"Stat Just Happened" is our new series where we'll pair an important stat with how it actually unfolded on the floor. Our aim? To answer key questions, uncover hidden truths and peel back the curtain on why some numbers matter more than others.
Today, Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet takes the spotlight.
According to NBA.com, that's how many points per game VanVleet is scoring as the ball handler in pick-and-rolls this season.
In addition to being the second-most on the Raptors this season, it's the most points VanVleet has ever averaged on those plays in his NBA career. Back in 2017-18, he averaged 2.4 points per game as the ball handler in pick-and-rolls. That number increased slightly to 3.1 points per game in the 2018-19 season.
In total, VanVleet has generated 32.5 percent of his offence as the ball handler in pick-and-rolls this season, and he ranks in the 49th percentile with an average of 0.83 points per possession. His efficiency isn't great when compared to other dominant pick-and-roll scorers - he turns the ball over at a relatively high rate and doesn't get to the free-throw line much - but it's a solid mark for VanVleet given how his physical limitations impact his scoring ability.
Listed at a generous 6-foot-1, VanVleet is always going to be a limited scorer around the rim because he has neither the size nor length to consistently finish over bigger defenders. Of the 204 players who have attempted at least 100 shots in the restricted area this season, only six have converted them at a lower rate than the Raptors guard.
VanVleet was in similar territory last season and the season before that.
Here's VanVleet's shot chart from this season:
That amount of red is concerning, but the green around the 3-point line points to an area where VanVleet has grown as a pick-and-roll scorer over the years.
While VanVleet has always been a strong catch-and-shoot threat, he's improved as a 3-point shooter off the dribble. According to NBA.com, he's gone from taking 1.0 pull-up 3s per game in 2017-18 to 3.1 pull-up 3s per game this season. He's made only 32.4 percent of those opportunities this season, but he isn't someone teams can neutralize by simply dropping underneath screens.
He certainly isn't afraid to take what the defence gives him if they do drop underneath screens - over a fifth (21.1 percent) of VanVleet's shot attempts this season have been pull-up 3s.
VanVleet has been a more efficient pull-up shooter as the season has progressed, too. Whereas he made 28.1 percent of his pull-up 3-point attempts prior to Jan. 1, he's made 39.0 percent of his pull-up 3-point attempts in the games since. The latter might not be sustainable for an entire season - that's Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving territory - but the closer he can get to that number, the higher his ceiling is as a pick-and-roll scorer.
Why does this all matter?
VanVleet's role has grown each and every season he's been with the Raptors. As a rookie, he barely played. As a sophomore, he led the league's best bench unit. In his third season, he alternated between coming off the bench and starting on a team that went on to win the championship.
This season, he's started every game he's appeared in, either in place of Kyle Lowry at point guard in the games he's missed to injury or alongside him at shooting guard.
What the future holds for VanVleet remains to be seen. With him being an unrestricted free agent this offseason, there's a possibility that this is his last season with the Raptors, paving the way for him to run his own team. If he does return to Toronto, he'd likely start alongside Lowry for at least one more season - Lowry has one more year remaining on his current contract - before carrying on the torch.
Either way, VanVleet stands to be running his own show eventually, whether it's in Toronto or somewhere else. We know that's what he wants. And as a point guard, that likely means more opportunities to create offence for himself in pick-and-rolls.
VanVleet might never reach the heights Lowry has as a pick-and-roll scorer, but the growth that he has shown over the last three years leaves room for optimism that he can continue to improve. The fact that he's increased his output as a pick-and-roll scorer without a dip in efficiency is a start.
The next step is for him to do both - increase his output and efficiency, ideally to the point where he's above the league average, not below it.
One way for him to do that is to become a more consistent shooter off the dribble, but he'd also benefit from having a floater. According to NBA.com, VanVleet is only 8-for-28 on floaters this season. He was 6-for-26 on those same shots in 2018-19 and 5-for-28 in 2017-18.
For a player his size, it's sort of a surprise that he's yet to add that to his game. But based on what we know about VanVleet to this point of his career, it's probably only a matter of time until he does.
After all, he only continues to get better. The proof is in that one key number...
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