The (multi)million dollar question is here…is he a max player?
Lets not only take a look at that question, but attempt to answer just how good is Fred VanVleet?
My personal favorite way to try and eliminate biases in analysis to to to a blind comparison of the numbers. I have selected six players, including Fred, from this season. One player was injured most of the year, so his previous year was used.
Take a hard look at those stats and try and guess who they are.
Lets start with Player 4, because you have probably figured out the ‘elite’ point guard that doesn’t attempt any threes. That’s right, it is Ben Simmons, all-star and all-NBA player. Simmons is a unique player due to his size and speed, making him a match up nightmare for other teams. Simmons is not a good shooter, evident is his very minimal threes taken and 60% Free Throw percentage. Simmons has a high FG percentage, but this primarily comes from dunking and has created well documented floor spacing issues. Brett Brown is even advocating moving him to the PF spot.
Simmons Strength is supposed to be on the defensive end. There is no doubt that Simmons is a high level defender and capable of guarding more positions than Fred due to his size. Fred on the other hand has different defensive skills sets than make him a different sort of pest. Take a look at their Steals Per Game (SPG), Simmons is as expected the highest at 2.1 but Fred is right behind him with 1.9. According to NBA.com’s Player Hustle stats Fred leads the league with 4.2 deflections a game and Simmons is in third with 3.7. For reference is Kwahi Leonard has 3.5. There is no question Fred is a plus defender by any metric out there and he rarely requires help on switches. An incredible feat, he no doubt learned from Kyle Lowry, for a player his size.
Simmons is the better rebounder without a question and that should be expected at his size. Simmons main advantage in rebounding comes on the offensive end, where he has the advantage of being 6’10” and usually sitting in the dunker spot. If you cannot hit threes you better rebound.
Simmons has a couple obvious holes in his game but he is a consensus max player. If Simmons can fix his shooting he vaults into elite, but that simply has not happened yet and there is no evidence to suggest it will. As of now, when comparing Fred to him, I cannot find any stat that separates them enough to justify one being a max player and the other not, other than there physical gifts. We will cover that later.
Player 1 is not a max player but he makes plenty of money and starts at point guard for a top contender. Fred is better in almost every category, especially minutes played and three point percentage. This player’s shooting is suspect enough that team are happy to leave him open for ‘dare’ shots. Player 1’s FG percentage is better than Fred’s, but that can come from not shooting a lot of threes and focusing on lay-ups and mid range.
If you guessed Eric Bledsoe of the Milwaukee Bucks, you are right. At 4 years 70 million, this contract has almost become too much of a burden for this team. You can blame roster construction for pairing a poor three point shooting point guard with a poor three point shooting ball dominant player, but in the end Fred is just flat out better. We are not going to spend more time on Eric Bledsoe, if you need evidence just watch any Raptors game, then watch any Bucks game. The difference is clear.
For this player we are using his 2018-2019 season due to injuries. Before we reveal the name, you should know that this player is considered a superstar in the league. This players points per game are higher than Fred’s but you can see that he takes more shots.
Were you able to guess Kyrie Irving?
An important note about Kyrie is that his ball handling is incredible. Fred is a great ball handler, but Kyrie is in the top few ball handlers of his generation, maybe ever. That is not to say he does not have negatives, Kyrie is a much more ball dominant player than Fred. According to NBA.com’s Advanced Stats, Kyrie averages 76.8 touches per game and during those touches he holds on to the ball for over 5 seconds. A very interesting not is that Kyle Lowry gets more touches per game than Kyrie, but holds the ball for significantly less. This is a very important note for Fred as Kyle will not be here forever. What kind of statistical increase will we see from Fred when is the number one point guard on the team?
As of today Kyrie is the better player, that stats bare that out, as he is an lights-out three point shooter. However the is Kyrie’s ninth season and it is only Fred’s fourth. Will Fred keep developing and getting even better? Time will tell, but his improvement to this point has been incredible. The final point on Kyrie is his ability to stay on the court, he has had prolonged injury stretches. Holding that against Kyrie over Fred seems unwarranted at this point due to his additional time in the league and the wear and tear that comes with. However, what is worth holding against him is his perceived leadership to this point. Kyrie turned a very talented team in Boston into an absolute tire fire. The rumors and stories that have come out of Boston are not a good look to say the least. Fred is yet to have any issues like this and given his personality it is hard to foresee any. That being said, there is strong leadership support in Toronto.
All of those issues aside, Kyrie is still considered an franchise altering talent. If Kyrie is considered that franchise altering, there is no doubt that Fred is a max player, especially once he takes over top point guard duties.
Lets jump down to Player 6. This is a crucial comparison to the future of the Raptors franchise. Player 6 has more PPG, but similar to Kyrie he takes more shots. He does not shoot as well from three as Fred but it is close. The deeper you dig into the defensive stats, the more you will see the Fred is leading in that category. Player 6 is not a liability defensively but he is not where Fred his. The most startling difference is the Assists. Fred is just under a full two assists per game ahead of this player.
Why is this comparison important? Well player 6 is max player and consistent rival Kemba Walker. With Kemba’s new role on the Celtics, Fred will be matched up against him in key match-ups for the foreseeable future. The raptor’s success is going to be partially defined on Fred’s ability to compete with Kemba.
Kemba is a well deserved multiple time all-star and has been in the league for nine years. With his new home in Boston surrounded by a significant talent upgrade from Charlotte, Kemba is producing at an all-star level. If you bulindly look at the stats above, you will see there is not a lot of difference in the numbers. Kemba takes more shots and has better FG percentage, where Fred is the far better defender. Similar to Kyrie, Kemba get significantly more touches than Fred and if you think Fred is max player you have to live with some growing pains on efficiency. To this point there is no reason to believe Fred will not rise to this opportunity as he has continued to improve every year.
If you are deciding based on a comparison of the two, there is very little statistically to separate one player being a max player and the other not. This comparison once again comes down to what you think Fred can do in the top point guard spot, Fred is already a starter and excelling when he is the floor general, there is no statistical reason to think he cannot bear that load.
Player 3 is clearly the best statistical player above. This player was left in to show what an truly elite player looks that leads their team every single night. Player 6 is Damian Lillard. Lillard is a top 5-10 player in the league and anyone who would argue that is wrong. His stats show how special he is, especially shooting threes. Yes, he can be streaky at time, however his level of efficiency given his volume and his assists per game set him aside from the field.
Fred is not Damian, nor is he close yet. However that does not mean is not a max player. There are different tiers to top players and Damian is in a different tier than the rest of the field.
Lets talk about why Fred is not an automatic max player in most peoples eyes. there are a few reasons for this. First, he is undersized. In today’s switching defenses that can be a liability. Fred has shown he is a more than capable defender. Second, Fred was undrafted. Almost all of the players above came in to the league with they expectation that they would be max players, fred did not. That connotation lingers in peoples minds, especially the media who can lead the narrative. Third, there is some lingering ‘small market’ bias that comes from not playing with Lebron (Kyrie) or playing in a major market. If Fred played for the Lakers or the Knicks, you would here about him every single day. Lastly, Fred is on an upward trajectory and that scares people. For some analysts its hard to determine if he is making consistent improvement or just playing above his head. Fred has gone cold before, but clearly he broke out of it. Fred has also not been the true number one point guard yet, by giving him a max contract you are making a bit on his future ability to do so.
Can Fred become Damian? Probably not, they have very different games. The question we need to ask, is can Fred be a top 3 player on a championship caliber team? Other franchises have been betting on players statistically similar to Fred to be that, meanwhile Fred has been betting on himself. Its paid off.
Pay this man! Just ask Kevin Durant!