I don’t know if there’s ever been a player who, in the course of one playoff run, went from team scapegoat and complete negative to team hero and fanbase darling. Through the first two series, and the first three games of the third, VanVleet was playing like an absolute turnip. Every time Nick Nurse subbed him in, you could hear the groans echoing all across Canada. And when Nurse dared to roll out the Lowry/VanVleet combo, those moans turned into screams of agony, because an undersized guard lineup like that is going to be total trash if they’re not at least making teams pay with their scoring abilities.
Then the switch flipped against the Bucks (god please don’t make me relive the pain) and VanVleet became a vital component of the remainder of the Raptors’ playoff run, which eventually culminated in an NBA championship. People like to point to the birth of his kid as the switch-flipping moment, and that might be the case, but I prefer to envision a scene where VanVleet looked himself in the mirror, got disgusted with the turnip he saw, and punched out the glass, symbolically symbolizing his rebirth as a player.
The Raptors aren’t winning the championship if VanVleet doesn’t have that rebirth. Full stop. Obviously Kawhi had to be finals MVP (you have to shower him with awards and rings if you want him to stay in Toronto), but VanVleet totally could have been too because it’s fun to give the award to role-players who step up (see: Andre Iguodala in 2015).
Now, with the Raptors getting their first chip in franchise history, I think there’s only one thing left to say:
Welcome to dinosaur team and championship time.