Fred VanVleet’s hero turn for the Toronto Raptors during the 2019 NBA Playoffs was nothing short of astonishing.
After an injury-plagued regular season, VanVleet was arguably the worst rotation player in the postseason for roughly two and a half series. He shot 12.9% against the Philadelphia 76ers and went 1-of-11 in Game 3 against the Milwaukee Bucks, which luckily was a double-overtime victory that turned the tide of the Eastern Conference Finals.
VanVleet then morphed into a flamethrower after his son was born, scorching the nets for the rest of the Bucks series and then continuing his hot shooting in the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors. The guard culminated this shocking turnaround with 22 points in the Game 6 clincher at Oracle Arena.
Apparently VanVleet is still living off that championship high, as he played the role of hero once again in the Raptors’ season-opening victory over the New Orleans Pelicans. Pascal Siakam may be Toronto’s new No. 1 option with Kawhi Leonard gone, but VanVleet was able to match Siakam on Tuesday night with a career-high 34 points in a 130-122 victory in overtime:
VanVleet was on fire from all over the court, making 12 of his 18 field goal attempts while knocking down 5-of-7 from long distance. He even went 5-of-6 from the free-throw, even though he’s not a guy who gets to the charity stripe very often. The guard added seven assists, five rebounds and two steals to round out his performance.
Making this even more impressive is the fact that VanVleet suffered an ankle injury in the game when he got tangled up with a cameraman. However, he gutted it out and made huge play after huge play down the stretch. The 25-year-old buried a clutch 3-pointer with 1:19 left in regulation to tie the game at 115 apiece, and then he drained another triple with 1:28 remaining in overtime to make it a five-point Raptors lead.
Toronto will be leaning on VanVleet heavily this season now that Leonard and Danny Green are gone. While primarily a bench player to start his career, VanVleet got the start at shooting guard alongside Kyle Lowry and played 44 minutes on Tuesday. The Raptors’ depth is looking shaky to start the season, so VanVleet is going to get a ton of minutes.
While Fred VanVleet didn’t suddenly morph into Stephen Curry, it’s a good sign for Toronto that his terrific play from the end of the playoffs has carried over to the start of this season. The Raptors may not be a legitimate title contender anymore, but they can still be a dangerous team in the Eastern Conference if things break right. That includes VanVleet having a career season as he plays for a new contract.