Fred VanVleet’s favorite point guard is Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs. There’s a resemblance between the two, and not all of it is physical.
VanVleet plays like Parker, fearlessly and relentlessly. And he doesn’t run from the comparison because he wants to be the best. Tell him he’s Tony Parker and he embraces the viewpoint, he doesn’t dismiss it.
And if that comes across as cocky, you don’t know VanVleet, No. 5 Wichita State’s sophomore point guard who is having a great season because he’s the furthest thing from cocky. He’s as unselfish as they come, a trait most of the great point guards possess. He likes to pass first. But he’s beginning to realize, as is everyone else, that when he shoots, good things happen.
VanVleet is good when he scores, as he did Tuesday night when he popped in a team-high 22 points during a 72-50 win over Bradley at Koch Arena. And he’s good when he doesn’t. He had only six points and a bad shooting night against Illinois State last week, yet contributed 10 assists and seven rebounds.
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If you’re charting solar eclipses, you should also take a look into VanVleet’s turnovers because they happen about as often. His assist-to-turnover ratio is 94-21, which for a while looked like it might be the score of Tuesday night’s game.
But Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall is reluctant to bury opponents, which is partly why he made liberal use of his bench during the final 12 minutes.
Even VanVleet, an iron man who leads WSU in minutes, logged only 28.
VanVleet shoots 48.7 percent from the field, 45.5 percent from the three-point line and hits 86.5 percent of his free throws. He leads WSU in steals with 34 and chips in with 3.7 rebounds per game, not shabby for a 5-foot-11 point guard.
He’s at his best in traffic, driving the basketball into the lane and bouncing off defenders to make shots he has no business making. He looks like a hockey player attacking the net at times, but told me after the win over Bradley that he has never been on the ice.
Probably a good thing, because the hardwood is where he belongs.
VanVleet doesn’t seem to be getting a lot of national run, even though he’s the leader of the nation’s fifth-ranked team.
As good as VanVleet became for WSU late last season — and the Shockers weren’t in Atlanta for the Final Four without him — he has taken his game to a new level.
Last season, VanVleet had 46 turnovers compared to 89 assists. Good, but hardly the nearly 5-to-1 craziness of this season. His scoring average has jumped from 4.3 to 12.8 and it looks to me like he’s just scratching the surface. VanVleet hasn’t had a bad game this season. Some are better than others, of course, but he always finds a way to contribute.
VanVleet had a 2-for-8 game against Tennessee State on Nov. 16, but also had six assists and four steals. He had a season-low four points during a win over Oral Roberts in early December, but came through with six assists and two steals.
He made 3 of 11 shots Saturday during the Shockers’ harrowing overtime win at Missouri State, yet took over the game by getting to the free-throw line numerous times late.
When something’s not working, VanVleet has the luxury of finding something else that is.
One of the first things I do after every WSU game is check VanVleet’s line on the box score. It’s always full of squiggly numbers.
When I asked Marshall if there’s a point guard he would trade VanVleet for, his mind went right past college basketball to the NBA.
“I don’t even know who they all are,” Marshall said. “There’s Damian Lillard. I wouldn’t take Steve Nash right now over Fred because I think he’s pretty much done. Norris Cole in Miami? I wouldn’t take him. I’d probably take Chris Paul — I’m very familiar with Chris Paul. But he’s hurt, so I wouldn’t take him right now.”
Let’s just say Marshall couldn’t be more pleased with the guy running his team.
Bradley coach Geno Ford, who did a five-minute infomercial for the Shockers after the game, said VanVleet was one of the best three college point guards in the country.
Rating and comparing is always an effort in subjective futility, of course. But what everybody can agree on is that the Shockers, now one of three remaining unbeaten teams after Indiana’s win over Wisconsin on Tuesday night, are in good hands with VanVleet.