Championships breed heroes.
Averaging 22 points and 11.5 assists in the 2017 NBA G League Finals, Fred VanVleet took the reins to lead the Raptors 905 to a title. Just two years later, it’s clear that that winning essence has carried over. Scoring a familiar 22 points — this time on the NBA stage — the fiery offensive spark helped provide the Toronto Raptors with the ultimate boost as they secured the franchise’s first title.
For VanVleet, it was a familiar feeling, but one that still came with much more satisfaction and gratitude.
“Shout out to the G League, all the guys that are grinding,” VanVleet said while basking in the glory of an NBA title. “Much love. Never give up. Keep believing in yourself. It’s possible. You just have to take advantage of your opportunities.”
VanVleet has lived by that advice during much of this postseason run, and it wasn’t any more evident than in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals. As the Warriors scurried to keep their own championship hopes alive by covering other offensive threats like eventual 2019 Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, 2017 NBA G League Finals MVP Pascal Siakam, and five-time NBA all-star Kyle Lowry, it was the scrappy 25-year-old who made them pay. VanVleet converted on five shots from downtown, and came alive down the stretch.
Now a dual NBA G League / NBA champion, VanVleet is someone who knows his role, and remained patient (not to mention, ready to contribute) until his team needed him the most. Since he was able to do that (coincidentally enough), he’ll now be etched in the NBA Finals record books for a long time. Converting on 16 three-point field goals in the series, VanVleet set a new record for most three-point field goals made off the bench in an NBA Finals. The previous record of 15 was shared by Robert Horry and JR Smith. What’s more, as someone prone to coming up in the clutch, VanVleet scored 84 points in the championship series, after scoring a total of 108 points over the course of the first three rounds combined. According to Elias Sports, the only player to score 75+ points in The Finals (dating back to 1983-84) with as few points previously in the playoffs was Toni Kukoc in 1996.
Much like his fellow dual champion Siakam, who joined elite company following Game 1, VanVleet too accomplished rare feats and made his mark in the series. He put an exclamation point on his efforts with a game Raptors fans will remember forever. His success is a testament to the journeys many NBA G League alums take en route to shining at the next level. It’s not a matter of pondering if or when, simply a matter of staying prepared and rewarding an NBA team for rolling the dice.
It’s safe to say Toronto can be pleased with VanVleet’s ever so timely contributions.