Despite shooting an excellent 41.4 per cent from three-point range during the regular season, Toronto Raptors point guard Fred VanVleet struggled from distance during the post-season, only making 28.6 per cent of his long-distance attempts.
On Tuesday, one day after his team got swept out of the second round by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for the second straight year, VanVleet offered an explanation why his deadeye stroke from deep seemed to disappear when the games mattered the most.
“It affected [my shot],” VanVleet said of his right shoulder that he injured during Toronto’s regular season finale during the Raptors locker cleanout Tuesday. “I can kinda be honest about it now. I’ve been lying to myself for the last two three weeks just because I had plans of playing until June.”
VanVleet was forced out of all but three minutes of the Raptors’ first five games in their first-round matchup with the Washington Wizards because of the shoulder injury, but returned for Toronto’s series-clinching Game 6 when it was presumed he was 100 per cent fit and good to play.
Turns out that wasn’t the case then, and not during any of Toronto’s four-game stint with Cleveland, and the 24-year-old was just opting to grit his teeth the entire time and do what he could.
“It didn’t affect it anymore than it did when I was 4-for-7 in Game 2 or whatever it was when I shot the ball well,” he said. “It was hurting then, it was hurting last night, it was hurting in Game 6 in Washington and it’s just something I got accustomed to.
“There was pain but it wasn’t enough to keep me from playing and it was just something that I was able to fight through and just try to go out there and battle.”
Now, with the season over, however, VanVleet is going to focus on getting his shoulder back to 100 per cent, saying he’s going to head to New York this coming weekend to see a specialist and make sure things are progressing well.
It’s a smart idea not only for the sake of his own health, but also because he has potentially millions riding on being fully healthy in time for the start of next season as he’s a restricted free agent this summer.
“It’s still restricted so there’s limits that come with that, but just trying to approach it the same way I approach everything else, control what I can control,” VanVleet said of his upcoming free agency. “I’ve put together a body of work that speaks for itself, and I’ve done the right things and try to handle everything the right way and you just hope the rest takes care of itself.”
Making just $1.3 million this season, VanVleet is a Sixth Man of the Year candidate this season and due for a large pay raise. Being a restricted free agent, that means the Raptors can match any offer from any other team to try to keep the second-year guard, but being so tight against the cap already, bringing back VanVleet would probably mean Toronto would have to pay the luxury tax for the first time in franchise history.
For what it’s worth, VanVleet made it clear he doesn’t want to leave Toronto if he doesn’t have to.
“I love it here,” he said. “This is the place that gave me a chance, gave me an opportunity. … I’m a loyal guy, I always have been. Hopefully things work out but I understand that it is a business at the end of the day.”