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Fred Van Vleet gives “regular” players hope

The new NBA season started about a week ago and yet I want to grab back one more time to last years Finals. Because there’s one performance that has been heavily overlooked. One that has been clutch in order for the Raptors to create the huge upset. Maybe not the most sexy in the history of the NBA, but one that should give hope to the millions of kids ho-oping ⛹️‍♂️ somewhere around the world!

Nowadays, one thinks you have to be freak of nature to make it in the NBA. Think about someone like Giannis who plays like a guard with a wingspan of 2m21. Or Kawhi’s claws 🖐️ which measure 28,6 cm from thumb to pinkie. Or the exceptional physical abilities of Lebron if you overlook his career. Zion’s vertical leap or the mobility of Porzingis (2m16) are other examples. Not sure about you, but it makes it hard to identify myself with these body types. Soon you end up talking in clichés like “Size is a basketball skill that cannot be taught”.

And then there was … Fred. Just Fred 👦. Fred measures 1m82 and has a wingspan of 1m86. Fred came undrafted in the NBA in 2016. But for me it is hard to imagine that the Raptors would have made it last year to the Finals and would have won the ring without him. FRED VAN VLEET.

At the same time, he taught us all an important lesson. About what is important to do extremely well on a basketball court. Regardless of your size. It’s maybe the most frequent question players ask me: “Coach, what should I work on to make it as a professional player?“. Fred showed us what matters most:

1. MAKE SHOTS
Put the ball in the basket. Score. Get on the scoresheet. Make a shot. Bring the rock to the hoop.
Shooting is – no doubt – the most important skill in basketball. That’s what you expect people to pay you for? Do it better than anybody else.

Fred Van Vleet was 30/57 (53%) from three during the last 9 games of the ’18-’19 season. 

2. FINISH WITH CONTACT
As a counter for those shots, you should be able to finish with contact at the rim. I wrote “The hard truth about lay-ups” which sums it up and which has a clutch message for every coach for all of your practices. Fred did it exceptionally well in the Finals. Do me a favour and count the regular “right-left – right handed” lay-ups 😉:

A summary of all of Van Vleet’s finishes at the rim during the Finals.

3. DEFENSE
During  the Finals, Fred was the most efficient player of the whole NBA of the whole season in guarding … Steph Curry. One thing is for sure: it was not because of his giant claws, his huge wingspan or his tremendous physical abilities. Probably his contineous effort, focus and basketball IQ 🧠 were more important. And the ability to understand and stick to a gameplan.

These three keys shouldn’t surprise. Sometimes I turn the question of a player around. I ask them what they would do when they would be coaching a D1 game. Which are the key skills a youngster should have for you to give him playing time?  Most players come up with these same skills.

Thanks, Fred! For showing us what matters most. And for giving hope to all players without extreme measures.

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Recently I did a podcast with Chris Oliver of Basketball Immersion.