Fred VanVleet has officially hit crafty vet status.
At 27 years old, VanVleet has figured out exactly how to attack defenses these days. He’s not driving to the lane and getting frustrated by the bigs inside as he did earlier in his career. He’s also not fazed by the extra attention defenses are paying to his three-point shot. Instead, he’s just getting to the mid-range, the soft spot in NBA defenses, and letting it fly over and over again.
“It’s just a shot that I can get whatever I want,” the Toronto Raptors guard said last week. “It’s something that I can go to when I need to get on up.”
It doesn’t matter that the modern NBA is all about three-pointers and at-the-rim looks because VanVleet has figured out taking those shots is what Toronto needs of him in the half-court. He’s not letting Toronto’s offense get bogged down with shots late in the shot clock. Instead, he’s facilitating in the pick-and-roll finding others or getting just enough separation to rise up for a jumper. It was the shot the Washington Wizards either couldn’t stop or didn’t want to stop Wednesday night as VanVleet nailed six two-point jumpers outside the pain, leading all Raptors with 33 points in a 109-100 victory in Washington to stretch Toronto’s winning streak to five straight.
When the Raptors’ offense went silent late, VanVleet turned on the jets in transition, going end-to-end for a layup before Wizards could get set. That transition offense off stingy defense was once again the difference for Toronto who forced 13 turnovers and grabbed 10 offensive boards, outshooting Washington 88 to 78.
Anunoby Stays Hot
It wasn’t quite the career night OG Anunoby had on Monday, but the 24-year-old continues to look much improved offensively. He played facilitator early for Toronto, making savvy passes that should have resulted in assists if not for a pair of Washington fouls and a missed layup. When the Wizards were late to bring help, he went up for it himself or nailed off-the-dribble three-pointers.
He finished the night with 21 points on 9-for-20 shooting.
Achiuwa Struggles to Finish at Rim
The Raptors tried to get Achiuwa going early, working a pick-and-roll with Fred VanVleet to open the scoring with an emphatic alley-oop. They tried to go back to him two possessions later with OG Anunoby finding him inside for a pair of free-throw attempts. But it was downhill from there. He finished the night 2-for-9 for six points.
Despite Achiuwa’s recent struggles, Raptors coach Nick Nurse said prior to the game he’s not ready to make a starting lineup switch to Birch.
“I don’t think you flip it just like that. These guys, we don’t expect them to play great every night. It doesn’t mean we gotta change the starting lineup. I think we just stick with it and see how it goes. I don’t think it really matters all that much,” Nurse said. “Each game you try to figure out who has got it that night and what it’s gonna look like.”
Birch likely would have outplayed Achiuwa in terms of minutes if not for Birch’s foul trouble. Regardless, though, Nurse has shown he’s willing to shake things up mid-game if things aren’t working out with Achiuwa and what’s what matters more than who is officially making the start.
Highlight of the Night
Achiuwa did, however, provide the highlight of the night, catching Montrezl Harrell looking before blowing past the Wizards big for a ferocious slam dunk.
Scottie Barnes is going to have his right thumb looked at when the team returns home tomorrow and he’ll be reevaluated then.
Pascal Siakam is “getting closer,” Nurse said. He’ll have to be checked by a doctor again, but he shouldn’t be too far away.
Up Next: Cleveland Cavaliers
The Raptors will return home Friday night for a tilt against the Cleveland Cavaliers and rookie star Evan Mobley.