Sports

Hidden Gems: Jarred Vanderbilt is the Disney Plus version of Dennis Rodman

Jarred Vanderbilt doesn’t fit into any sort of box. If you try to put him in one, he’ll leap out of it and find a loose rebound to grab along the way. 

Vanderbilt doesn’t stand out on paper. He’s averaging around six points and nine rebounds per game this season. That’s pretty close to what he did in his lone college year at Kentucky under coach John Calipari in 2018. But there’s something about his play that makes him a bit of an analytics darling. 

Those pedestrian averages at Kentucky essentially broke Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight draft model back in 2018. He continues to grade out as a top 30-100ish player in various public NBA all-in-one metrics this season. There’s something that Vanderbilt is doing that is making a big impact outside of scoring points. What does the eye test say? 

“He’s Dennis Rodman with more skill.” 

MORE: Jakob Poeltl is the best center nobody’s talking about

That’s how Calipari once described Vanderbilt while coaching him at the University of Kentucky. There’s obviously a healthy dose of hyperbole in there. But I’m not sure if I have a better way than Calipari to describe one of the most unique players in the league. 

This sequence from last season via the WolvesClips Twitter account can only be described as Rodman-esque motor. What other 6-9 big can switch and stay with a point guard, fall out of bounds when a shot goes up, then apparate 20 feet in the other direction into a scrum heading downhill with the ball? 

Like Rodman, Vanderbilt is a defensive pain in the ass with great physical tools and intangibles. He regularly takes the toughest assignments and does about as good a job as anyone in the league. To borrow a quote from former Bulls coach Jim Boylen, he’s like a mad dog chasing a meat truck. He is already a top-10 on-ball defender at his position. 

MORE: Is Trae Young the best point guard in the East?

Vanderbilt eats casual for breakfast. When players try to throw the same nondescript pass to initiate offensive sets that they’ve committed to muscle memory, Vanderbilt will spring them for a steal and a layup the other way

How good can a player be if he can’t shoot? At age 22, there’s still some hope that Vanderbilt can stretch his game out. But as of now, that is his glaring flaw and what’s limiting him to a spark plug role player. Defenders sag off him, which can hurt the Wolves’ spacing. Fortunately, he’s found a couple of ways to work that to his advantage. 

Vanderbilt willingly does the dirty work, setting screens to get better shooters open. When defenders ignore him, they’re too far removed from the play to switch on his screens. That gap also gives him a huge runway to fly in for offensive rebounds, where he’s elite.

The one area where Vanderbilt does create a bit of scoring for himself is with his cuts. He looks like a Pro Bowl wide receiver running precision passing routes. He’s one of the most active cutters and clever screen slippers in the league, finding openings where other players would not by mastering change of pace and passing angles. Once he gets the ball, he’s looking for the nearest body to dunk on. 

MORE: How close is Ja Morant to Derrick Rose’s MVP season?

Vanderbilt can pass a little too. He told the “Locked on Nuggets” podcast that he used to study Lamar Odom tape growing up, and he averaged an Odom-esque 29 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists per game as a highly touted senior in high school. While his assist numbers are nothing special yet at the NBA level, there are some shades of that lefty passing vision in his game

There’s also a cool factor to Vanderbilt. Wolves broadcaster Jim Peterson, probably the best color guy in the league, dropped one of the best nicknames that I’ve heard this year, calling Vanderbilt “the Vandolorean.”

(SN illustration)

That seems to fit well. He’s a bit of an oddball from afar. Chaos and destruction follow in his wake. But he’s beloved by those who know him well, like teammates and coaches. He’s Rodman on Disney Plus — intriguing enough to carry a spinoff series, but lacking the juice to headline a summer blockbuster. 

Bottom line: Vanderbilt figures out ways to contribute without scoring the ball. The Wolves’ starting lineup with him is surprisingly the best in the NBA statistically speaking, and he has some of the best on/off numbers on the team. Their always-bad defense is top 10 this year, and he’s a big part of it. He’s far from a star, but he’s an all-around contributor who is fun to watch. 

Those are the qualities that make a Hidden Gem. This is the way. 




Source link

Related Articles

Back to top button