‘All-NBA’: Fred VanVleet on Pascal Siakam’s season

Raptors guard Fred VanVleet discusses the upcoming matchup vs. Joel Embiid and the 76ers and Pascal Siakam’s case to make an All-NBA team this season.

Video Transcript

FRED VANVLEET: The thought I had today is with a 10:00 AM practice, what time would Kyle had to get here to leave before you were done?

FRED VANVLEET: Pretty early. He probably would have just met us at the plane today.

- Are you guys pretty excited about this road trip? I mean, some tough opposition, even Charlie's playing pretty well. But as we talked about, there's a lot of stuff at stake. Every game is just right there for you.

FRED VANVLEET: Yeah, I mean, it's good for us. We've been in this mode for a couple of weeks now, where we need all of them. So we've had our struggles on the road this year. It'd be a good opportunity to go get some wins and get some tough wins, tough teams-- I mean, two of the better teams in the NBA this year. And Charlotte is playing as good as anybody in the last couple of weeks. So yeah, it's a great trip for us.

- Why do you think the road has been such a problem for you guys this year? Any theories?

FRED VANVLEET: Yeah, I don't know, Mike. I really don't know. But all I can say is I think we just focus on the work that's in front of us. We can't do anything about what we've done so far. I think we're a different team today than we have been all year. And so we just got to focus on that and keep trying to make strides from game to game, practice to practice. And I like where we are right now.

- You guys over the years have had so many different looks toward Embiid and have been very much frustrated with him at times. How different will it be with [INAUDIBLE] there, not that it's ever one on one but to maybe allow for a bit less of that chaos.

FRED VANVLEET: Yeah, it's another body at least, another body to throw at him. So we've thrown a ton of different coverages and different personnel at him. And [INAUDIBLE], we'll throw him in the mix and see how that changes things for us. But I'm definitely not going to give you the game plan right now. But I think that obviously, having a bigger body, a taller body out there to help at least contest and rebound and be able to box it out and do some things, I think that will help us a little bit.

- Does Embiid qualify as one of those bigs? Does he play on a drop a lot? And when he does play in a drop, are those guys you can kind of pick apart a little bit?

FRED VANVLEET: They mix it up a little bit. I think-- again, I think he's such a great offensive player. I think he picks his spot defensively. I mean, he certainly has the capability to be an outstanding defender. And he's not a slouch on that end. He's just, by his size alone, he's big enough to just stand in the paint, which is what he does most of the night, is just stand in the paint and scare people.

But he's got his capability. But there'll be opportunities. He's not going to play super crazy defense the whole night. So we've got to be able to try to find our spots to take advantage-- and his guys screening and setting and rolling. And just stay aggressive throughout the course of the game.

- And that quality he does have, just being huge in the paint, is it effective?

FRED VANVLEET: Yeah, I mean, look at their record. Philly's been pretty good. And they would not be a great team if he was a bad defender. I noticed we get to these debates about MVP guys, defense, him and Jokic especially. But that's because they're MVP-level players. It's not because they're bad defenders. So yeah, you can split hairs. But both of those guys are capable.

- You mentioned Charlotte. A lot of people are going to be looking at this trip saying, those are the two easy marks. But like you said, they're playing really well right now. What are you seeing is the difference?

FRED VANVLEET: People are stupid, man. You know that. But for the people that watch basketball every day, we dealt with it a little bit in Tampa, that as things start to shut down, you got a lot of prideful guys over there, guys that are playing for a lot of different teams, playing up position, more opportunity.

Dennis Smith Jr. is playing really well. They're flying around. They're scoring a ton of points. They got one of the best defensive ratings over the last couple of weeks. So they've been playing good basketball. So that's a young team with nothing to lose. And they're going out there and playing their hardest every night.

- Fred, Pascal came into this season with big expectations on himself. How would you evaluate his season?

FRED VANVLEET: His season? It's been great, all NBA. He came in. He wanted to be a top five. He's looked that way to me. He's put the numbers up. He's had big performances. He's carried us all year. He's been outstanding. So I need him to have a great stretch coming down these last couple of weeks and going into the playoffs. But Pascal has been amazing for us so far.

- For the past, into this, do you see the midrange as the biggest there?

FRED VANVLEET: Yeah, that's always going to be the jumper. He has everything else. The jumper and the ways that he gets to it, he's unlocked new moves and new footwork and just different counters. And as a guy, his caliber was already a great player To keep adding and to keep growing, you know, the sky's the limit. He's got more in the tank, too. So I'm not surprised by nothing Pascal does. And I'm probably his harshest critic. So he don't get much credit from me. But I know he's got a lot more to give.

- Fred, a big game, obviously, [INAUDIBLE] last game. Obviously, when Scottie is in his play-making mode, what's the biggest improvement that you see from him this season?

FRED VANVLEET: The turnovers, you know what I mean? I think just playing a possession game. He was in full control of the game from jump ball last last game-- and just seeing him taking that step. And the game is slowing down for him. He's seeing the reads. He's getting more comfortable with our system and where guys are going to be.

And the next step is just organizing and being able to manipulate before the play starts because he's great with his reactions. And just, his feel is special. So once it gets to the point where he can manipulate the play ahead of time, it'll take another jump.

- There are a couple of guys around the league who have millions of dollars on the line if they make [INAUDIBLE]. What do you think of that being part of all NBA discussion of contracts? And what do you think of some of the guys around you, voting on those things?

FRED VANVLEET: Yeah, it's tough, man. It's tough. I don't know. I think it's good for the winners and bad for the losers, you know what I mean? I think that we're all human. So with that, humans make mistakes. And it's tough to put that much money into you guys's hands. But yeah, I don't know. I think for the guys who have benefited from it, I think it's outstanding.

I think that there's some guys who haven't that are going to miss out. And I think that this year is going to be a tough year to vote because there's a lot of guys to try to get it down to 15. So luckily, I'm not a voter this year.

- Would you like to see a different voting system? Would you like to be a voter, or are you OK with it being--

FRED VANVLEET: I do what I'm paid to do, brother. That's to show up here and answer these questions right now and try to go get a win tomorrow. That's not my job. So I don't have much input on that.

- You mentioned, when you look at Embiid and the volume he's scoring at, the volume of his usage, his efficiency is at a career high, I think, if you dig into that. How impressive is that, just to be able to do both?

FRED VANVLEET: Yeah, it's really impressive. I'm just a fan of consistency. And continuing to grow. So he gets better every single year. He got better this year. He's shooting the ball better. He's getting to the line a ton. Yeah, it's amazing.

It's been amazing to watch. He's had an incredible year. And I think Philly is lucky to have him. And we got our work cut out for us. We got to go try to beat them. So I'm not going to fan out too much, trying to describe all his good qualities. I got to try to see how we can come up with something to beat him tomorrow. So that's what I'm focused on.

- But I mean, you guys used to be-- there's games I can-- I don't have to tell you which ones they are, where this team-- not this version of this team, has shut him down. Is it possible to do that the way it was in the past? How has he evolved that it's so hard?

FRED VANVLEET: I mean, I think the struggles make you greater. And we've been a part of some great players' struggles over the last couple of years. So you know, we've played Giannis in his earlier stages. We had Tatum in the bubble. We had Joel, obviously, four or five years ago. So I think the struggles make you better.

And those guys are special players. And they go back. And they look at the tape. And they've got a whole summer to get better and try to eliminate weaknesses. And it's our job to try to exploit those weaknesses. But he's shrinking that list, or shrunk that list a lot the last couple of years. So he doesn't have much weakness in his game.

- Thanks, Fred.