Fred VanVleet is getting a max contract this offseason, and the New York Knicks would be smart to avoid being the team that gives it to him.
Fred VanVleet is one of the NBA’s more exciting players to watch.
The Toronto Raptors guard has an energy about him that makes him play at full go almost constantly. He never takes plays off and has proven to be a force with the ball in his hand. In a brief, four-year career, VanVleet has gone from undrafted bench option to scrappy scorer.
And the timing of it is perfect. Sometime this fall, VanVleet will be a free agent at just 26 years old. Given his gradual improvement in each of his four professional seasons, he is bound to get a sizable contract in an overall weak free agency class.
However, exciting though Fred VanVleet may be to watch, the Knicks should not pursue him. Talent aside, he just isn’t worth it.
Diamond in the rough
That isn’t to say VanVleet is a bad player. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Since going undrafted out of Wichita State in 2016, Fred VanVleet has developed into quite a dynamic guard. He went from riding the pine and averaging 2.6 points per game as a rookie to a full-time starter this year with 17.6.
And don’t let VanVleet’s weak percentages fool you. His career field goal percentage (FG%) is a meager 41.2%, but his true shooting percentage (TS%) is a respectable 54.4%. VanVleet also posted a 2.3 VORP this year, or about a 6.2 WAR in baseball terms.
Throw in 15.1 career win shares (WS) and win shares per 48 minutes of .131, and Fred VanVleet is 100% a good player. Not a great player, but one good enough that he can be trusted to be a reliable scoring point guard. It also helps that he averaged a career-high 6.6 assists and 1.9 steals this season and has continued playing well in the Orlando bubble.
VanVleet is someone who, when push comes to shove, would be a good pickup for the New York Knicks. And yet, new president Leon Rose would be smarter to not sign him.
Always a bridesmaid, never a bride
Everyone’s probably confused now. I just detailed how good a player Fred VanVleet is and how he’d be a good pickup for the Knicks. Now, I’m saying the team shouldn’t sign him? Which one is it?
Look at it this way. Fred VanVleet can play, but the Knicks are a special case. Even though Rose and general manager Scott Perry could easily offer a max contract, free agency shouldn’t be a priority this year. Changing the culture around the team has to come first. This means unless Anthony Davis opts out of the final year of his deal with the Los Angeles Lakers, New York shouldn’t look to be major players on the open market.
But more importantly, good as Fred VanVleet is, he has never been the go-to guy. Even at Wichita State, he was more of a facilitator than he was a scorer who carried the team. Though valuable, he was always second fiddle to former Knick Ron Baker.
This carried over to Toronto. Sure, VanVleet was an integral member of the Raptors’ championship run, but was never considered a star of the team. Even after Kawhi Leonard left in free agency, VanVleet fell below Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam on Toronto’s totem pole.
We are talking about a player who though talented, has never had to carry a team on his back as a professional. Is it really a good idea to throw money at him so he can play not just on a struggling team desperate for improvement, but also in the league’s largest media market?
The pressure would be on from the start, and the Knicks are under enough to succeed already without Fred VanVleet.
Granted, VanVleet currently leads the Raptors in playoff scoring with 19.6 points per contest, but this is an outlier. Siakam, though averaging 17.4 in the postseason, is struggling and has made under 40% of his shot attempts. It’s great VanVleet has stepped up during Siakam’s slump, but even still, the Raptors have never been his team.
And even though the New York Knicks would be a great opportunity for Fred VanVleet, the risk just isn’t worth the potential reward. The draft class is weak, but still has young point guards who can thrive under new coach Tom Thibodeau. VanVleet, meanwhile, has mostly played the two in Toronto rather than run the offense.
Think about that for a second. Fred VanVleet is talented, but has never been a team’s primary option. And now teams want to give him $25 million a year this fall so he can be?
No offense to VanVleet, but he just isn’t worth it. That $25 million per year number is Batman money, and he’s never even been a team’s version of Robin. Maybe for a year or two in college, but the examples are few and far between. It’s just too much money for a rebuilding team, particularly the Knicks, to invest in someone who’d be leading the offense.
Fred VanVleet is a good player who has proven himself and beyond in the NBA. He’s going to get paid well this offseason by a team fully appreciative of his talents.
Unfortunately, that team should not be the New York Knicks.