After weeks of speculation, free agency starts today, and the Houston Rockets are expected to be heavily involved this year after taking a back seat the last couple of seasons.
The Rockets have been looking for a floor general for years since James Harden’s now-famous or infamous exit. They tried John Wall at the point, and as a comeback story, it was a success. However, it quickly turned sour after the Rockets decided to do a complete rebuild.
They tried Dennis Schroder for a short stint, but it was not a good fit. Kevin Porter Jr was brought in initially as a project to see if he could switch from small forward to point guard. It has been an up-and-down experiment so far that has not been helped by the team rebuilding for the last three seasons.
Porter Jr. has shown flashes of potential at point guard but also has shown at times he may be better suited off the ball and used as a secondary playmaker. After Ime Udoka was hired, the thought was the Rockets would want a veteran point guard to lead the way. The Rockets head into the 2023-24 season, entering phase 2, which means the days of being the worst team in the league are no longer an option.
Rumors have been circulated for weeks about who the Rockets could be targeting. One name mentioned the most is Fred VanVleet, the 29-year point guard from the Toronto Raptors. The Rockets are hoping for a meeting with VanVleet once free agency starts today at 5ct.
I spoke with a person who knows his game well. I asked Vivek Jacob of Raptors.com to discuss what VanVleet could bring to the Rockets.
First, thank you for taking the time to answer my question about Fred VanVleet.
My first question is, what would Fred VanVleet bring to a young team looking for leadership and a mentor for Amen Thompson?
VanVleet would bring a strong work ethic, consistency in good habits daily, and a great locker room voice. His compete-o-meter is off the charts. For a young team looking to learn how to play hard for 48 minutes night in and night out, he is someone who can be a tone setter. Now, he is also old school and so players not engaging at the level they should can frustrate him, but if can deliver those messages in the right way and players take it in the right spirit then there is a lot to be gained. The undrafted to all-star rise has been incredible to watch up close and that comes down to Fred’s unshakeable confidence and belief in himself, something any young player can learn from at this level.
What do you contribute to VanVleet having the worse shooting season of his career? Was it an anomaly, or do you see this as a trend?
First thing I would say with VanVleet (or any high-volume three-point shooter for that matter) is that he shouldn’t be judged on his FG% alone as pretty much half his shots are three-point attempts. Effective field goal percentage would be a better indicator. On that note, I do think his 3pt% last year was an aberration. I believe in the six years prior where he averaged 38% far more than last season’s 34%. A major weakness in his shooting percentages is his finishing around the basket, he has never been above the 32nd percentile for guards in that area and I don’t anticipate that changing due to both his height and shot selection.
What were some of the issues that you think management and people who cover the team, like yourself, had with VanVleet’s overall game?
Do you see VanVleet as a floor leader or more of a combo guard?
3 and 4. In terms of issues with his game beyond what I outlined above, he isn’t a natural point guard in my eyes. He has certainly improved his playmaking over the years but there are still reads he misses and ends up over dribbling. The addition of Jakob Poeltl was a breath of fresh air as he enjoyed having a big target to throw to, but I feel he is maximized as a player with a healthy mix of playmaking responsibilities along with catch-and-shoot opportunities where I really feel he thrives. I do think his inefficiency around the basket does negatively impact his ability to genuinely have opposing teams collapse on his drives to the paint.
How do you see him fitting with players like Jalen Green and Alperen Sengun?
Sengun is a very unselfish player and I think Fred could have himself quite a few catch-and-shoot opportunities playing off Sengun. His on-court chemistry with Sengun would probably go a long way towards finding that happy medium between playmaking and scoring. The fit with Green will be interesting to see play out but I will say that VanVleet is a very good screener and so Udoka should seek opportunities to free up Green using VanVleet as a screener and possibly get a switch onto smaller players as well. The Raptors ran some 1-4 pick-and-roll with Siakam handling the ball and VanVleet as the screener and so that could be an option for both Green and Sengun when they’re up top with the ball.
Final question. What is one thing people who don’t watch VanVleet regularly may not know about him?
His media game is among the best in the league. An absolutely terrific quote and though he had that one blow up in criticizing referee Ben Taylor last season, he also did that knowing he had built up more than enough respect as a character guy to go on that rant. He can be the voice of the team publicly just as much as in the locker room.
As you can read from Vivek’s answer, there are more pros than cons when it comes to possibly bringing in VanVleet. The Rockets won’t be the only team interested in VanVleet, but with over 60 million in cap space and a head coach who values toughness and leadership, don’t be surprised if VanVleet is a Houston Rockets by the end of the day.