Published On: Wed, Mar 14th, 2018

Big Read: Why no one should have underestimated Fred VanVleet

For the Raptors scouting department, VanVleet is a triumph. Finding future NBA stars isn’t all that hard; they are nearly all prodigies, advertised well before they arrive in the league by rare blends of size, skill and athleticism that are harder to miss than to identify. VanVleet represents the other end of the spectrum — he’s barely six-feet tall, has just an average wing span for that below-average height and, while quick, would not qualify as explosive by NBA standards. All of which explains why 30 teams passed on drafting him — twice. But the Raptors, lacking a 2016 second-round pick, believed someone with VanVleet’s intangibles might be able find a way to prove effective at the next level. They signed him as a free agent, benefitting from the early legwork Tolzman had done and the team’s relationship with VanVleet’s management team, which also represents Lowry.

But even though the Raptors saw something in VanVleet, it’s still telling that the rest of the NBA didn’t or couldn’t see the qualities that have made him successful. Quantifying will, mental toughness, emotional IQ and perseverance remains an inexact science. “Every time I saw him, I came away thinking, ‘Man, I wonder if he’s good enough to play,’” says Tolzman. But I just love him. I love everything about how he approaches the game, he’s a good shooter and just tough.”

Lowry, an undersized guard who was the 24th player taken in 2006 but ranks third in his draft class in WinShares, believes teams make it too complicated. “Just look at him! He’s not that tall, he’s not that athletic, but he still gets the job done,” says Lowry of VanVleet, whom he took under his wing as a rookie. “Look what he did in college,” the veteran continues, referencing the fact VanVleet was two-time conference player of the year at Wichita State, where the Shockers went 91-15 with him as a starter. “That takes skill, that takes knowledge, that takes smarts. And then he got here and you could tell he was a guy who watches basketball, knows basketball and knows his job. He’s smart as shit.”

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Big Read: Why no one should have underestimated Fred VanVleet