Raptors' VanVleet feels NBA can better protect players on court

Fred VanVleet appreciates all the NBA does for its players. Still, there’s a bit more he thinks they could do to help their safety on the court.

Stepping into the starting lineup, the 25-year-old was having a special night with 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting before suffering what really should’ve been an avoidable injury. VanVleet rolled his ankle on a drive to the rim late in the third quarter by colliding with a camera operator and was forced to leave the game.

Fortunately, he was able to return and hit a pair of big triples on his way to a career-high 34 points, but he still wanted to express his concern over how close camera operators are allowed to be during the game.

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“I hope that’s not a finable comment but how many times does it have to happen before we think about doing something,” VanVleet said. “The NBA is so good at being proactive to help us out but I think it’s happened to me at least four or five times in the last two years, this is probably the worst. If they’re gonna keep the box back, keep the guys out the box, sometimes they sneak their feet out, [they’ve] got good enough cameras. It’s just unfortunate it doesn’t happen to the point where, you know ... it doesn’t happen every day but it happens way too much.

“It’s unfortunate, I think we can do a better job of trying to find another way or something to help the athletes out.”

Fred VanVleet would like a bit more separation from camera operators. (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)
Fred VanVleet would like a bit more separation from camera operators. (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

As the NBA has strived to get fans as close to the action as possible, it does come with the inherent risk of putting players in danger. There has to be some kind of production value-to-player protection ratio that the league considers and the athletes must be the top priority.

There is precedent for change as well.

Back on Aug. 1, 2014, Paul George suffered a devastating foot injury, an open tibia-fibula fracture, when he landed on the basket stanchion after a play during a scrimmage with Team USA. He was ruled out of action for virtually the entire 2014-15 season, only returning for the final six games.

As a result of the play, though, the NBA announced rule changes pushing the basket stanchion a foot further away on each end as well as an increase in the size of the “escape lanes” — a runway for players going full speed to go to — to four feet. The number of camera positions available on each end was also reduced from 20 to 10.

Clearly, VanVleet would like better preventative measures than those that were introduced five years ago, but it shouldn’t take an extreme injury to bring about change, either. Thankfully, he seems to be OK, if a bit sore.

“I’m good, I’m good,” VanVleet said Tuesday. “Sprained it a little bit, nothing wrong, just probably gonna be a little bit sore for a while but I was able to make it through the rest of the game and tomorrow’ll probably be rough.”

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