The Toronto Raptors liked 22-year-old undrafted Wichita State senior point guard Fred VanVleet so much in Summer League that they gave him a training camp invite and made it obvious from Day One he was a likely choice to make the team. However, as the fourth point guard on the organization’s NBA roster, he was going to have to find his groove playing with the Development League Mississauga Raptors 905.
The primary purpose of the 905 is to develop players Raptors president Masai Ujiri believes have the potential to help his team win in the future and it proved its worth last season with Delon Wright, Norman Powell, Bruno Caboclo and Lucas Nogueira last season. This year VanVleet, Caboclo and Jakob Poeltl have made the trip to Mississauga in order to get playing time that’s simply not available to them in Toronto at the moment.
VanVleet debuted with 20 points on 53.8 percent shooting to go with 6 rebounds and 7 assists, but since then he’s had to work hard to make an impact. However, 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse is going to let him work thru every manner of mistake and keep him on the court quite simply because that’s why the team exists.
“Fred’s smart, he knows that if his shot is not going down he’s going to find other ways to help the team, to help his teammates get easy opportunities,” Stackhouse said. “They are going to guard him closely.”
“The thing about my game is a lot of it’s predicated on getting to the line and getting some calls and the thing about getting calls is sometimes you don’t,” VanVleet said. “It can look pretty ugly there at times when I’m going in there failing at the rim, but I’ve just got to keep aggressive.”
Now four games in, VanVleet is averaging 17.3 points on 41 percent shooting, 2.8 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.8 steals and his 905 team is 3-1. He has been getting to the line 4.8 times per game.
For comparison, last year’s Raptors rookie Delon Wright in 15 905 games averaged 17.7 points on 53.6 percent shooting, 5 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 1.6 steals, but Wright started out red hot in November shooting 73.9 percent from the field in what should be considered the easiest part of the D-League schedule.
“My ultimate goal is to lead the team first and get wins and run the show,” VanVleet explained. “Individual stats and all that comes second. Obviously I know I can play a lot better and keeping working and getting better and trying to deliver. A couple of extra assists might make the stats look pretty.”
It was a long time between preseason games and meaningful minutes for VanVleet with the Raptors in Toronto and he needs the playing time available to him with the 905 if he is going to improve.
“It’s good,” VanVleet said about the 905. “I’ve been fairly rusty and just trying to get back into rhythm. It’s just different playing with a different team and some of the schemes we are doing are different. Different cultures, different teammates, different opposition, so I’m just trying to get acclimated.”
VanVleet has looked very good at times, controlling the pace and the offense and playing like a young NBA player among prospects. He’s also looked, as he noted “ugly” at times as well, turning the ball over 2.8 times per game and struggling to finish or get calls at the rim. His long jumpers aren’t falling with any consistency yet either.
However, the purpose of the 905 is to allow players like VanVleet to get comfortable playing professionally and get a chance to play thru mistakes and find their groove. The Raptors believe VanVleet has the potential to become an NBA rotation player and it’s Stackhouse’s job to get him ready so he can prove it when his chance comes.