Fred VanVleet's Weakness

If you have watched a lot of Raptors games over the past few seasons it can be a struggle watching them try to score in the half court. One of the reasons for that is they lack a guy who can generate good shots for himself. In particular, this is an area in which Fred VanVleet really struggles. I decided to take a dive into the public tracking stats to see how much he struggles and how he compares to other players. For all the stats below, self-created shots are shots on which the player held the ball for 2 or more seconds before shooting and assisted shots are shots on which the player held the ball for under 2 seconds before shooting.

Here is the breakdown for Fred VanVleet by season:

Season Self-Created eFG% Assisted eFG%
2016-17 44.4 62.9
2017-18 50.7 64.2
2018-19 44.4 58.4
2019-20 44.1 63.2
Career 45.4 61.7

As a reference point, last season the average effective field goal percentage on self-created field goals was 47.6%. On assisted attempts it was 58%. So he is good on assisted attempts and not so much on self-created attempts. How does that large gap in efficiency between the two compare to other players? Below is a table of the players with the biggest gap in efficiency between self-created and assisted attempts out of players with at least 500 attempts of each since 2013-14. Out of these 20 players with the largest efficiency difference only Ben Simmons, Fred VanVleet, LeBron James, Colin Sexton and JJ Barea have taken more self-created shots than assisted shots. Simmons and LeBron are special because they are both well above the league average in self-created eFG%.

Player Self-Created eFG% Self-Created FGA Assisted eFG% Assisted FGA Difference
Willie Cauley-Stein 41.0 744 63.3 1764 22.3
Mason Plumlee 46.3 864 68.3 2088 22.0
Dwight Howard 51.3 1322 73.2 2457 21.8
Marcin Gortat 42.9 891 64.3 2959 21.4
Andre Drummond 42.6 1718 61.5 4513 18.9
Montrezl Harrell 52.7 1153 71.6 1594 18.8
Hassan Whiteside 49.1 1187 66.8 2719 17.8
Kristaps Porzingis 39.1 1144 56.2 2439 17.1
Terrence Jones 46.9 713 63.7 1162 16.8
Ben Simmons 51.6 1865 68.2 903 16.6
Anthony Davis 44.8 3316 61.3 5498 16.5
Fred VanVleet 45.4 1428 61.7 948 16.3
LeBron James 54.5 8466 70.6 3060 16.1
Kenneth Faried 47.0 636 62.7 2132 15.7
JR Smith 44.0 1691 59.4 2543 15.4
Collin Sexton 45.5 1615 60.8 669 15.3
Kevin Martin 41.3 864 56.6 1113 15.2
Omri Casspi 47.3 584 62.6 1295 15.2
J.J. Barea 47.3 2611 62.4 827 15.1
DeMarre Carroll 43.9 1094 58.9 2674 15.0

VanVleet is a career 32.6% 3pt shooter on shots with a touch time over 2 seconds, which is almost exactly league average. That’s not bad, but given his efficiency on assisted threes, one may expect him to be a bit better on these shots. The area he really struggles with is finishing at the rim. Looking at shots with under 18 seconds on the shot clock, to filter out most transition opportunities, he shot 43.2% on self-created shots at the rim last season. His career FG% on drives is 38.6% in the regular season (the league average last year was 47%). He also doesn’t draw fouls on those drives. Last season he posted a career high of 4.1% of drives ending in a foul drawn, still well below the 6.9% league average. Among players with at least 250 drives last season, only Lonzo Ball scored fewer points per drive than VanVleet.

One might wonder if he is being forced to take more difficult shots, thus hurting his efficiency, because he is still the best option on the floor in these late clock situations. Based on touch time, number of dribbles, closest defender distance and seconds remaining on the shot clock the league average FG% for VanVleet’s shot profile on shots under 10 feet would be 54.1%. This is among the lowest in the league, which does indicate that the shots he takes within 10 feet of the basket are among the most difficult. However, VanVleet has shot only 48.9% on those shots. So it isn’t just a matter of his efficiency taking a dip because he is forced to take more difficult shots, although it certainly isn’t helping him.

Playing with Kyle Lowry can help cover up this weakness. VanVleet’s catch-and-shoot ability, coupled with his defense, make them a great backcourt pairing. Lowry is more efficient on self-created attempts (51.8% eFG), and less efficient on assisted attempts (58.2% eFG) compared to VanVleet. Last season, with Kyle Lowry on the floor, 59.4% of VanVleet shot attempts were self-created. With Lowry off the floor that number rose to 71.6%. When playing without Lowry, the Raptors rely more on VanVleet generating shots for himself, and given his struggles in that area, I would expect the Raptors to struggle offensively when Lowry is not on the floor unless VanVleet can make improvements in this area.

Don’t interpret this as me thinking VanVleet is not a good player. This is his one major weakness. He has proven, with his spot-up shooting and defense, that he can play an important role on a championship team. For him to take another step forward and become an all-star level player though, he will need to improve his ability to generate shots for himself, especially when it comes to finishing around the basket.

See also