Disclaimer: The author of this piece assumes no responsibility for the numerous anime references below. By including said references he was merely doing what the people asked.
A 10 Kilometre run.
That was the daily routine of Saitama, the titular protagonist of One Punch Man, a wildly popular webcomic that was adapted into a TV anime by studio Madhouse in 2015. This mundane workout allowed a short, expressionless bald dude to defeat any opponent with naught but a single punch. Fred VanVleet has hair, but otherwise he seems just as innocuous as Saitama. The routine he uses to stand alongside the superhuman athletes that populate the NBA might not be identical to the one listed above, but it’s getting similar results.
That routine probably starts with a haircut. Per Alex Wong of Vice Sports, VanVleet’s tendency to have his hair cut several times in a week draws locker room jabs from his whole team. Nonetheless, you’ve got to look good to play good.
Standing by that tenet, VanVleet also has to find space in his routine to push his personal line of clothing. This past week, however, it seems he delegated that task off to his teammates. Following the Raptors’ win against Boston last Tuesday Pascal Siakam modelled a FVV brand hoodie in a post-game interview.
VanVleet didn’t just have the support of his fellow bench members however; Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan showed up to shootaround rocking FVV brand tees later that week. An undrafted sophomore enlisting a pair of 4-time All-Stars to sell his shirts for him, what a time to be alive.
We’re starting to piece together FVV’s equivalent to Saitama’s routine, let’s see what we’ve got so far:
- One crisp haircut;
- Three teammates modelling your clothes;
- One-hundred three point shots;
- A full court press;
I guess I should explain the third and fourth items on this list. Item three feels like something VanVleet must be doing. He’s been shooting 49% on four shots a game from 3-point range since the Raptors rang in the new year with a thrilling victory over the Bucks.
Item four is our official Fun and Good highlight:
There’s VanVleet: he’s the little guy 94 feet away from the basket, chasing around Terry Rozier and Guerschon Yabusele. This is the kind of stuff a relatively un-athletic 5’9” dude (don’t believe the lie that is his listed height) needs to do to cut it in the NBA. We’ve grown to expect it from Fred. Pascal Siakam is right there with VanVleet, providing long-armed, rambunctious harassment as the Celtics struggle to proceed up the court.
Once the ball gets down the floor the bench scrambles to force a tough shot and grab the rebound. Then the ball is fired back up the court to Siakam (who has now travelled the length of the court twice in a 30 second span) for an open dunk. This is incredible defence and hustle, it would be worthy of a fun and good highlight even sans context. Let’s add some context though.
Take a look at that scoreboard. This is in the last 6 minutes of a game that was long since decided. VanVleet, Siakam and the other Raptors bench players didn’t need to do any of this to win the basketball game that they were in the process of playing. So why did they do it?
The best answer I can provide is that the bench is aiming to make this kind of effort part of their routine. This is the kind of energy that most teams reserve for close games against good teams. The Raptors bench has put it on display time and time again regardless of the circumstances. This past week it’s paid off to a remarkable extent. The 5-man lineup playing together in the above clip (VanVleet, Siakam, Jakob Poeltl, Delon Wright and C.J. Miles) has posted an unfathomable +73.1 net rating over the course of the Raptors’ ongoing winning streak. The Raptors have demolished teams in this stretch, winning by an average of 21 points, but the bench has kept their foot to the gas regardless of the score.
This matters because the Raptors will not always demolish teams, even bad ones. The Raptors have a league best record of 22-2 against below .500 opponents. Many of those games have been blowouts but there are some close games in there as well. Scraping by Brooklyn in overtime for example, or grinding out a win in Detroit, or slogging through Pheonix on a west coast swing.
In years past the Raptors might have played down to their opponents and let these games get away from them. This year they’ve developed the kind of habits that allow them to emerge from off nights with a win. VanVleet and the rest of the bench have set the tone. They’re mundane heroes with mundane routines, but those routines have made the Raptors nigh unbeatable for lesser foes.