Jarred Vanderbilt is the versatile, swiss army knife defender that the Los Angeles Lakers have missed this season.
The Los Angeles Lakers are Jarred Vanderbilt’’s fourth team in his sixth NBA season. It’s puzzling that teams acquire Vanderbilt yet ship him off so quickly.
Vanderbilt will never be known for his offense: He is a woeful shooter — a career 28.4 percent 3-point shooter — but an outstanding defender and energy guy who can change the tenor of a game with his sheer presence. The former Kentucky Wildcat was the main catalyst of the Lakers’ 27-point comeback against the Dallas Mavericks and brought a level of athleticism and defense that the Lakers were sorely missing before trading for him.
This season, the Lakers’ most-played lineup featured LeBron James Patrick Beverly, Dennis Schröder, Thomas Bryant and Troy Brown Jr. — two of those players are no longer Lakers. The second-most played lineup featured a perimeter rotation consisting of Beverly, Walker IV and Schröder. The team didn’t have a true wing to match up against the elite forwards and guards in the Lakers’ quest for the play-in. Well, Jarred Vanderbilt changes that.
The defensive impact of Jarred Vanderbilt
The former Kentucky Wildcat has guarded Aaron Gordon, Jabari Smith Jr., Zion Williamson and DeMar DeRozan the most, according to NBA.com’s matchup data. He’s adept at helping as the low man in the pick-and-roll or guarding a team’s star player.
In the high-profile Sunday matchup against the Dallas Mavericks, Vanderbilt guarded Luka Doncic the most out of any Lakers player (5:49 minutes, according to NBA.com). His disruptive defense played a huge part in Doncic’s off-game: Vanderbilt even corralled a mind-boggling 17 rebounds. Vanderbilt understands angles and how to use his length to his advantage.
In the clip above, Vanderbilt forces Doncic to catch the ball at the 3-point line and match him step for step with his hands high, ultimately forcing the ballyhooed guard into a tough miss.
Even when the Mavericks involved Vanderbilt in ball-screen action, he still used his 7-foot-1 wingspan to force turnovers. Dwight Powell sets a solid screen and rolls to the basket, but Vanderbilt recovers and tips a pass that usually goes through against most defenders to get one of his four steals in this game.
His defensive value isn’t solely tied to his man-to-man defense: He is also an alert help defender, which helps when teams force the Lakers into rotations.
As Kyrie Irving drives against Dennis Schröder, Vanderbilt has eyes locked on Irving. Vanderbilt’s man, Dwight Powell, filters out to the corner and he passes him off to James to deter Irving from going to the basket. Irving retreated to a fadeaway, and Vanderbilt was there to contest the shot and force a miss from the star guard.
Even though the next play ends in a made shot, Vanderbilt’s effort is evident. He helps Beasley, who’s guarding Powell in the post, before flying out to the corner after Austin Reaves closes out on Reggie Bullock.
Vanderbilt is a swiss army knife: After spending most of his time on Luka Doncic, Vanderbilt guarded Jaren Jackson Jr.
His relentlessness and length give the Lakers a point-of-attack defender they lacked earlier in the season. Vanderbilt allows Davis to protect the rim where he’s at his best (Davis is blocking three shots a game in his last six games). His lack of shooting compresses the floor and makes half-court offense difficult, but his defense and activity are needed for a team built around Anthony Davis and LeBron James.
In six games with the Lakers, Vanderbilt is averaging 8.6 points, 8.8 rebounds (second on the team) and 1.6 steals (second on the team).
Overall, lineups with Jarred Vanderbilt have been mostly positive — the five-man lineup with him, D’Angelo Russell, James and Beasley was a plus-nine in their 18 minutes together before injuries.
Vanderbilt is plus-2.1 per 100 possessions with the Lakers. He’s been a positive spot in an otherwise bleak season. With LeBron James sidelined for “… an extended period of time…,” according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, and D’Angelo Russell dealing with an ankle injury accentuates his offensive limitations. But Vanderbilt has shown in his quick stint that he will be a key rotation player through this season and next.
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