Toronto Raptors rookie point guard Fred VanVleet was getting some playing time coming up to the NBA trade deadline and as someone who likes to drive and create contact, he’s been discovering what getting the rookie treatment means in the NBA.
“You shouldn’t even look for no calls,” All-Star DeMar DeRozan responded to Pro Bball Report about being an NBA rookie. “Fred probably couldn’t even name all three refs out there. It just comes with the game. We all went through it. We all got to get through it. It’s just part of a rookie year and, you know, you can’t complain.”
VanVleet is enjoying the classic case of veteran defenders knowing referees are going to give them a lot of latitude when this undrafted rookie drives to the basket. Getting hacked, wacked and knocked on his backside without a friendly whistle anywhere to be found is just something VanVleet has to get used to.
“Without a doubt, that’s about 80 percent of the battle honestly,” VanVleet told Pro Bball Report about not getting calls. “That’s part of being a rookie. That’s part of being a player that (the referees) don’t know. If you look at some of the calls Kyle (Lowry) gets, we laugh about it as group cause those are All-Star calls and veteran calls that some guys get and that’s a part of the process too cause when I’m driving some guys eyes light up versus being afraid to foul. That’s a part of (being a rookie) and part of being a young player and growing.”
“I am driving pretty much knowing I am not getting any calls. I got to keep that in the back of my head.”
Don’t think for a minute that’s it’s easy for a rookie to keep driving knowing the defender can lay the wood to him and likely get given ‘the benefit of the doubt’ even when there is no doubt about what just happened.
“It’s hard,” VanVleet said. “It’s hard to keep going. It’s not hard to keep the confidence, but it’s hard to know you could look pretty stupid sometimes flipping some up there, taking a shot off the side of the backboard after getting hit. You just got to have the confidence and be a little crazy about it and decide that this is the type of player I am going to be and nobody is going to stop me until coach Casey comes up to me and says I got to be a little smarter about what I’m doing and I take that into consideration, but until that happens I am going to keep going.”
Being unafraid of physical contact is part of the allure VanVleet brings to the table. There are definitely parallels to Lowry in VanVleet’s game. A toughness, a bulldog mentality that suggests VanVleet will find a way to stick in the NBA long term.
One area where the lack of a referee’s whistle can’t hold him back is on the perimeter and although the sample size is small, VanVleet’s three-point shooting at 38.9 percent has been encouraging.
“I don’t feel that when I play I am limited in any shape or form,” VanVleet said. “Other than in Brooklyn, I’ve thought I’ve shot it well and had good looks. I feel that I can score when I’m out there. It’s a matter of growing and being more efficient and each time I play, trying to get better and over time develop as a player.”
“In terms of shooting from the perimeter, I don’t think I have any issues. It’s just that when I get into the lane, obviously with bigger guys around, trying to find a way to be more efficient.”
With Delon Wright back from injury, playing time for VanVleet will get even harder to find and it’s possible one of them gets traded, possibly this week, likely before next season, so what VanVleet is able to do with whatever opportunities come his way matters. Everything he has done, and will do, will be under the microscope.
“It’s just better players, bigger players, limited time,” VanVleet said. “When I do play, it’s under a microscope. It’s just a learning process that most young players go through and it’s part of my development as a player. I’ll continue to grow and get better.”
Watching VanVleet play, there is no question he’s been getting the rookie treatment from the referees and into the stretch drive prior to the playoffs, he can expect the rookie treatment from the coaching staff as well. Minutes will be hard to come by, but the reasons why the Raptors signed him in the summer have become obvious. There is a lot of Lowry’s bulldog mentality and confidence in his game.