Before this season began, Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet set a record by signing the biggest contract for an undrafted free agent in NBA history: four years, $85 million.
On Tuesday night, VanVleet added two other records to his name by scoring 54 points in Toronto’s 123-108 victory at the Orlando Magic — the most ever by an undrafted player in NBA history, surpassing Moses Malone’s record of 53 — as well as besting DeMar DeRozan’s single-game franchise record of 52.
“Unbelievable. I’m very humbled and honored to be in the same sentence as both of those guys,” said VanVleet, who finished the game 17-for-23 from the field, 11-for-14 from the 3-point line and 9-for-9 from the foul line. He also had 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals and 3 blocks in 37 minutes.
“Just a special night, obviously, a lot of different levels,” he said. “So just trying to enjoy it for now, but it’s not a championship or anything like that. It was a good game for me, and I’ll enjoy all the love for a couple hours and get ready for the next one.”
Given the way VanVleet and the Raptors played throughout this game, it would’ve been understandable for someone who didn’t see the box score to think it just a run-of-the-mill good game for VanVleet. He took only those 23 shots, and he, teammate Kyle Lowry and head coach Nick Nurse all said it was noteworthy after the game how easy the game came to VanVleet.
VanVleet had 17 points in the first quarter, 28 by halftime and then reached 46 by the end of the third quarter. A pair of free throws and three layups in the fourth allowed him to surpass both Malone and DeRozan and go into the record books.
“It was easy,” VanVleet said. “No disrespect to the Magic. But I mean, for most of those, I was open. They were in rhythm. They were clean looks. They were within the offense. That’s why I was able to remain patient and still pass out of double-teams and not take bad shots because of the way I got all my points. There were maybe one or two quick, bad shots, if that.
“Most of those were in rhythm, within the offense, playing in the flow of the game; and I even told the guys, ‘You guys, keep playing.’ I could feel them start to look for me to the point where they weren’t looking at the rim anymore. I wanted to win more than I wanted 50 points. Just trying to continue to play with a pure heart and let the game come to me, and I was rewarded for that.”
The record-setting bucket dropped with 3 minutes, 46 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter when VanVleet made a layup that came, fittingly, off an assist from his close friend — and backcourt partner — Lowry.
VanVleet said afterward that DeRozan, his former teammate, would text him every time he had a big game previously and that DeRozan would tease him for not getting the record of 52 points. After the game, DeRozan posted a tweet congratulating VanVleet — and also picking on Lowry for not doing it himself, saying the veteran was “too old” to do so.
For his part, Lowry agreed.
“I seen DeMar sent out the tweet saying I was too old to get it, and I am,” Lowry said with a smile. “But my two guys, DeMar and Freddie, have the records, and even Terrence [Ross] is in there, and I was able to witness all three of those 50-point games. They all are special to me.
“Tonight is really special, because it came from a kid who was undrafted, worked his way to an NBA player and an NBA starter, and possibly this year an All-Star and possibly an All-Defensive Player. That’s what makes it really special.”
VanVleet said later that DeRozan called him on FaceTime to congratulate him while the team was in the locker room. He said DeRozan was on his mind as he tried chasing down the franchise record in the fourth quarter.
“[He was] just congratulating me, reminding me again that I was gonna get cussed out if I didn’t beat his record,” VanVleet said. “We’ve had that conversation a few times when I’ve had big games and I’ve had a chance to go for it. In the past, I’ve kind of shied away from being thirsty, so tonight, just tried to keep my foot on the gas a little bit more.”
While VanVleet ultimately was unable to chase down either Donyell Marshall’s single-game franchise record of 12 3-pointers made or Klay Thompson’s NBA record of 14, he certainly didn’t have any problem getting into the flow of the offense. VanVleet went 5-for-5 from 3-point range in the first quarter alone, before making three more in both the second and third quarters.
VanVleet got one look from the wing to tie Marshall’s record in the fourth but missed it. He was removed from the game a short time later with the records secure and the game well in hand.
What was noteworthy, however, was how much his teammates and Nurse celebrated his accomplishment. VanVleet himself even admitted they were more excited about it than him. Nurse and Lowry marveled at the work VanVleet has put in since going undrafted from Wichita State to now surpassing records set by a franchise icon in DeRozan and a Hall of Famer in Malone.
“Man, I think it’s an incredible statement,” Nurse said. “I mean, it’s incredible to be an undrafted guy and to do that. It really is. It’s incredible.
“He’s got a pedigree for winning every team he’s been on his whole life. He took a smaller mid-major university to incredible seasons, obviously had that Game 6 fourth quarter in the championship finals — but again undrafted and tremendous just competitor, worker, thinker, all that stuff.”