The Toronto Raptors’ playoffs hopes rest on the shoulders of an unlikely hero
Fred VanVleet does not look like your typical NBA star, but this does not stop him from being an ice-cold killer on the court. Standing at six-foot tall and with the stocky frame of a pro football player, VanVleet came out of a small high school in Illinois before heading to unheralded Wichita State for his collegiate career. With the aptly-named Wichita State Shockers, he continued shocking the nation by leading his team to an undefeated regular season along with Ron Baker and Cleanthony Early.
In a familiar story however, VanVleet was passed over in the 2016 NBA Draft despite his stellar play in college. Instead of brooding, VanVleet went right back to work and caught the eye of the Raptors coaching staff with some solid play in the Summer League. He earned a spot on their roster with his poise and veteran-like savvy and was often assigned to the Raptors 905 in the G League in his rookie season. Undeterred, the steady floor general simply led the team to the G League Championship to prove he belonged in the NBA.
This season, VanVleet has been a revelation for the wildly-impressive Toronto Raptors as they clinched the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. A key to their success has been the second unit, affectionately nicknamed the ‘Bench Mob’. VanVleet is the glue that holds the bench together, with his cerebral playmaking and knack for finding guys in the right spots. He is a candidate for the NBA’s Most Improved Player and Sixth Man of the Year awards simultaneously, through doing the little things that make a team better, from hustle and defense to simply taking care of the ball with his borderline-stingy turnover rate.
On a night when everything clicks, VanVleet is able to turn his fellow bench mob of Delon Wright, CJ Miles, Pascal Siakam, Jakob Poeltl and OG Anunoby into world-beaters. Heading into the playoffs, the Raptors will hope for this to happen early and often as they seek to show the world that ‘The North’ is here to stay.