On Jan. 4, Fred VanVleet tried to take on the Milwaukee Bucks almost single handed. For much of the game, he was the only Raptor with much of a pulse on the court, and he dragged the team to overtime and an eventual loss. He finished with 28 points, 12 assists, 8 rebounds, and 3 steals, and those numbers understate how important he was to Toronto's chances. Only two nights later, he dropped 28 points again, with 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals, and a block -- again in a loss.
There were plenty of commonalities between the two games, but arguably the two most important ones were the Raptors losing and VanVleet playing near his best. (Yes, he shot poorly on 3-pointers. That's a major issue. Outside of that problem, he played about as well as he can.) He won his minutes in both games, but the Raptors were really only competitive at the very end, making last-gasp comebacks once the other team loosened up. VanVleet being at his best does not necessarily mean the Raptors are at theirs. In fact, increasingly this season, the two are somewhat in tension. (Some anecdotal evidence: VanVleet has two 39-point games this season, his two highest-scoring ones. Both were losses for Toronto.)
Following those game on Jan. 4 and 6, things changed for the Raptors. VanVleet has been significantly less effective, less involved, and less individually successful. Yet the Raptors have been a fair amount better.
How has that been possible?