With Delon Wright out for an extended period of weeks, it's Fred Van Vleet's time to shine as the backup point guard for the Toronto Raptors.
With six minutes left in the second quarter, Delon Wright exited the game in New Orleans Wednesday night. It didn’t look good, and he didn’t return. As of now, Delon has a dislocated shoulder. He will be seeing a specialist in New York next week to determine if surgery is the solution. Wright injured the same shoulder and had surgery on in 2016.
Whether Delon has surgery or not, we know that he will be out for an extended period. Delon was in a similar spot last year with Lowry’s injury, as he leapfrogged up to the second string.
Fred VanVleet’s journey to the NBA hasn’t been an easy one. He went undrafted in 2016, got cut from the USA Pan-Am Games roster, declined two offers to play in the G-League, and had to fight tooth-and-nail for that 15th spot on the Toronto Raptors training camp roster. Amidst all of the hurdles, Fred is here. With Delon out for a considerable amount of weeks, it’s time for the Wichita State product to get his first look at consistent second-string minutes.
It’s Fred VanVleet’s time to shine.
VanVleet and the Pick and Roll
Delon was playing about 20 minutes a game before his injury. Naturally, Fred won’t be picking up all of that playing time, but he will surely earn a large chunk of them.
In his 14 minutes a game, Fred has shown some flashes of ingenuity. As a young point guard, the most laborious task is reading the game at an NBA level. He’s apparently still learning, but Fred’s feel for the game has been impressive. At 6 feet tall, Fred has no fear driving the ball inside, and can make that kick out pass when need be.
Offensively, Fred is at his best when he’s in the pick and roll. With this second unit, Fred will be running the PnR extensively with Poeltl, Siakam, and Nogueira. Let’s look at some examples.
In this one, Freddy accepts a good screen from Bebe, and then the duo dive to the rim. Mahinmi does a horrendous rendition of pick and roll defense, and VanVleet takes full advantage. Oubre spins and goes under Bebe’s screen, Mahinmi provides no hedge and haphazardly shadows the ball before Fred tosses a perfect lob that only Nogueira can reach. Bad defense, admittedly, but it’s inspiring to see Fred take advantage of it.
Same game, similar situation. Nogueira plants the screen that FVV has been using all night. Mahinmi and Kelly look a little more ready for this one, but Fred baits the screen and dives into the hole as Ian overplays the hedge too hard this time. Ian is too slow to recover and prevent the nimble Fred drive, Mike Scott steps up to help, Meeks has to respect OG and doesn’t support Scott enough, Pascal makes a picturesque backdoor cut, and Fred places a perfect bounce pass to the cutting Siakam. Again, not the best defense, but a heady play by VanVleet and an ideal cut by Siakam.
Too many a time when running the pick and roll, point guards get locked in on either scoring or hitting the rim-runner. A good pick and roll should open up the whole court, and VanVleet shows off superior vision as puts immense pressure on the Washington defense.
This last one is coming from Tuesday’s game with the Rockets. The Raps’ spread the floor with shooters on both sides, and run a weakside screen to VanVleet’s right. Poeltl sets a mean screen, and Fred gives poor PJ Tucker no time to work around it. Usually, Fred takes his time - hustling and nudging his way into the paint, getting the defender on his hip. In this instance, Fred realizes right away that PJ is not ready to efficiently fight through a screen.
Fred attacks the screen hard, showing no mercy on Ryan Anderson, who is on his heels the second Fred blows by the screener. PJ wasn’t ready and is out of the picture as soon as Fred takes that first step. FVV baits the defense waits for the window to open up and slips a perfect pass into the sure hands of Jakob Poeltl. Tarik Black is too late helping off of the strong side, and Poeltl muscles in the and-one.
It’s great to see Fred making plays that make opposing coaches react the way D’Antoni does at the end of the gif.
Fred VanVleet Going Forward
As I write this, the Raps’ tip-off with the Wizards in a matter of hours. Fred’s journey as a second-string guard will begin, and hopefully with a fury. Fred almost single-handedly willed the Raptors back into that abysmal game against Washington again on the 5th of November. The Wizards may be a little more prepared for Fred this time.
Last thing, and something a little more trivial. Fred VanVleet doesn’t have a nickname. Obviously, names like Freddy V are merely just off-shoots different ways of saying his full name and don’t count as nicknames. My proposal?
You heard it here first.