Fred VanVleet is quietly playing like a star again

Fred VanVleet is back to himself. For now.

If it feels like 2022-23 has carried the burden of two seasons, maybe three, for Fred VanVleet, that's because it has. A new role to start the year, few shots, and then a return to the old ways after a few-weeks trial run. The Toronto Raptors had player meetings before the New Year's ball dropped, had VanVleet's jumper crooked -- missing left or right -- during a losing streak, and had VanVleet's own leadership under the microscope. The team has struggled, the point guard has been injured, and virtually everything has been going wrong.

That was before the season even hit the halfway mark.

Well, he's been on a heater recently. It looked like he was about to turn a corner at the end of December, and then he did. And while it may not redeem VanVleet's season as a whole, it's certainly worth more than a footnote. Since the start of the new year, VanVleet's jumper has returned. He's returned to his ordinary accuracy, connecting on 37.8 percent of his triples (on a meaty 98 attempts). He's averaged 7.4 assists per game, and the Raptors have been dramatically better with him on the court on the offensive end, with an on-court offensive rating of 117.2 and off-court offensive rating of 110.8. As very broad points of comparison, 117.2 would be the fourth-best team-wide offensive rating in the league this season, and 110.8 would be the 27th. As VanVleet has gone, so too has gone Toronto's offense in the year 2023.

There've been some high highs. He recorded two 28-point games in the beginning of the month. And he just recorded four consecutive games (in which he played) of 33, 39, 25, and 28. It's been enormous production.

VanVleet is back to being one of Toronto's most efficient play finishers. He is drilling triples at the end of possessions as a catch-and-shoot shooter, but so too is he hitting bananas, off-the-dribble bombs. He's shooting almost 40 percent on catch-and-shoot triples -- many via his patented relocation routes to get open -- and well above league average on pull-ups. 36.9! That would be a top-10 mark in the league at his frequency if it held for a full season. It's been a whole whack of great offense. Against the Knicks, he hit three pull-up triples out of the pick and roll and one forming up around a Siakam drive. He looked like his old self.

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