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The Emergence of Fred VanVleet

Not tall enough, not fast enough, and not good enough. These are among the many labels that pundits placed on Fred VanVleet after the 6’0 guard graduated from Wichita State in 2016. The consensus was that VanVleet played really well in college – two-time Mountain Valley Conference Player of the Year and the starting point guard on the Shockers 2014 undefeated regular season team – but he was never deemed good enough, by NBA executives, to spend a draft pick on.

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DAYTON, OH – MARCH 15: Fred VanVleet #23 of the Wichita State Shockers dribbles the ball in the first half against the Vanderbilt Commodores during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at UD Arena on March 15, 2016 in Dayton, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

That sentiment changed after the undrafted scoring machine tormented the Milwaukee Bucks during the 2019 Eastern Conference playoffs. VanVleet, after only averaging eight points per game during the regular season, scored 21 points in a Game 6 clincher and then carried that momentum into the Finals, a series in which he averaged 14 points per game, to help his Raptors knock off the Golden State Warriors.

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TORONTO, ONTARIO – MAY 25: Fred VanVleet #23 of the Toronto Raptors high fives fans as he walks off the court after defeating the Milwaukee Bucks 100-94 in game six of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals to advance to the 2019 NBA Finals at Scotiabank Arena on May 25, 2019 in Toronto, Canada.

Fast forward to present day, VanVleet has officially been handed the keys to the Toronto Raptors’ point guard duties after the team shipped Kyle Lowry off to the Miami Heat during the 2021 off-season.

After averaging 19 points per game last season, VanVleet has shouldered an even larger scoring load while Pascal Siakam battles a shoulder injury. So far, he’s proven himself to be more than up to the task, putting up 18.9 points per game while also averaging a career high in assists and rebounds, with 7.2 and 5.2 respectively.

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Some of his notable performances this year include totaling a career-high 17 assists against Lonzo Ball’s Chicago Bulls, dropping 26 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and dishing six dimes in a victory over the Indiana Pacers, and schooling the Washington Wizards with a cool 33 points and six assist performance.

When you consider VanVleet’s willingness to play passionate defense as well, he’s starting to make a case for being a top ten point guard in the league; it’s a real possibility that he makes an All-Star team for the first time this February. This Raptors team, at 6-5, are going to win a lot of games – they’ve surrendered the fourth fewest points all year and lead the league in steals without one of their best players and most disruptive defenders in Siakam. In the likely case that the Raptors do get even better, expect VanVleet to garner uncharted recognition and accolade nominations for his stellar play and leadership.

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In concordance with the motto that the 27 year-old has had for years, I can’t wait to see Fred VanVleet’s “Bet on Yourself” NBA edition gear tagged with all the awards that are surely coming his way.

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