The Whiteboard: Fred VanVleet and the best 50-point games of the season

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports /

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It’s been a frustrating start to the season for the Toronto Raptors but last night’s scoring explosion by Fred VanVleet was an indisputable ray of sunshine. Coming into Tuesday night’s game against the Orlando Magic, the Raptors had won six of their last 10 and were looking to string together consecutive wins for just the third time all season. VanVleet went supernova and the mission was accomplished.

VanVleet finished with 54 points, a franchise record and the most points ever scored in a game by an undrafted player. He had the hottest of hot hands, finishing 17-of-23 from the field and 11-of-14 from beyond the arc, for a single-game true shooting percentage of 100.1 It was a high-water mark for both VanVleet and the Raptors and will hopefully help them continue building positive momentum. But how does it stack up against some other big scoring performances this year?

How do Fred VanVleet’s 54 points compare to other 50-point games this season?

This season has featured just two other 50-point games — Stephen Curry’s 62-point performance against the Portland Trail Blazers and Bradley Beal’s 60 points against the Philadelphia 76ers. That, in and of itself, is a fairly significant data point. This season we’ve seen a 50-point performance roughly once every 101 games. In 2018-19, the last full season without interruption, we saw 22 50-point performances, or roughly one every 56 games.

There are probably a variety of factors driving down the frequency of these high-volume scoring outbursts, which makes VanVleet’s even more impressive. His is also a much bigger outlier than Curry’s or Beal’s, going by their career track records. This was Beal’s first career 60-point game but he had previously topped 50 on three separate occasions. In fact, he had back-to-back 50-point games less than a year ago. Curry hadn’t scored 50 or more since 2018 before this season but he had six previous 50-point games, including a career-high of 54 against the Knicks in 2013. VanVleet, on the other hand, had never even scored 40 points in a regular-season game before last night’s fireball.

And then there is the matter of relative efficiency. Although VanVleet scored fewer points than Beal or Curry, his shooting was much more impressive. He needed just 23 shots and 9 free throws to put up his total, compared to 31 and 19 for Curry and 35 and 15 for Beal. In fact, it was the fifth-highest scoring total since 1983 by a player who attempted fewer than 25 shots from the field. And VanVleet played some defense too, racking up three steals and three blocks.

It was a career night for VanVleet and clearly one of the most impressive individual performances of the season thus far. But, for the Raptors, picking up another win and moving up the standings is probably as important as any individual record.

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