed, but Fred has been doing that the last couple of games. I think he knows also that it's just one thing that he-- if he mastered that, like I don't see a more complete point guard in the NBA in their prime. Like, it's very hard to imagine that.

AMIT MANN: No, that's a good point because with Fred like when he came in the NBA, I always found that his release was like really, really slow, like painfully slow. And now I find that he does such a good job of gathering, his hands-- his hands are ready, but all of this shot power comes from his legs. And so when he does get, like, it's a catch and shoot 3 or he's coming off the screen, he's already like getting himself ready to go.

Like, his legs are bent, and he's coming off the screen. He is ready to shoot just like that. The Kyle Lowry pull up 3 in transition that-- I'm sure that's something that he's going to be working on. It feels like he's just like-- offseason, he's looking at Kyle Lowry's game.

It's very, so this is what Kyle did. I want to master that. I want to master them, and I'm gonna master that. At some point, we can have the conversation to really think about like is Fred VanVleet going to be better than Kyle Lowry. At some point, I mean, it may sound crazy, but his numbers compared to Kyle at this age aren't that different.

And you see the shooting was better-- is better with Fred. Maybe the finish around the basket is kind of questionable because Kyle was like-- just had this knack about it, but it's not bad. So it's not crazy.

YASMIN DUALE: It's not. It's-- I feel like it's something we can start already asking because for age 27, Fred is better. Like, he's better by most metrics. He's already kind of matching like prime Kyle's game, 31-year-old Kyle Lowry's game, which is absolutely insane. Whether he can exceed that is, you know, still remains to be seen.

If this is like his very best, then I guess we're getting the same on court production. Obviously, Kyle had the IQ, which made him so special, which made him in that upper echelon of NBA players, and we'll see how that pans out. But Fred right now, like, when he takes over games and he really starts rolling, it's very reminiscent of 2015 to 2017 Kyle Lowry.

AMIT MANN: Yeah. Yeah. I'm actually doing a video on DeMar DeRozan's 52-point game. And there were a few possessions late in that game where Kyle Lowry, like you just saw it. Like, he just took over on both ends of the court. And I was sitting there watching. I'm just like, man, this is just like Freddy in that third quarter versus Jazz.

Like on both ends of the court, Freddy was everywhere. He was getting blocks. He was getting steals. He was running in transition. He was hitting pull-up 3's. I was like, this is just like Kyle Lowry. This is just like how Fred was at that day, so very very cool.

And last thing I want to say about Fred, and maybe you have some more thoughts too, but getting him off the ball it's going to allow him to use more of his energy on defense. And that is where he is truly special. You see him just kind of flying around, and he's always in position.

But, you know, when a player makes a turn, when he, you know, loses his dribble, when he picks up his dribble, like Fred is always there to just kind of pounce on it. And letting him do that as a roaming defender while also finding a way to also still be in position, which is a rare quality, that's going to make the Raptors defense so, so good.

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