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Free Agent Film Study: Fred VanVleet

Dive into the reasons Raptors guard Fred VanVleet is going to be sought after in free agency.

John Schuhmann

John Schuhmann

Fred VanVleet is about to cash in.

The man who has twice bet on himself — telling teams not to draft him in 2016 and re-signing for just two seasons in 2018 — is one of the best free agents on the market at age 26. VanVleet has seen an increased role every season he’s been in the league, hit several huge shots during the Toronto Raptors’ championship run in 2019, and he had very similar boxscore numbers (17.6 points, 6.6 assists and 1.9 steals per game) as Chris Paul this past season.

VanVleet has championship experience, can play on or off the ball, and is able to impact play on both ends of the floor. He’s not only an important piece of the Raptors’ success of the last two seasons, but would represent an upgrade at point guard for a couple of teams with cap space.

Given the financial uncertainty of the situation the league is in, it’s not the best year to be a free agent. But VanVleet is one of the few that should have multiple suitors offering long and lucrative contracts.

1. Catch and shoot

The 2019-20 Raptors ranked 21st in player movement, but eighth in ball movement (340 passes per 24 minutes of possession). According to Second Spectrum tracking, 61% of their jumpers, the league’s highest rate, were catch-and-shoot jumpers.

VanVleet’s effective field goal percentage of 65.6% on catch-and-shoot jumpers was the best mark among the nine Raptors with at least 100 catch-and-shoot attempts. Almost all of his were 3-point attempts and he shot 44.0% on catch-and-shoot 3s, the seventh best mark among 81 players who attempted at least 200.

The Raptors were also one of the league’s best teams in transition — the percentage of their possessions that were in transition ranked first and their transition efficiency ranked third — and here’s a Kyle Lowry push resulting in a catch-and-shoot 3 for VanVleet:

VanVleet catch-and-shoot 3

Here’s VanVleet creating the advantage and then benefiting from it himself by relocating Curry-style …

VanVleet relocation 3

2. Drive and dime

A drive-and-kick possession from VanVleet is not uncommon. He led the Raptors with 14.3 drives per game and he passed on 56.7% of his drives, the third-highest rate among 118 players who averaged at least five per game.

The Raptors spaced the floor as much as any team (their top nine guys were all capable 3-point shooters), and VanVleet led the team (ranking 26th in the league) with 146 assists on 3s, able to make the right read:

VanVleet drive and kick

… and also find passes others can’t:

VanVleet drop off

3. Can he get his own?

While VanVleet was able to create for his teammates when he got into the paint, there’s another reason why he got rid of the ball on more than half of his drives. At 6-foot-1, he’s not a strong finisher at the rim.

VanVleet shot 37% on drives, the second-worst mark among 70 players who attempted at least 200 shots on drives. His 51.5% shooting in the restricted area, the fourth-worst mark among 102 players with at least 200 restricted-area attempts.

VanVleet unable to finish

And while VanVleet was near the top of the league in catch-and-shoot 3-point percentage, he shot 32.7% on pull-up 3s, a mark which ranked 40th among 64 players who attempted at least 100. The difference between his 3-point percentage on catch-and-shoot attempts (44.0%) and his 3-point percentage on pull-up attempts (32.7%) was the sixth-biggest among 52 players with at least 100 of each.

In the regular season, VanVleet scored 0.84 points per possession as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, a mark which ranked 41st among 49 players who averaged at least five ball-handler possessions per game. In the playoffs, the 0.64 points per possession VanVleet scored as a pick-and-roll ball-handler ranked last among 26 players with at least 35 total postseason ball-handler possessions.

And the playoffs ended for the Raptors when the Celtics blew up a “hammer” play and VanVleet couldn’t get a good look against Grant Williams:

VanVleet shot for the tie

Essentially, when it comes to VanVleet’s shooting, there’s his catch-and shoot 3s and there’s everything else.

4. Disruptive defender

Like their offense, the Raptors’ second-ranked defense was an ensemble production. There wasn’t a team more consistently on a string with its rotations.

But VanVleet was Toronto’s most disruptive defender. He led the league with 4.2 deflections per game and ranked fourth with 1.9 steals per game.

He’s relentless and handsy with his pressure, whether he’s guarding the ball …

VanVleet steal vs. Oladipo

… helping from off it …

VanVleet steal vs. Memphis

… or at the top of the Raptors’ zone:

VanVleet steal vs. Brown

VanVleet can help neutralize the best small guards. When the Raptors went to a box-and-1 defense in the 2019 Finals, it was VanVleet chasing Stephen Curry. And he was attached to Kemba Walker when they went back to it in the conference semis this year. But, again, at 6-foot-1, he’s not somebody you can comfortably assign to the best big guards and wings.

What we do and don’t know

The Raptors know what they’re getting should VanVleet re-sign in Toronto. While his boxscore stats have risen with increased minutes, his shooting in the paint, his pull-up numbers, and his catch-and-shoot numbers have all been very consistent over the last three seasons.

Fred Vanvleet shooting, last three seasons

Paint Pull-up Catch-and-shoot
Season FGA FG% FGA eFG% FGA eFG%
2017-18 257 46.3% 101 46.0% 187 65.5%
2018-19 213 46.0% 208 42.1% 195 62.3%
2019-20 338 45.6% 235 42.8% 212 65.6%
TOTAL 808 45.9% 544 43.1% 594 64.5%

Other teams don’t necessarily know what they’re getting should they extract him from the Raptors’ ensemble. While he may be an upgrade at point guard in New York or Detroit and able to create for others, he’s not necessarily the guy you look to for a key bucket when you need one.

VanVleet’s talent, experience and grit still have value in any environment. And he’s likely to remain a very good player for a very long time.

* * *
John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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