Toronto Raptors

Fred VanVleet: Toronto Raptors guard says he's 'one of the best defenders in the league'

You could say that Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet got a little defensive at 2021 Media Day.

Well, something like that.

During a 20-minute session with reporters, VanVleet was asked about goals for the upcoming season, to which he acknowledged that he's about winning above all, adding that personal achievements come to those who are on winning teams. While glossing over most of the personal accolades that could come his way this season, VanVleet did make sure to state where he feels he stands as a defender.

"I don't know who votes on All-Defence (Teams) anymore," VanVleet said while smiling. "So I'm just gonna ignore that one until it comes, but I know I'm one of the best defenders in the league, for sure."

It's hard to argue with VanVleet's stance as last season, he put his defensive abilities on display on a nightly basis, firming his standing as one of the league's most intelligent and active defenders at the guard position.

He has the numbers to back it, too.

In averaging 1.7 steals per game, VanVleet finished the season ranked third in the NBA behind only Jimmy Butler and T.J. McConnell. There's a chance that VanVleet's steals average could be higher, as a number of his 37 blocks during the season were judgement calls and could have been ruled as steals as well.

It's worth noting that VanVleet's 37 blocks are tied with Jrue Holiday and Kyrie Irving for first among all players listed below 6-foot-4 last season. Not only is VanVleet the shortest of the three, but both Holiday and Irving each played in more games than the Raptors guard.

Blocks-related controversies aside, one of the biggest numbers that illustrate VanVleet's impact are the 199 deflections that he racked up over 52 games, a figure that only four players exceeded during the 2020-21 season, in much more games.

NBA deflections leaders, 2020-21 season
Player TEAM GP DEFLECTIONS DEFLECTIONS/GM
Robert Covington Portland Trail Blazers 70 255 3.6
T.J. McConnell Indiana Pacers 69 245 3.5
Ben Simmons Philadelphia 76ers 58 202 3.5
Matisse Thybulle Philadelphia 76ers 65 202 3.1
Fred VanVleet Toronto Raptors 52 199 3.8
Nikola Jokic Denver Nuggets 72 199 2.8

Of the company that VanVleet has placed himself in due to his statistical superlatives, Butler, Holiday, Simmons and Thybulle each earned All-Defensive Team selections at the guard position last season. Despite his numbers measuring up, VanVleet received just three Second Team votes following last season.

The difference, of course, is that the four guards who were recognized for their All-Defensive impact did so on solidified playoff teams, re-emphasizing VanVleet's point that individual accolades come to those who contribute to winning.

Given the tumultuous nature of the Raptors 2020-21 season, it would be disingenuous to say that VanVleet's defensive contributions weren't enough, but a similar defensive showing in the upcoming season paired with more stability across the board could make for a successful season for Toronto, and perhaps VanVleet's first-ever All-Defensive Team selection.

As a lead guard, VanVleet's defensive standing will be put to the test on a nightly basis, beginning with opening night, when the Raptors host Bradley Beal, Spencer Dinwiddie and the Washington Wizards.

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