Toronto Raptors: Fred VanVleet becoming the unofficial sixth starter

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 19: Fred VanVleet
TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 19: Fred VanVleet /

Fred VanVleet has become one of the most important bench players on the Toronto Raptors since the former sixth man of the year Lou Williams.

It is hard to believe that Fred VanVleet‘s journey to the NBA may never have happened if the Toronto Raptors didn’t sign him to a try-out after the 2016 draft

They were the only team to give him a shot, and now it looks to have paid off, while also being a big mistake by every other team that did not give him a shot.

The 23-year-old has now become the team’s unofficial sixth starter. The last guy who had that distinction won the Sixth Man of the Year Award back in 2015; Lou Williams.

During that season, Williams was Toronto’s go-to-player when they needed someone reliable to come off the bench. VanVleet has performed well enough to the point where he should be in the conversation for that award this season.

However, as good as he’s been this season, it’s pretty much a guarantee that Williams will win the award for the second time in his career.

VanVleet has been the quarterback for the Raptors’ bench this season. He has controlled their game-play whenever he has been on the court. Even though the Illinois native doesn’t average 15 points off-the-bench like Williams did, he still plays important minutes.

Williams averaged 25 minutes per game when he was with Toronto back in the 2014-15 season. In comparison, this season VanVleet averages 19 minutes per game. Now while VanVleet doesn’t average as many minutes as Williams, every time he’s out on the court he makes an impact for this team.

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The impact he makes doesn’t always show up on the scorecard either. VanVleet’s aggressiveness is one the most important parts of his game. The way he drives to the net when he has the ball leaves fans speechless.

He’s so aggressive when he has the ball, he looks like his teammate Kyle Lowry when he blows by a defender on his way to the basket.

It’s VanVleet’s defence though, that makes him such a valuable player. Again, it’s his aggressive style that makes him such a great defender. The easiest example of this is last Friday night against the Rockets.

Because he is so aggressive on defence, he causes a turnover which then leads to a quick lay-up for Pascal Siakam. This play could have led to Houston hitting a three-pointer and the start of a run for the Rockets, but because of VanVleet’s aggressiveness on defence, the Raptors were able to pad their lead on their way to defeating one of the best teams in the NBA.

Next: Lowry and DeRozan end Rockets' win streak

VanVleet is making $1.3 million this season and is a restricted-free-agent after the campaign concludes. With the way he is playing this season and proving how valuable he is, Masai Ujiri will have a make a tough decision on his future with the Toronto Raptors.