On May 20, 2001, Vince Carter attended his graduation ceremony at the University of North Carolina, then hopped on a jet, flew to Philadelphia, and suited up for the biggest game (at the time) in Toronto Raptors history. Game 7 of Eastern Conference Semi-finals. We all know how that ended.
Over the next 18 years, the Raptors would only make it past the Conference Semi-Finals twice. And over the next 18 years, May 20th would always be remembered by Raptors fans as a heart-breaking What-If. Over the next 18 years, Raptor fans would come to realize that VC’s missed shot was the beginning of the end of an era.
Last season, the importance of today took on a new meaning. It marked the beginning of a new era. One of championship pedigree and unwavering confidence. An era of smothering defense and winning basketball. Yes, all of this started with the birth of Fredderick Edmund VanVleet II
don't forget the real playoff mvp: fred vanvleet jr. pic.twitter.com/cSCZSn7wdG— Yahoo Sports Canada (@YahooCASports) April 6, 2020
HAPPY BIRTHDAY FREDDY THE PRINCE JR!!! (Does that work? I literally just thought of it. It sounds like it works. I’m rambling now. Let me know what you think of the nickname.)
Before FVV Jr. was born, here’s what his dad’s 2019 playoff stats looked like:
- 4.0 PPG
- 25.6 FG pct
- 19.5 3-pt FG pct
- 20.0 minutes per game
- 1 of 15 games with more than 10 points (14 points in Game 1 vs. Magic)
- Shot 3-for-24(!!) in the Conference Semis vs. Philadelphia
- In Game 3 vs. Milwaukee, the day before Junior was born, Senior had arguably his worst game of the playoffs. He shot 1-for-11 from the field, and 1-for-8 from deep. By Game Score, it was the worst game of his playoff career, and second-worst overall.
After the birth of his son, VanVleet had a rebirth of his own. “It gives you a little perspective, I guess, on life. I had a lot of time to think. Had to sit at the hospital all day, had a lot of time to think, obviously a plane ride back. It just changes the way you’re looking at things. You are not so down on yourself about everything.”
Let’s see how Fred performed after Fred Jr. was born:
- 14.7 PPG
- 51.1 FG pct
- 52.6 3-pt FG pct
- 32.3 minutes per game
- 14-for-17(!) from deep over final three games of ECF
- NBA Finals record 16 threes off the bench
- Game-high 12 points in 4th quarter of championship clincher
- 1 NBA Finals MVP vote (Kawhi Leonard received the other ten)
Box scores won’t be able to illustrate this, but FVV’s most important contribution was being the “1” in Nick Nurse’s box-and-1 strategy that slowed down Steph Curry.
With 16 3PM in the #NBAFinals, Fred VanVleet recorded the most 3-pointers off the bench in a NBA Finals series. (JR Smith and Robert Horry held the record prior to this season with 15) pic.twitter.com/Es1VPpoHO5— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) June 14, 2019
The swagger carried over into the 2019-20 season. On opening night, FVV showed no championship hangover, dropping a career-high 34 points. Some perspective: Fred has amassed 29 games scoring 20 points or more, with 20 of those performances occurring this season (and an additional one the day after FVV Jr. was born, plus another in the championship clincher.).
After Danny Green signed with the Lakers, the pre-season debate centred around whether FVV or Norm Powell would move into the starting lineup. General thinking was that Powell was the more natural fit. He can guard 2s and 3s, improved his 3-pt shooting to 40 percent last season, and is the second-longest tenured Raptor after Kyle Lowry.
Nick Nurse — the mad scientist he is — thought differently. He saw the success of the two point guard lineup had during the championship run and went all-in. After sitting behind DeMar DeRozan, then Danny Green, in the rotational pecking order, Powell’s opportunity to finally nab a starting role, and subsequent denial, could have derailed Norm’s confidence.
Powell started the 2019-20 campaign as we’ve all become accustomed: glimpses of brilliance, mixed with inconsistency. Over the first seven games of the season, before the injury bug befell the Raptors, Powell had just one game with double-digit scoring. After Lowry and Serge Ibaka went down with injuries in game #8, Powell’s numbers started to improve. However, it didn’t quite hit supernova levels until after November 28. On Thanksgiving Day (U.S.), the legend of Fred VanVleet Jr. grew with this wholesome video.
Following this video of Norm Powell holding the Chosen Son, Norman went a-stormin! In his first game after this obvious tranference of magical powers, Powell scored a season-high 33 points in a road victory over Orlando. He would go on to nail 11-for-21 from beyond the arc over those first three post-Thanksgiving games.
Fred VanVleet in 2019 playoffs since his son was born:— StatMuse (@statmuse) January 17, 2020
Norman Powell last 12 games since holding FVV's son:
That baby has magical powers. pic.twitter.com/joeBUsLUlv
Despite missing 10 or more games on two separate occasions between December and February, Powell transformed into everything Raptor fans had been hoping for. He replaced the bench spark that VanVleet brought last season while also improving on the scoring that Danny Green provided. Before the season was postponed, he was already building a case for Most Improved and/or Sixth Man of the Year. Should this season be cancelled, Norman Powell will be the last Eastern Conference Player of the Week award winner!
How much of VanVleet’s and Powell’s stark emergences be credited to a tiny human celebrating his first birthday today? Here’s what his dad thinks.
“No, he gets no credit. I wish I could go back in time and not tell anyone that I had a kid,” VanVleet joked. “So that I could get all the glory for turning around my performance.”
Believe Freddy or not, but Norm’s turnaround has only added to the legend that is FVV Jr. His birthday offers something similar to what Vince Carter’s missed shot provided in 2001 — hope that the current state is a stepping stone to greater success. For VC’s Raptors, it ended up being the high point of that era. For these Raptors, they’ve already reached the apex. Pass that birthday boy around because the effect he’s had on Fred and Norm could indicate a longer stay atop the mountain!