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Fred VanVleet, Raptors ‘hungry and thirsty to get back to the finals’

Fred VanVleet

Kawhi Leonard may have been the most outstanding player of the 2019 NBA Playoffs, but backup point guard Fred VanVleet was one of the unsung heroes of the Toronto Raptors during their championship run.

After struggling to see the floor and make a tangible impact in the first 15 games of the postseason, VanVleet found his stride in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks. VanVleet scored 13 points and added six assists to help the Raptors tie the series, then scored 35 points in each of the next two games as the Raptors advanced to the NBA Finals.

Having made it to the NBA’s ultimate stage, VanVleet elevated his play. The former Wichita State standout averaged 14 points in the series and scored 22 points in the closeout game while stifling Stephen Curry’s offensive rhythm.

Even though Leonard has moved on to greener pastures in Los Angeles, VanVleet told The Canadian Press that he is motivated to return to the NBA Finals (via TSN):

“We’re hungry. We’re hungry again,” VanVleet said on the basketball court at Humber College’s north campus. “Obviously, it was a great run, we had a good time. We won a ring. But your career doesn’t stop because you win a championship. We’re all hungry and thirsty to get back to the finals.”

Although Leonard is gone, the Raptors return most of their core to a team that should still remain competitive in a depleted Eastern Conference. They also face the question of what to do with some of their expiring contracts, notably Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol.

Pascal Siakam looks like the piece to build around in Toronto, and VanVleet proved that he could be capable of filling Lowry’s shoes at the point guard position.

Regardless, the Raptors will be looking to reach the mountaintop once again in 2020.