After the Toronto Raptors were swept out of the playoffs by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round, president Masai Ujiri lamented the fact his team’s three-point shooters didn’t make shots going 27-90 from deep. So changes were coming and they came, but he may have already had at least one other solid three-point threat on his roster just waiting for an opportunity.
“I think we have the ability to shoot the three,” Ujiri responded to Pro Bball Report prior to the NBA draft. “But I don’t think we shot the three well. In parts of the season we shot the three well, (but at the end), one, we didn’t have Kyle (Lowry) and (two,) a couple of our guys that usually shoot it okay did not shoot it well and so it’s something we are paying attention to and we hope to get better at.
“There was emphasis on that obviously because Kyle didn’t play these games (versus Cleveland) and we just didn’t shoot the three-ball well as a team.”
Players the Raptors were counting on to stretch the floor in the postseason: DeMarre Carroll (31.8% 3FG), Patrick Patterson (30.8% 3FG), and P.J. Tucker (32.1% 3FG) are now all gone via trade or free agency.
In bound is one of the top three-point shooters in the NBA, 30-year-old guard/forward C.J. Miles, who shot 41.3 percent from three-point range with the Pacers last season. And, he should help, a lot.
Earning a much bigger role in this upcoming season during the playoffs was guard/wing Norman Powell who hit on 44.1 percent of his postseason three-balls.
But sliding under the radar and getting very little attention until July’s Las Vegas Summer League has been last year’s undrafted rookie Fred VanVleet, and for a team seemingly desperate to add more and better three-point shooting, he’s been there all along.
VanVleet had another solid stint in Las Vegas hitting on 8-18 three-point attempts (44.4%) and running a group of players with little practice time very effectively.
However, the undersized guard wasn’t just standing at the arc firing up three-balls. Looking like Kyle Lowry clone, he was driving to the basket and making shots thru traffic with seeming ease. He got to the free throw line a lot (for Summer League) and hit on 15-15 from the charity stripe over his four games.
None of this should be a surprise.
Last year at Summer League he shot 6-11 from three over five games coming off the bench and in college he went 141-365 (38.6%) over his four years at Wichita State. VanVleet is a three-point shooter.
While Summer League and college doesn’t always translate to the pros, in VanVleet’s case, it looks like it has.
In his 16 regular season G-League (formerly D-League) games with the Raptors 905, VanVleet was at his best firing from deep, hitting on 22-54 attempts (40.7%). Then in his limited run with the big club, he hit on 11-29 (37.9%) versus NBA competition.
He’s not afraid to shoot the three against anybody and so far, the level of competition hasn’t affected his ability to hit them.
As expected, he didn’t play much in the NBA playoffs, but in the 29 minutes he did get, VanVleet shot 2-5 from three.
There was a time when an undersized player at any position was going struggle to get the attention their talent deserved. However, things have changed in the NBA. There has never been more focus on getting and developing effective three-point shooters and the Raptors may have found one in VanVleet.