The Toronto Raptors point guard has joined a few of his teammates in taking a leap forward this season. Amit Mann and Imman Adan discuss where the 27-year-old has improved his game.
AMIT MANN: And yesterday, once again, he showed why he is truly their MVP. And my God, I don't know where he's going to end up in MVP rankings. The Raptors, they have to get to a whole different level in the Eastern Conference. But he has the game, and the influence on the Raptors, to be an MVP-type. He's obviously going to be their MVP, that's obvious. But that's how much he's doing on both ends of the court. And he fills in the gaps wherever they need help.
His presence, his composure on offense. He's taking a little leap here. It's been really fun to see.
IMMAN ADAN: A guy was calling Pascal Siakam their best player. They called him the ceiling raiser. And I was couching my words and choosing them very carefully, because the MVP-- the most valuable player-- and their floor raiser is going to be Fred VanVleet. This team runs as Fred VanVleet runs. Wrap him in bubble wrap twice over, because any minutes without Fred VanVleet-- I mean not any minutes, any games. If he misses significant time, that's it for this team. This team runs as Fred VanVleet runs.
He is so steady. He's such a steady force on there. And his ability to just go on many runs on his own, even if it's not just through scoring. You would have been just finding guys. But his ability to hit a timely three is very-- I was going to write something this season, and I decided not to because of Fred VanVleet. Where I was going to-- just in missing Lowry, I was going to see if I can put out something post-game of who was kind of the Lowry esque presence in that game.
And it's a useless article, because the answer is going to be Fred VanVleet almost every single time. And just the way that he's able to steady the team, calm the team, make the right-- He's just right. I don't know how else to word it where it would-- It's not just saying like he is just-- apologies-- without saying that he's just right.
AMIT MANN: It's Freddie right there praising you.
IMMAN ADAN: [LAUGHS]
AMIT MANN: Phone is like, defense there.
IMMAN ADAN: He's just right. I don't know how else-- I don't know what else to say. He's such a steadying force, and I was thinking about this. Just his career, his trajectory, is something that is-- there needs to be a movie about. And when we talk about the Raptors team bucking trends with their length and their size, you just-- you in describing Precious Achiuwa, and what he is. You can use so many of those descriptors to talk about Scotty Barnes. So many of those descriptors to talk about Pascal Siakam.
That's just the team at the Raptors are building. And they're bucking a lot of trends by doing this. And taking a fire on a guy like Fred VanVleet, who is undersized-- and undersized guard at that. Who had tunnel vision, and wasn't a great playmaker. But you knew that you needed to play him in that one spot because of his size. And just his ability to grow and prove Masai Ujiri, and Bobby Webster, and everybody correct in that. But also just becoming the leader of this team is just amazing, and all credit to him.
And watching how he-- just remembering him and the bench lineups. And the struggles that he had in that Kawhi Leonard season. But then the growth that he took like-- it's just-- I don't know. There's so many words that I can't think because my phone rang, and now my brain is all scrambled. But I had a coherent thought in here somewhere, I promise. But all I have to say, Fred VanFleet has been the MVP of this team. They need to wrap him in bubble wrap. He is so important.
He comes so clutch. I don't know where he ranks in terms of clutch scoring, or assists, or anything like that. But it seems like whenever the Raptors need timely buckets or baskets, he's there. And I know there's been this whole thing about fake comebacks--
AMIT MANN: He leads them.
IMMAN ADAN: --but part of why the Raptors-- He leads them, right? Part of the why the Raptors are such a difficult team to play against, is you need to play 48 minutes in order to beat the Raptors. And that's something that the Grizzlies learned last night. Because they maybe thought that they had this in the first half. But you need to play 48 minutes in order to beat the Raptors, and a big reason for that is Fred VanVleet does not give up. Fred VanFleet is team "Bet on yourself" and he's team "Never give up."
He is relentless. And if you have a leader like that on the court who's relentless, then that just pushes everybody forward as well. And so teams have to-- and it sucks, because they don't have that closer. So as far as Fred VanVleet can push them to create that fake comeback, they don't have that Kawhi Leonard to take them home. But he's continuously be that guy. He is so clutch he comes through every single time in the fourth quarter with his scoring. And it's just brilliant, he's so good.
I can't say enough good things.
AMIT MANN: We brought this up the other day, so I wanted to verify it. He is 14th right now in fourth quarter scoring. Guess who leads the league in fourth quarter scoring? Pick a wild guess.
IMMAN ADAN: DeMar DeRozan.
AMIT MANN: It is DeMar DeRozan. Guess who second?
IMMAN ADAN: Zach LaVine?
AMIT MANN: It is Zach LaVine.
IMMAN ADAN: Really?
AMIT MANN: Yeah.
IMMAN ADAN: I was just like, it's the Bulls. Wow. OK.
AMIT MANN: 128 points so far. And I would imagine Fred's going to probably stick in somewhere in this area. Obviously there's some great players behind them. CJ McCollum. I think James Harden's behind him. So that's going to change a little bit, I'm sure, but overall-- as you're talking about-- his ability to create in all situations now. And we're seeing teams now, they're putting Desmond Bane on him. They're putting other bigger, more athletic players, and he's still doing it. He's still doing it.
So now they're really trying to figure out, OK so our big-- we don't do drop coverage because Fred's going to burn us. Our point guards can't really go in because--
AMIT MANN: Nick Vucevic this season, they learned. Montrezl Harrell, he learned.
IMMAN ADAN: It's true. It's true.
AMIT MANN: All you, people, you're learning. If anything he's just more and more lethal than he was before. And the thing that I wanted to ask you about, is, as we're talking about Fred VanVleet is, what areas specifically have you seen him really make a jump this season? Because I think about his screen manipulation, his ability to find passing angles and small windows.
Things like this are helping him give new dimensions to his office, because he already was a great one-on-one player. And a shooting was obviously, I mean, he's got deeper range now it seems like. But other than, maybe the things that I've mentioned, or if you want to elaborate on those, what are some areas that you're finding that he's really taking a big leap forward?
IMMAN ADAN: I think you hit. I think you hit it exactly. I think those are, like, those are the-- and that's what you needed from your main guard. Now that he's taking over guard duties, that's what you needed. I'm not saying that Fred VanVleet is a finished product, I'm not saying that he's like perfect in any way.
But I do think he's putting up this, in my opinion, an all-Star caliber season thus far. He has been this team's MVP. The playmaking, it's that. I like that you said the manipulating of screens as well, like, his ability to find guys. I was worried about Raptors pick and roll offense, especially if they're not going to play.
And that's just like, it's the easiest, it's the easiest, like, play that you can run. It's something that teams are going to do. I'm crapped on and it's something that DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry were brilliant at as well.
Where he needs to improve? I guess the answer is that, it would still be developing some floater having, because he's still undersized, he's never going to be an elite finisher because he's, like, they say 5'11", that feels generous to me as well. I am going to put him away for that.
So that's still always going to be it, that's still going to be where he needs to improve is just scoring underneath the basket in some way. He is, in transition, an absolute monster. And he has these incredible finishes where he contorts his body and it just looks insane. But just being able to reliably pull up from 10 feet would be nice as well.
AMIT MANN: He's doing handstands now, did you see that?
IMMAN ADAN: No.
AMIT MANN: Yeah. He does handstands during the pregame.
IMMAN ADAN: Oh, wow. OK.
AMIT MANN: I go to the Raptors IG. Yeah, he's doing that and then he hits the phone away because he don't want people knowing it. But I think he's doing yoga; he must be doing something like that. Because like you're talking, he's very nimble.
Yeah, he's very nimble. And he can do contorts it in so many different ways, and he's still finding ways to continue to go downhill. And then when he's at the rim, he's like, I'll just figure it out from there.
IMMAN ADAN: And that decision making has been one of the main things that's improved as well. Just his decision making on the court night and day, night and day from early Fred VanVleet.
AMIT MANN: I think he was always composed, but I think he's reading situations better and he's understanding where the pass angles are going to be. There was a play last night, I think it was late in the fourth quarter, where he was getting doubled around the end line and he found Pascal who is standing underneath the bucket.
It was, like, he pass in between two players and he just found him. He's doing so many passes like that, and he makes me feel so calm. I feel so calm when he gets on the court after we've had some issues with the bench so far. And so when he enters a game, I'm happy.
IMMAN ADAN: Yeah. He was studying. But I feel like he was studying, like, in a tunnel vision kind of way, where it was mainly for himself as opposed to finding other people. Also, I want to say his ability to support the defense, it's superb.