Toronto Raptors lead guard Fred VanVleet is truly a walking inspirational poster.
Whether the caption is “never underestimate the heart of a champion,” or maybe his classic “Bet On Yourself” mantra — he truly has an incredible story. This season he added a couple more memorable chapters.
After the departure of Kyle Lowry, the 28-year-old guard from Rockford, Illinois — who went undrafted in the 2016 NBA Draft — had big shoes to fill as team leader. He was handed a team in the midst of a rebuild, a top four-drafted rookie on the roster, and a highly anticipated return to Toronto. It wasn’t the easiest year for a guy to take control of a young squad.
Yet, like Fred VanVleet usually does, he proved himself to the world.
Not only was he an integral part to the Raptors’ fifth place finish in the Eastern Conference, he also made his first appearance at the NBA All-Star Game in Cleveland and was a finalist for the Kareem Abdul-Jabaar Social Justice Award. He led by example on and off the court, coaching the young guys and building on his incredible chemistry with Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby.
Honouring our ALL STAR ⭐️ @FredVanVleet pic.twitter.com/D7WGC5QQP2— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) March 2, 2022
To top it all off, he broke the record for most three-pointers made in a single season, passing Kyle Lowry — IN FRONT OF KYLE LOWRY. I mean, talk about being the author of your own narrative.
When it comes to his stats, VanVleet averaged 20.3 points per game (a career high), 37.9 minutes per game (a career high), and 3.7 three pointers per game (again, career high). Other career high stats include 6.7 assists per game, and 4.4 rebounds per game.
Basically, Fred VanVleet had a career-high season.
Fred VanVleet becomes the 6th player in #WeTheNorth history to record 30+ points in 3 straight games, joining Kawhi Leonard, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Mike James & Vince Carter. pic.twitter.com/skyufo5L2G— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) January 5, 2022
Other stats include his 40.3% field goal percentage, and another career high of 65 games played throughout the season. He stepped up his game both personally and as a leader, often being the man down the stretch to secure close games and motivate his teammates to get the job done.
It’s not like Fred VanVleet just magically became good this year, he just elevated his game to a new level, in part due to his new leadership role — but it was still just Fred doing Fred things, like making three point shots from incredibly insane places. Example below:
Go off then @FredVanVleet #NBAAllStar pic.twitter.com/FQvaDqbCR6— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) January 10, 2022
Yet, even with all the accolades and the achievements of the season, Fred VanVleet continues to be underrated in key aspects of his game. He ranked top three and top five in deflections per game and steals per game respectively (as he has in previous years), and still was left off the NBA All-Defense teams. He ranked fifth among guards in the votes, missing making the list by just one spot.
But, things like that just motivate guys like Fred VanVleet more.
So where do we go from here? According to Freddy All-Star himself, the team is going to keep building over the off season, keep getting better, and try to top their performance from this season, next year. Which, when you think about it, was pretty impressive overall — a team mid-rebuild becomes the fifth seed, avoids the play-in tournament, and gives the 76ers a run for their money in the playoffs.
Not terrible for a team fresh off the lottery circuit — and with a core of young guys, including the 2022 Rookie of the Year, the sky seems to be the limit with this team.
Now in the offseason, Fred VanVleet has time to rest and rehab hip and knee injuries that bugged him near the end of the Raptor’s season.
As for his off-court activities, VanVleet continues to invest in the community in a variety of ways. This season alone, he founded a scholarship to help young people pay for business school tuition, created a podcast where he talks to entrepreneurs about building and growing their businesses, and delivered backpacks and school supplies to kids in schools around the city.
Fred has led efforts to create equity in education, including creating a full academic scholarship for Black or Indigenous students, with mentorship from Fred. He also provides historically marginalized students through the GTA with necessary resources to succeed academically. pic.twitter.com/0IzZ7fiME6— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) May 21, 2022
This activism, which he displays both in this hometown of Rockford, Illinois and around the city of Toronto, is what made his a finalist for the NBA’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Award for the 2021-2022 season. It’s just another way that Fred VanVleet leads by example and carries on the legacies of past players who made an impact in the community.
Fred VanVleet is the definition of Toronto spirit and resiliency, whether he’s inspiring kids to pick up a basketball or motivating entrepreneurs to persevere in the business world. His story of undrafted rookie to NBA Champion, leader, and All-Star is one that will engrained in the minds of fans not just this season, but beyond.
Plus, he only intends on getting better from here.
Overall grade: A