Toronto Raptors: Fred VanVleet’s quiet NBA Finals triumph

The Toronto Raptors are currently just two games away from being crowned as NBA champions with Fred VanVleet holding a majority share of this success.

Ever since the 2019 NBA Playoffs tipped off, the Toronto Raptors have been an incredibly fun to watch team in almost every aspect of the game.

If we shift our focus to a certain player, we can safely say the team’s successful series of games did not exactly mirror his game. That player is — you guessed it — Fred VanVleet, who was abysmal to say the least.

Throughout the Orlando Magic series, as well as the Philadelphia 76ers series and the first half of the Milwaukee Bucks series, VanVleet averaged just 4.0 points per game on some horrific shooting percentages. He shot 25.6 percent from the field and 19.5 percent from outside the arc.

Then, a miracle happened. Freddie became a dad, welcoming Fred Jr. into the world. But the baby did not exactly come into this world empty-handed. The young offspring was born prior to Game 4 against the Bucks, an event that fueled his dad into completely changing the course of Toronto’s postseason.

Since Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, VanVleet has been averaging 14.1 points per game on a remarkable 55 percent shooting … and that percentage is from 3-point territory.

It’s quite rare seeing a player shoot a higher percentage on 3-pointers than field goals, but VanVleet has been doing exactly that, which all but shows he’s been lights out for the Toronto Raptors since the birth of his son.

Even though the facts speak for themselves, the third-year point guard of the Toronto Raptors is definitely not looking to share any of the credit for his tremendous U-Turn:

If it all goes according to plan for the Toronto Raptors and they are crowned as NBA champions, it is highly unlikely that any player not named Kawhi Leonard will be in the discussion for the Finals MVP award.

But let’s examine exactly what VanVleet has been doing so far against the Golden State Warriors.

With Kevin Durant sidelined for the Finals and no timetable set for his return, it is up to Stephen Curry to take over as the main offensive scorer of the team. So how do you defeat this super-team?

Well, for starters, you try to limit the offensive production of the main scorer. Curry is arguably the greatest shooter of all time, usually causing havoc against opposing defenses.

But these Raptors have proved to be a top-tier defensive team. It is certainly players like Fred VanVleet that prevent Curry from averaging god-like numbers in these finals.

Let’s examine Curry’s offensive statistics per 36 minutes, over the first three games, with VanVleet on and off the court:

  • Off: 38.4 points per game, 59 percent shooting from the field
  • On: 26.6 points per game, 34 percent shooting from the field

Now that VanVleet’s defensive prowess is clear, there’s another aspect of his game that’s worth a mention. Given the fact that he is a fan favorite in Toronto, his plays tend to electrify the crowd, creating an atmosphere quite difficult to play in if you’re not the Raptors.

In Game 4, VanVleet was unintentionally crushed by Shaun Livingston‘s elbow, which resulted in him having seven stitches and being left with one less tooth. Nevertheless, this didn’t prevent him from being applauded off the court by the fans at Oracle Arena.

Freddie hit some big shots during the first two games in Toronto, and if he were to continue his impressive streak now that the series heads back there, then there may be a few Warriors guards a bit unhappy with the outcome.

As we are approximately halfway in the series, it is up to Kawhi Leonard and company to make sure that the reigning NBA champions do not complete their three-peat.

Bench players like VanVleet are always a blessing to have, and an aspect of this series that should not be overlooked if the Raptors pull off the upset.