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Player Review: The long road ahead for Fred VanVleet

The undrafted rookie cracked an NBA squad, but he still has a ways to go.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Toronto Raptors Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

After playing for the Toronto Raptors at NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, undrafted rookie Fred VanVleet got an invite to training camp. There, he was one of six guys competing for one free roster spot.

Though VanVleet did not have a particularly impactful season as a Raptor, the fact that he made the team and was signed to a multi-year deal should count as a massive personal success. He beat out decent players like Brady Heslip, Yanick Moreira and E.J Singler, who each helped Raptors 905 — the NBA team’s D-League affiliate — win a ring.

VanVleet split his time in Toronto and Mississauga, which was probably best for the diminutive guard. He got the chance to learn from NBA vets like Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, and then practice those lessons against weaker opponents. In the end, he came away with a championship win and an appearance in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

Not a bad way to launch a pro career.

For the Raptors, VanVleet is way down on the depth chart. He figures behind Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph and Delon Wright. It’s not easy to earn minutes as a fourth-string point guard, but the future isn’t completely dim for the former Wichita State standout.

The Good

VanVleet is smart, steady guard who can run a team on offence. In 16 regular season D-League games, he averaged 16.9 points and 7.6 assists per game, while shooting 41 per cent from both the field and three-point range (weird).

Those are solid numbers against weak players, and they show what VanVleet was able to do during his college career: help his team win. Offensively, he can do a little bit of everything, and he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. He averaged 2.8 turnovers per game, and kept the ball moving efficiently for his D-League squad.

On defence, VanVleet makes up for his small size and lack of speed with effort. He works hard, and his active hands got him 1.5 steals per game in the D-League.

Mentally, VanVleet is ready to play in the NBA. He gets it, and seems to have no problem learning a playbook.

The Bad

At the NBA level, VanVleet’s potential is capped by mediocre athleticism, speed and height (he’s arguably 6-0). For the Raptors, he averaged 2.9 points, 1.1 rebounds and 0.9 assists per game in 7.9 minutes. Remember, he played most of his minutes at the end of games and against opposing bench units, so he didn’t get his numbers (as limited as they are) against Chris Paul and John Wall.

As a short guard, VanVleet has to be a much better shooter to earn a regular spot in the NBA. He shot 35 per cent from the field for the Raptors, which isn’t even close to good enough.

Defensively, he is a liability against the quickest, most athletic guards. There’s not much he can do about that, aside from improve his positioning a little bit.

The Grade: B+

Cheers to VanVleet for making the team, and helping Raptors 905 capture a championship for the GTA. He didn’t stun this year, and it’s hard to say that his future is bright, but VanVleet will likely be back in Toronto next season, ready to try to crack a rotation spot on the roster.

This summer, the goal has to be to continue to learn. He already has an above average basketball IQ, but if he’s going to ever be a big deal in the NBA, he will need to be the smartest guy on the court.

Also, it wouldn’t hurt to bulk up. He should probably work out with Lowry.