As the dust settles from the Toronto Raptors' first championship, we're rolling out our Raptors Report Cards on each key member of the team from this past season. Before turning the page into the 2019-20 season as free agency begins, we'll take a closer look back at how everyone performed in 2018-19.
Bet on yourself.
Fred VanVleet's life motto pairs nicely with the adventure the backup guard has had in the NBA so far. And what a ride it's been - from undrafted, to a finalist for Sixth Man of the Year to receiving a vote for Finals MVP. That's not exactly a common path to success in the league.
This season, VanVleet was solid for the Toronto Raptors all year long. The third-year guard averaged career-highs in points (11.0), assists (4.8), rebounds (2.6) and steals (0.9) per game. He only played in 62 regular season games due to a nagging thumb injury, but VanVleet produced quality numbers both before and after missing a month from thumb surgery.
To get an idea of how important VanVleet was to the Raptors during the regular season, his 7.8 net rating was equal to Kawhi Leonard's, proving the Wichita State-product was making good things happen on both sides of the ball whenever he was on the court.
MORE GRADES: Nick Nurse | Kawhi Leonard | Serge Ibaka | Danny Green
When the postseason started, however, VanVleet could not get anything going. His first 15 games in particular were brutal. Not only did he average 4.0 points per game on an abysmal 25.6% shooting from the field and 19.5% from 3-point land, he owned a net rating of minus-7.0, by far and away the worst of any regular rotation player on the team.
Then, something changed.
After Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, VanVleet's girlfriend gave birth to a son, Fred Jr., and Fred Sr.'s performance took an instant turn for the better. Starting with Game 4, VanVleet had a solid performance of 13 points and six assists, with a +/- of plus-25 in a win. In Game 5, he hit seven (!) 3-pointers to help flip the Conference Finals on its head and take a 3-2 lead.
Good morning, T.O.- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) May 24, 2019
Don't forget to #BetOnYourself today. #WeTheNorth@FredVanVleet - 21 Pts | 7 3PM pic.twitter.com/4vLKuHRIEd
When the Raptors closed out the series against the Milwaukee Bucks, VanVleet drew an even bigger role in his first ever NBA Finals appearance.
The Raptors guard was tasked with guarding two-time MVP Stephen Curry, doing everything in his power to cut off one of the Warriors' few scoring threats with the injuries the team was dealt. According to NBA.com, VanVleet defended Curry on a team-high 198 possessions, holding the greatest shooter of all time to 33.3% shooting from the field and 28% from beyond the arc with five turnovers.
Leading 3-2 with a chance to win Toronto's first title in franchise history on the road in the final game ever played at Oracle Arena, VanVleet stepped up again, burying five 3-pointers for 22 much-needed points. He broke an NBA Finals record for 3-pointers off the bench in a series with 16, passing great Finals performer Robert Horry. His efforts on both ends of the floor even led to one Finals MVP vote.
VanVleet post-birth of Fred Jr. was a different animal. He averaged 14.7 points per game on 51.1% shooting from the field and 52.6% from long range to go with roughly two assists, two rebounds and one steal per game.
His net rating went from the worst of any rotation player on the team to plus-13.4. Only his bench companions Norman Powell and Serge Ibaka had a higher rating.
Happy #FathersDay to NBA Champion @FredVanVleet 🏆 pic.twitter.com/5O5XdEijdk- ESPN (@espn) June 16, 2019
Without VanVleet's turnaround, the Raptors would not have won the NBA championship. What he accomplished during the homestretch of the postseason, as an undrafted free agent, is something the NBA has never seen before.
Raptors fans have to feel good about having this guy locked up for a few more years, because he's one of the best backup guards the league has to offer today.
And don't forget - always bet on yourself.
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