Fred VanVleet reveals the biggest reason for the poor start and how the Raptors can save their season

It’s been a tough season so far for the Raptors.

After finishing with the fifth-best record in the Eastern Conference in 2021-22, Toronto has lost 22 of its first 38 games of 2022-23, dropping all the way down to 12th in the standings.

The good news? The Raptors are still only one game out of the Play-In Tournament near the midpoint of the season. The bad news? They haven’t shown much to believe they will turn it around lately, having lost 10 of their last 13 games.

Fred VanVleet appeared on the latest episode of JJ Redick’s podcast, “The Old Man and The Three,” to discuss both the team’s struggles and his. Here’s what he had to say.

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Fred VanVleet on injury impact and adjusting to new role

“Probably a lot, you know what I mean?” VanVleet responded when asked how many injuries have affected his shooting. “I’ve got to be careful with what I say sometimes and there’s a lot going on. Just being in the business of it, I’ve learned how to try to manipulate it the best I can.

“I think that early on in the season it was definitely an adjustment. I think from a stylistic point, the way we were playing. Last year was just kind of free and easy, and I think I was much more a focal point with just on-ball duties and having the ball the whole game and being able to kind of dictate where I wanted to go. This year that’s changed a little bit, so I’m kind of just like catching a rhythm.

“You know how it goes ā€” some nights the ball finds you, some nights it doesn’t. The nights where it doesn’t, those are the nights that I’m struggling this year, where it’s like the out-of-rhythm games where I may get a couple of catch-and-shoots, couple of contested ones, couple ones off the dribbles, not getting to the foul line and then I get three wide open ones at the end of the night when we need them, and if I make them we win, if I miss them we lose. I’ve probably had like four or five of those games.

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“I think it’s a big dropoff from where I was as far as an All-Star caliber point guard to where I am now, but I think it’s pretty situational, too, in terms of where we are as a team and as an organization trying to figure out what’s the best way to maximize the most out of this team. I got a lot of other responsibilities other than just like scoring the ball, so I’m doing a lot, and that shooting has been up and it’s been down way more than I would like it to be. I’m giving myself a little runway but at the same time just being realistic about where we are.

Last 2 Seasons
2021-22 2022-23
PPG 20.3 18.5
FG attempts 16.9 15.8
FG pct 40.3 37.4
3-pt FG pct 37.7 32.4

“When I really feel like sā€”, I just go watch the film and say, ‘OK, well, I was 2-for-12 from 3 and eight of them were bombs and three of them were heavily contested by a 7-footer and I missed three wide-open ones in my 39th minute of the night.’

“You’ve got to be able to be fair with yourself, too, but come in and just put the work in, too.”

What you need to know: VanVleet dealt with a knee injury in the second half of the 2021-22 season and recently missed a couple of games with lower back stiffness. He was named an All-Star last season for the first time in his career. He’s gone from averaging 20.3 points per game on .403/.377/.874 shooting splits to 18.5 points per game on .374/.324/.885 splits.

VanVleet’s dropoff from the perimeter has been the most surprising as he was one of the best 3-point shooters in the NBA last season.

Nick Nurse and Fred VanVleet

Fred VanVleet addresses why the Raptors are off to a slow start

“I just think we haven’t been able to find much consistency. That comes from a lot of different places, whether it’s injuries or whatever the case may be, but we just haven’t been able to be consistently good. We have flashes . Maybe it’s 32 minutes out of a 48-minute game, but like you said, the rest of the league is continuing to get better and is more spread out. There are 10 other good teams in the East and 10 other good teams in the West.

“We just haven’t been able to put it together. We just got to keep growing and find ways to reinvent ourselves. I think we’re still trying to find a new identity. We had one last year, which was play hard and cause havoc and all of those things, but it just hasn’t been that for us this year.

“Also, being patient because we really got hot towards the end as well. A lot of what we do is rhythm and flow and just cohesiveness that we haven’t had. I think that when it’s clicking it’s really good and it’s hard to play against. When it’s not our margin for error is really small.

“We’re playing five guys heavy minutes, so it’s up and down and we just got to adjust to our play style. Last year was a little more evenly distributed. This year Pascal [Siakam] has taken more of an offensive engine role where he’s having astronomical numbers and we’re trying to find ways to be successful in that.

“Our defense has just been sā€” so far. We’ve got to find ways to be better with that.”

What you need to know: A few things.

One, the Raptors were in a similar position last year. They were 21-21 through 42 games. In the second half, they went 27-13 to finish with the fifth seed.

Two, the starters are logging heavy minutes. The only player in the NBA currently averaging more minutes per game than Pascal Siakam (37.2), OG Anunoby (37.1) and VanVleet (37.0) is James Harden (38.3). Last season, Siakam and VanVleet finished first and second, respectively, in minutes per game.

Finally, the defense took a hit. The Raptors finished ninth in defense efficiency last season and are down to 13th this season. 76ers star Joel Embiid recently took a shot at Toronto’s defense, saying it seems like the Raptors “don’t care about winning” and “just want to shut down the other star players.”

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