VanVleet Rolls With All-Star Snub

by Chris O'Leary

In his 13-year career as a player, Doc Rivers was an NBA All-Star once, in 1988. That appearance was sandwiched around seasons where he posted numbers that were nearly identical to the 14 points and nine assists he averaged in ’88 with the Atlanta Hawks. 

When Rivers spoke before his Philadelphia 76ers faced the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night, you could hear the experience in what he said. 

“There’s All-Stars left off of every All-Star team,” said Rivers, who will coach in his fourth All-Star game on March 7 in Atlanta.  

“There’s more than 12 All-Stars. There just is. Unfortunately, that is our number.” 

When the All-Star reserves were announced on Tuesday, Fred VanVleet learned he was on the outside of those 12 players. His 20.1 points, 6.6 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game are career bests and his 1.7 steals per game are tied for second-best in the league, but a coach’s vote on the most-deserving players to head to Atlanta this year didn’t turn out in VanVleet’s favour. A few hours later, after the Raptors had dropped a 109-102 decision to the Sixers, VanVleet’s coach offered up his thoughts. 

“I'm very disappointed,” Nick Nurse said. 

“I was trying to stop the narrative. The narrative that I kept hearing was always, ‘If you guys wouldn't have had such a bad start…’ 

“Well, the voting just ended (Monday). We were 14-7 in our last 21. I mean, were you still stuck on our 2-8 start? Kyle (Lowry’s) been out a bunch of games. (VanVleet’s) picked up the slack for a six-time All Star, won a lot of games, beat a lot of good teams and had huge games. I’m disappointed. 

“I take nothing away from the guys that made it. I'm sure there's some other guys on other teams that are very disappointed as well. But I mean, I think he's played his guts out and our team’s played pretty well and he's been a big reason for it.” 

As the ball went up in Tampa on Tuesday night, you wondered if VanVleet might go out and have a statement game. His shot (4-14) wasn’t on his side against the Sixers, but his night was a demonstration of who he is, how he plays the game and what he brings to the Raptors. 

The smallest player on the court, VanVleet made big man contributions all night. He went deep into the trees and pulled in eight rebounds against the Sixers. With his shot spotty, he looked for others and picked up eight assists to go with the 12 points he scored. As he’s shown all season, he has a gift for offering up help defence and stripping or blocking the shots of an unsuspecting actual big man.  

The play-by-play from Tuesday says that VanVleet blocked a pair of Joel Embiid’s shots, one of Ben Simmons’ and one of Tobias Harris’. He also had two steals on the night. He’s had two other games this season where he’s been credited with three blocked shots. Other stripped/blocked bigs of late include Giannis Antetenkoumpo and Nikola Vucevic. 

“I've always had the instinct and I always have the mind to make the right play,” VanVleet said of his penchant for getting the ball away from bigs of late. 

“I think I'm just in a good groove right now coming up with them. That's just an instinctual play and that's a game plan thing, watching a ton of film and knowing guys’ tendencies, knowing where they're going to go with it, then just making a play. I can make contact with it a lot, but this is the most that I've actually come away with it.” 

VanVleet’s demeanour didn’t change as he dealt with the news that he hadn’t been selected to the All-Star game, the same way his expression is unchanged from a 54-point outburst to the shooting troubles he had on Tuesday night. Good games or bad, good news or bad, we shouldn’t be surprised that we always get Steady Freddy. 

“It doesn't matter; it does matter, if that makes sense,” he said about being left off. 

“I'm not going to lie and say I don't care. Obviously I care. It’s something that I want to be a part of someday but I think just having a proper perspective on it and understanding that I'm not going anywhere. It’s not going to be my last year being up for All-Star. I think I was very close and all the guys have made it where it was very deserving and that's the case every year. 

“I’ll keep getting better and give myself a better case next year and go from there, but I don't play for that. I try to play the game the right way. 

“Also there’s too much real sh-- going on in the world for me to be crying about making an All-Star game. You know what I'm saying? I don't want to go anyway,” he said, as his grin started to spread across his face. 

“Let's go with that narrative. I'm going to be salty and be a sore loser. I don't want to go. How about that?”

VanVleet’s story is one of defying odds. He didn’t get to write the chapter he wanted to with an All-Star selection, but there’s still much of his story left to be written. 

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