The Toronto Raptors have chosen Fred VanVleet to fill out the 15th spot on the regular season roster, according to a report from Shams Charania of The Vertical.
VanVleet was long considered the favorite for the spot, due in part to the injury to third-string point guard Delon Wright and due to how high the team is on his play. Even before Wright suffered a dislocated shoulder and torn labrum that could sideline him into January, the Raptors were enamored enough with VanVleet to ink him to a two-year deal with a $50,000 partial guarantee for this season, as Raptors Republic reported in July. Few around the league doubt that VanVleet is an NBA talent, and he was considered among the best undrafted players this summer, even eschewing a potential second-round selection in order to better control his own future.
That gamble seems to have paid off, as he’ll enter the season as Toronto’s third guard. There may not be a ton of minutes behind Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph, if Wright’s role last season is any indication, but VanVleet saw time alongside both in the preseason, and he impressed a great deal. He’s also developed a quick on- and off-court chemistry with Norman Powell and earned rave reviews for approaching training camp the “Raptors way,” in the words of assistant coach Patrick Mutombo.
On the court, VanVleet’s been able to bring a steady presence to bench-heavy units lacking in experience, settling the offense down and helping ramp up the pressure on the defensive end. He’s shown a nice knack for using his handful of tricks at the NBA level – midgeting, speed changes, quick pull-ups in transition – and he’s done a good job finding teammates for easy looks. Defensively, he’s held his own with the exception of a “Christening” at the hands of Chris Paul (in his coach’s words). He averaged roughly 15-4-4 per-36 minutes in the preseason, posting just shy of a two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio and posting a 58.3 true-shooting percentage. A couple of off nights aside, he did little to dispel the notion that his sliding through the cracks of the draft was a mistake.
With VanVleet’s inclusion, here’s how the opening night roster stands for the Raptors:
PG: Lowry, Joseph, VanVleet, Wright (injured)
SG: DeRozan, Powell
SF: Carroll, Ross, Caboclo
PF: Sullinger, Patterson, Siakam
C: Valanciunas, Nogueira, Poeltl
Once Wright is healthy, the Raptors may choose to change course with that roster spot. Carrying four point guards is justifiable given how often they play two together, and considering Wright’s length and the shooting of Lowry and VanVleet. If the team deems that roster balance inappropriate, they can cut VanVleet later in the year, hoping to slide him through waivers and making him an in-season D-League affiliate player, should he agree to it. He’d be a serious threat to be claimed, though, and his deal becomes fully guaranteed for the season on Jan. 10, so this bit of asset management will likely depend on the health and performance of the entire point guard stable, as well as the health of the team’s forwards. The Raptors maintain some flexibility and insurance here through the season’s first two months, buying time for Wright and for a longer look at VanVleet, and they very likely take the best player of the bunch forward with them in doing so.
While VanVleet was looked at as the likely choice all along, Drew Crawford and Brady Heslip gave him quite a push in camp. Head coach Dwane Casey stressed the need for defense and help at the forward positions with Terrence Ross, DeMarre Carroll, and Jared Sullinger at varying degrees of health, and Crawford showed well as a potential three-and-D weapon at either wing position. At age 26, he brought a maturity level that’s necessary from the 15th spot with so many young players already on the roster, and the team believes Crawford is an NBA-caliber player. Heslip, meanwhile, had a tough hill to climb given his defensive limitations, but he showed progress as a playmaker and was one of the most efficient scorers, league-wide, in the preseason.
E.J. Singler also continued to win fans in the organization, too, building on a strong end to his Raptors 905 season last year, but a crunch for minutes and the emergence of Crawford and Heslip limited his opportunities some. Jarrod Uthoff and Yanick Moreira, meanwhile, didn’t play outside of the exhibition against San Lorenzo de Almagro, never really threatening for the position.
From here, the Raptors will waive the five players who didn’t make the cut, doing so by Monday at the latest. If they all clear waivers, the team could make up to four of them D-League affiliate players, though it’s not necessary in the case of Singler and Heslip, whose D-League rights they already hold. Raptors Republic has confirmed that Heslip, Singler, and Uthoff have all agreed to head to the 905, taking partial guarantees on their camp deals as sweetener for their D-League salaries. The team is hopeful that Moreira will wind up there, too, though he took no guarantee and his status isn’t confirmed yet.
Crawford, if unclaimed, is expected to return overseas, where he was an All-Star a season ago.
The 905 can use the rights of Heslip and Singler, tab Uthoff and Moreira as affiliate players, and still have the flexibility to add VanVleet later as an in-season affiliate. Should Crawford surprise and opt for the D-League, they would need to acquire his rights from Erie. The 905 rights sheet stands as something like this right now, eight days from the D-League Draft.
Following the draft on Oct. 30, 905 camp will take place Oct. 31-Nov. 9, with cut-down day coming on Nov. 10 and the season opening Nov. 11 (the 905 don’t play until Nov. 18, though, buying them what amounts to an extended camp under new head coach Jerry Stackhouse).