Since the NBA’s 2020 version of free agency is set to open and close rather quickly, it is time to do what we’ve tried to do for years in looking at the potential players on the market as well as analyze their fit and likelihood in Dallas.
No better place to start than a favorite within our robust comment section community in Fred VanVleet. The Toronto Raptor guard is perhaps the highest value unrestricted free agent on the market.
At 6’1 and around 200 pounds, the 26-year-old guard just finished his fourth season with the Toronto Raptors. After going undrafted in 2016, he signed a two year deal with the Raptors after just three NBA Summer League games. He re-signed on a two year deal in 2018 which results in his being a free agent this off-season.
Following a stand out four-year career at Wichita State, Fred VanVleet’s contribution at the NBA level increased steadily with each season. This past year, FVV posted career highs across the board, scoring 17.6 points, grabbing 3.8 boards, and dishing 6.6 assists, while shooting 39 percent from three on nearly seven attempts per game. He got to the line at a career-high rate of 3.7 attempts per game and shooting just under 85 percent.
Right in the middle of his prime, VanVleet has made the case that he’s a near star worthy of a hefty pay-day.
The man is a tank, for starters. Though it’s really easy to jump to the offensive numbers since Dallas is currently an offensively-minded team, a key strength and why he’ll have NBA staying power for some time is his literal strength. Pete, one of our frequent commenters and a community member, talks about this more in his substack profile of FVV, but it’s easy to hand wave VanVleet’s height as a weakness when his defensive skill is an underrated part of his success.
Then there’s his shooting and ball handling. He’s a better ball handler and playmaker than any player Dallas has past Luka Doncic. If the Mavericks have any interest in decreasing the load Doncic shoulders, there aren’t any other players that are also unrestricted free agents which could help the way VanVleet would.
Past tangible things, like that he’s a two-way guard with a heck of a shot, there’s the intangible things. He gives me strong Jason Terry vibes in terms of shot making. Check out his three point shooting in the 2019 playoffs starting in the middle of the Eastern Conference Finals. Talk about throwing flames.
He is short at just 6’1 but the aforementioned strength serves as a solid counterbalance. He’s also older (he’ll turn 27 in February) but the draft usually sees the best talent getting a rookie contract then an extension so guys of VanVleet’s caliber usually aren’t available at this pre-prime to prime age.
The only real weakness to VanVleet isn’t actually about him, but about what the Mavericks want (or are able to convince Luka Doncic) to do. The politics of keeping a superstar happy are difficult when Dallas needs more rangy wings to compete with the most loaded position in the NBA. The problem there is there aren’t many on the market at all that fix that issue for Dallas. The Mavericks might want more wings but if the free agent talent exists at other positions, it puts them in a difficult spot.
Fit with the Mavericks
If there’s a guy who loves working with smaller guards with a knack for scoring, it’s Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle. The list of lesser players he’s boosted during his time with Dallas is lengthy and VanVleet, while clearly not a lesser player, would fit seamlessly.
Given Dallas’ spacing, it’s possible he’d be even better if he were given chances to run the second unit. Since he’s always played professionally in a more collective offense, it could be an upfront challenge getting used to playing with a guy like Doncic who has the ball so much. Then again, half the point of signing VanVleet would to give Dallas more optionality in the offense.
Bottom line: he is a talented basketball player and the Mavericks need more talent.
Will he be a Dallas Maverick?
There’s been no chatter about VanVleet from sources in and out of Dallas but that doesn’t mean much. However, there are enough hurdles that it seems like a stretch at best. Between the machinations of the cap for Dallas (like whether or not Tim Hardaway Jr. opts in), the available free agent money on the market for some of the middle-tier teams, and that there doesn’t seem to be anything in the air about interest from Dallas... it’s just a lot.
So I’ll say no but continue to hedge that there are much worse ways to spend money than giving VanVleet a solid contract.