Since the last iteration of 3 Lessons, the Toronto Raptors have gone 2-1, losing to the Sacramento Kings and taking care of business against the Orlando Magic twice in a row. Losses like the one to the Kings will stand out, as the Raptors can ill afford to lose to inferior teams if they hope to avoid the play-in tournament.
That said, we were treated to the best moment of the season, as Fred VanVleet’s remarkable ascent hit an individual pinnacle when he scored 54 points in the second clash with Orlando. Fred’s brilliance kicks off the first lesson.
1) Bet on Fred
Hey Fred. Congratulations on the whole 54-points thing. That is amazing and you’re an inspiration and blah, blah, blah.
I have some notes.
You’re constantly preaching this whole “Bet On Yourself” mantra. Well, it seemed to be working for you, so I tried to follow your advice. In doing so, here are a few goals I set out to accomplish, things that I was pretty certain could be achieved prior to your scoring of 54 damn points in an NBA basketball game.
- Finish a book every other week
- Get an actual job writing about sports
- Establish a loose understanding of the stock market
- Sleep eight hours a night
- Get a six-pack
- Floss daily
- Lie to the doctor less
- Train my dog to fetch me daily household items without destroying them entirely
- Figure out what exactly is going on in the movie Inception
Well, seeing as I have done none of these things and you are now the sole owner of the single-game scoring record for the Toronto Raptors, I think it’s time we re-work that motto a little bit. “Bet on Fred” is far more appropriate.
Had we all given up on our own goals and simply bet the house on the overs on your career totals in points, assists, steals, NBA titles, years in the league, career earnings, and any other measure of worth as an NBA player, we’d all be rich. So, yes, I think “Bet on Fred” would do just fine.
In all seriousness, this is a monumental achievement for the undrafted Fred VanVleet. He should be the first example that both parents and coaches use on why grit, determination, and hard work are important in sports. Let’s hope he stays a Raptor for many years to come.
2) The Raptors are in good hands
Coming off the offseason, very few argued that the roster moves that the Toronto Raptors’ front office made improved the roster in the short term. 21 games in, it is clear that this team is in fact worse right now than they had been in years prior. Looking forward, though, my positivity persisted, and my gut reaction was to keep the faith. Why? It was simple: because Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster were making the decisions.
I had been falling back on that mentality for years and it had yet to disappoint. Only, it wasn’t certain this year. Every time I returned to my trusted mindset that our two front office geniuses would pull us through the Tampa year and into the future, the repeated realization that their futures were not guaranteed stung me like a drop of shampoo seeping into my eye.
If both Masai and Bobby were to leave, the deepest fears of Raptors fans would be legitimate; Toronto would be a team without a plan.
With the news that Bobby Webster will be a part of the Toronto Raptors for the foreseeable future, we can all rest a bit easier knowing that the franchise is maintaining continuity and stability. Even if Masai does move on, his influence will persist through Webster.
Webster was Ujiri’s first hire, and has been aligned with the Team President every step of the way. They have undoubtedly discussed the team’s future plans ad nauseam, and Webster is absolutely equipped to carry them out on his own if necessary. Ujiri, the guy that we trust the most to make basketball decisions, trusts nobody more than Bobby Webster to make basketball decisions. Ipso facto, we should have a lot of trust in Webster to make basketball decisions.
That said, I would be shocked if Ujiri departed so soon.
The reason most often stated for his departure is that “Ujiri likes a challenge, and he has already accomplished his goals with the Raptors.” But Masai isn’t exactly Alexander the Great weeping because there are no more worlds to conquer. Things are still plenty difficult for the Toronto Raptors! If the team is purposely slow-playing this season so Ujiri feels challenged and compelled to re-sign, I am good with that.
3) The Raptors have created a cycle of player development
All the good that the Toronto Raptors have experienced over their Golden Age (which hopefully will persist through this stupid Tampa year) has been unlocked by the team’s culture of development. By looking at players for what they could be as opposed to what they are, the Toronto Raptors have been able to consistently manufacture rotation players and even stars out of unheralded prospects.
Their next project is Malachi Flynn. After the preseason, Raptors fans were ready for Flynn to commandeer the second unit, staying poised with the ball and defending tenaciously. As is oft the case with young point guards, however, a little more time was required. News broke this week that Flynn was being assigned to the Raptors 905, as the team will join the G-League Orlando bubble, which runs from early February into March.
Before Flynn departed, it was reported that Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and Norman Powell spoke to the rookie guard.
Pascal Siakam says him, Fred, and Norm had a "last supper" with Malachi Flynn before he left for the G Bubble to give him their perspective on the opportunity.— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) February 4, 2021
This culture of development and the subsequent buy-in from the players that have been a part of it is a powerful force for the Raptors. It is easy for coaches and front offices members to tell players that a focus on their development is important. That message is amplified when it is echoed by guys that are champions, All-Stars, and franchise record-holders.
By passing on their experience to Flynn, the Raptors’ veterans perpetuate a positive cycle. Siakam and VanVleet see DeMar DeRozan’s success, a player who has a growth mindset and always looks to add to his game, so they try and replicate his progress. It works for them, so they pass on that message of humility and improvement to the younger guys, like trees dropping seeds so that new ones can grow. The younger guys cannot argue with the results, so they choose to buy in as well.
If I were to speculate, Malachi Flynn will benefit from his experience with the 905, and he can pass on that knowledge to the next group of young Raptors, thus continuing the ongoing cycle.
It is a cycle that benefits all of those involved, and it is at the root of the Raptors’ success.
That is it for our lessons this week! We have a doozie against the Brooklyn Nets tonight, so let us hope for success.