Fred VanVleet wasn't in Chicago last weekend. It's not that he didn't want to be there - he just wasn't invited. 63 players were asked to last week's NBA Combine to hop, skip, and jump for NBA coaches, but VanVleet wasn't one of them. It's not unusual for a player from a mid-major conference to be overlooked ahead of the draft, but this year was an exception. Oakland University's Kay Felder jumped his way onto the big boards of NBA teams across the country, while VanVleet's own Wichita State teammate, Ron Baker, was called "one of the toughest guys on the floor" by ESPN's Fran Fraschilla.
This isn't the first time VanVleet has been overlooked during his basketball career. As an all-state point guard at Auburn High School in Rockford, Illinois, VanVleet received scholarship offers from Wichita State, Colorado State, Drake, Northern Illinois, Southern Illinois, Detroit, and Kent State. Not a single big-time program showed serious interest.
While VanVleet may not have joined a major college program, he certainly left one after his senior year. During his career, the Shockers played in four NCAA tournaments, appeared in two Sweet Sixteens, one Final Four, and finished the 2014 regular season undefeated. Individually, Van Vleet was a two-time Missouri Valley Conference player of the year and AP Honorable Mention All-American.
This resume, however, was not enough to garner an invitation to the NBA's official pre-draft festivities. While certainly a disappointment for VanVleet, it may have been a blessing in disguise. The headlines following the NBA Combine are typically reserved for two types of athletes:
1. Workout warriors who can jump to the moon or run like Usain Bolt.
2. Players who seem like they should jump to the moon or run like Usain Bolt, but actually can't.
It's likely VanVleet doesn't fall into either of these groups, but when compared to fellow point guards Demetrius Jackson, Kay Felder, and Cat Barber, he's probably closer to group #2. VanVleet won't leap over you, break your ankles, or blow by you with ease. But he will force you to make a mistake, capitalize on it, then figure out a way to make you do it again.
At Wichita State, VanVleet was a floor general, averaging 12.2 points and 5.5 assists per game his senior year. Offensively, he has excellent body control and court vision. While driving, VanVleet has the innate ability to weave his way through defenders and somehow wrap his six foot frame around taller opponents to get to the basket. While he doesn't always seek out contact, he knows when to go into a defender to create the necessary separation to get a shot off. Even while dribbling through the paint or pushing the ball up the court, VanVleet never gets locked in on specific teammate, defender, or the hoop. He's constantly searching for a passing lane, often finding Ron Baker or Cleanthony Early while at Wichita State.
These are the traits that are going to give VanVleet a chance at that the NBA. They aren't easy to quantify, but they make for a great point guard. Even without an appearance at the combine, NBA teams have taken notice. VanVleet has already worked out for the Lakers, Warriors, Raptors, Pistons, and 76ers, with more visits on the horizon.
Any chance a mid-major prospect has to get in front of NBA brass is a good one, and Fred VanVleet would have benefited from an NBA Combine invitation. But there's an advantage to not being poked and prodded in direct comparison with every other player in the draft too. VanVleet will continue to get plenty of workouts and private looks from NBA teams, and with any luck, he'll hear his name called at some point on June 23rd at Barclays Center.