Fred VanVleet’s Child Might Have Won the Toronto Raptors the 2019 NBA Finals

In 2016, at the age of 22, Fred VanVleet was drafted to play with the Toronto Raptors. His first couple of seasons were rough, and he seemed to be in a slump entering the 2018-19 finals. Thanks to the birth of his son, VanVleet’s game turned around. The point guard helped lead the Raptors to the NBA championship title.

Who is Fred VanVleet?

VanVleet grew up outside of Chicago in a tough neighborhood in Rockford, Illinois. His father was shot and killed in 1999 when VanVleet was only five years old. Wanting to save him from the streets, his mother and stepfather were very strict with VanVleet and his two brothers.

By the age of 10, he was practicing basketball every day, sometimes wearing a 30-pound vest for strengthening. He went on to play college ball at Wichita State in Kansas. The NBA draft overlooked him in 2016, but the Raptors eventually signed him as a fourth-string point guard.

The Raptors initial impression of VanVleet

The Raptors coaching staff saw potential in VanVleet, which is why they decided to give him a chance. The point guard from Kansas didn’t turn any heads and spent most of his first two seasons on the bench as a backup player.

Heading into the 2018-19 finals, VanVleet was only averaging four points in the postseason. He was making 26 percent of his shots from the field and sitting at 20 percent from the three. After the second playoff game, VanVleet had the lowest plus-minus mark on the Raptors roster. Management was starting to reconsider their decision.

How VanVleet turned it around

VanVleet was feeling the pressure and couldn’t seem to pull himself together. Head coach Nick Nurse told ESPN reporters, “Obviously he’s had a lot going on.” On May 20, 2019, in the middle of the playoff run, VanVleet’s girlfriend gave birth to their second child, a son, Fred Jr.

After VanVleet took care of his obligations to his family, he came back to the court with a new focus and determination to play. He turned his game around, and his averages started to climb. Throughout the rest of the playoff games, VanVleet scored an average of 14.1 points, hitting 54% from the field. He also more than doubled his three-point field goal attempts to 55%.

What teammates had to say about VanVleet’s turnaround

Raptors starting point guard, Kyle Lowry, told ESPN, “I think he needed to welcome little Freddy, Jr. to the building. I think those kinds of things relaxed him a little bit.”

VanVleet’s formula for success

When asked by ESPN about the key to his newfound success, VanVleet replied, “Zero sleep. Have a lot of babies and go out there and let loose.” He continued by saying, “Becoming a parent has been the greatest thing that’s happened to me.”

Does VanVleet give credit to Freddy, Jr?

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When asked if Freddy, Jr. was responsible for VanVleet suddenly playing better, he jokingly replied, “He gets no credit. I wish I could go back in time and not tell anyone that I had a kid, so I could get all the glory for turning around my performance.”

What’s next for VanVleet?

At the start of the 2018-19 season, VanVleet signed a two-year contract with the Raptors, valued at $18 million. Last year’s season was cut short because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and there is no indication yet as to when next year’s games will begin. 

Sports Illustrated recently suggested that VanVleet may go into the 2020 offseason as one of the top unrestricted free agents, implying that “Toronto may have seen the last of Fred VanVleet in a Raptors uniform.”