Toronto Raptors rookie point guard Fred VanVleet has a lot of confidence and pride, two things he’ll need to survive in the NBA and he’s been taking his “demotions” to the Raptors NBA D-League affiliate seriously and putting in the work. Although, there is more than just a tinge of I don’t really need to be there, when forced to talk about it, VanVleet will admit the Raptors 905 is helping him – maybe.
“I guess that’s a two-part answer for you,” VanVleet responded to Pro Bball Report about playing with the 905. “Number one, I’ve done it and I’ve been doing it and I was ready (to play in the NBA), so I guess you could say it helped me and number two, I don’t know what the alternative is, so who’s to say if I didn’t play (with the 905), I wouldn’t have been ready?
“Whatever the case may be, I was ready when in that moment and I’ve been here with the D-League team, so I guess you could say that was the reason why I’ve been ready, but I just think you’ve got to mentally prepare and physically prepare every day. Work as hard as you can and that’s something I put a lot of pride into, so I think it’s a combination of all those things.”
VanVleet got his chance to play backup point guard minutes with the big club when Cory Joseph missed a game with “flu-like” symptoms and he was ready. The rookie didn’t blow anyone away, but he didn’t look terribly out of place either. It was a solid outing playing meaningful minutes.
At the very least, even VanVleet had to admit the 905 helped get him into “game-shape.”
“Obviously playing and getting game reps helps,” VanVleet admitted. “There is no way to simulate a game other than by playing a game. You can work out all you want to, but until you go out there and go up and down and get into a stance and go for loose balls and make a couple of trips up and down, that’s how you get in game-shape.
“I feel like I’m in pretty good shape. It would be better if I was playing every day, but I don’t feel sluggish or slow out there at all.”
Maybe it’s the 249 minutes he has played in Mississauga with the Raptors 905 over the past month that should be getting credit for that lack of sluggishness? And maybe it’s the practice in eight live D-League games that made sure VanVleet didn’t look like he was covered in rust when Raptors head coach Dwane Casey threw him out there for 23 minutes in Orlando?
Casey has little doubt about where the credit for VanVleet’s readiness to play belongs.
“It’s just a tribute to our program, top to bottom,” Casey said after the win in Orlando. “The 905, the experience (VanVleet) has down there. He is going to go down there and practice tomorrow.
“It shows how tight our program is. It says a lot about our program, having our guys ready. (If VanVleet) had just been just sitting on the bench down there and not having game experience and game reps as he’s had, he wouldn’t have been ready.
“This is a great testament to our program. The investment we made in the 905 and Fred being ready and stepping up. Fred did a good job.”
Mississauga Raptors 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse knows what he’s been able to do to help the rookie as well.
“I think every coach knows that with that team (the Toronto Raptors) they aren’t going to get a ton of practice to get up and down,” Stackhouse said. “Fred doesn’t get a lot of up and down. A lot of his stuff comes from drill work and having to get his conditioning himself, so being able to come down here and actually being able to get some game reps, it helps him out a ton.
“It’s a little different feel for us when we have Bruno (Caboclo) and Fred, but that’s who we are.”
The 905 was acquired to get players ready for the Raptors in Toronto. Fred VanVleet, whether he realizes it or not, has just joined a rapidly growing list of guys on the big club that have benefited from this investment.
Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.