Blake Murphy of Raptors Republic prepares Wichita State fans for the start of NBA training camps next week. Here is his take on former Shocker Fred VanVleet and how he may stick on Toronto’s roster.
Q: You covered the Raptors in the Las Vegas Summer League and got a good look at VanVleet during that tournament. What stood out about his game?
A: The biggest thing that jumped out was the poise he played with. That might seem obvious to Wichita State fans who watched him for four years, but in a tournament format where most players are looking to show out and get noticed, and teams have very little practice time together, VanVleet's steady hand running the second unit for the Raptors was impressive.
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The Raptors have drafted a mix of high-upside and high-floor players the last few years, and as a winning team trying to develop young talent at the same time, a rookie with four years of experience who looks game-ready is something they'd definitely appreciate.
His jumper also had more range than I expected it to have immediately, albeit in a small sample.
Q: With Kyle Lowry the starter and Delon Wright injured, how does point guard shake out for the Raptors?
A: The Raptors have the luxury of employing one of the best backup point guards in the NBA in Cory Joseph. Joseph was so effective last year that the Raptors wound up playing heavy minutes with two point guards, so even if they wanted to scale Lowry's immense workload back, it seems unlikely they'd need a third point guard all that much.
Even Wright, who is probably ready for NBA backup minutes, doesn't have a clear path to more than garbage time when healthy. So things are complicated for VanVleet, who may be attractive as insurance at the position but probably wouldn't see a lot of floor time, even if he cracked the roster. And there's a possibility the team is comfortable with Norman Powell as their emergency third point guard, too.
Q: How does VanVleet's style of play fit with how the Raptors play under coach Dwane Casey?
A: Casey's become a fan over the last few years of using multiple point guards together, even if the result is an undersized backcourt like Lowry-Joseph.
This should be a positive for VanVleet, as there's little evidence Casey would shy away from him handling the ball alongside Lowry or spotting up around Joseph (VanVleet's shooting really helps here). The Raptors have also valued ball control as a part of their offensive identity the last few seasons, so VanVleet's low turnover rate could endear him to the coach.
The biggest question, then, is whether VanVleet is up for the challenge of defending bigger guards off the ball or operating in a system that doesn't give the point guard a ton of help from a hedging big in the pick-and-roll. VanVleet was a terrific defender at the college level, but it's never really clear how defense will translate for a smaller guard, even one with a terrific steal rate.
Q: The Raptors will enter training camp with 14 players on a guaranteed contract. Are they expected to add a 15th player and where does VanVleet fit in that competition?
A: I'd guess they'll almost definitely add a 15th. There's an argument to be made for retaining flexibility, but none of the six invitees have guaranteed deals, so there's little risk of having to cut one later in the year if another need came up or player became available (the option to make someone an in-season D-League affiliate is key here, too, since some of these names are open to time with Raptors 905).
I'd probably give VanVleet the edge for the spot entering camp, both because of Wright's injury and how high the Raptors were on him following the draft — they wasted little time getting him signed, gave him a partial guarantee to seal the deal, and feel he was one of the top undrafted players in the class.
But it's very much an open competition. Jarrod Uthoff and E.J. Singler bring shooting at positions of greater need, Brady Heslip brings maybe the best shooting not currently in the NBA, Drew Crawford is an NBA-caliber player, and Yanick Moreira is around, too. I'd give VanVleet the edge but not by much.
Q: What weaknesses does VanVleet need to improve or cover up to make the Raptors roster?
A: I don't think it's a matter of proving to the team he can do anything so much as what the team wants to do from a roster balance standpoint. They know him pretty well already and really like his game.
His stock as an undrafted free agent lied in the fact that he really doesn't have that many weaknesses. He's smart, he's safe, and he shoots. The big thing is showing he can defend in those two-point guard lineups, because that's the only way he'll get playing time if he does crack the roster.