Show-stopping fashion sense and suffocating defense. Those are two unwavering qualities of Los Angeles Lakers swiss-army knife Jarred Vanderbilt. His unique style makes him a logical fit within the greater LA lifestyle, and his irritating ways on defense make him a seamless fit in a lineup next to playmakers and shooters.
So far, so good for Vando during his brief time as a Laker. The team had long been aching for a versatile wing defender that could truly be counted on to stifle opponents’ top perimeter threats. Not only did they acquire the aforementioned wing defender they were seeking just prior to last season’s trade deadline, but they also acquired one of the only players in the NBA that could genuinely be counted on to defend positions 1-5.
Darvin Ham has always been a defensive-minded coach and Vanderbilt was exactly the type of player Ham needed to get his defense back on track. His defensive impact was felt immediately, as the team boasted the top defense in the NBA after the trade deadline.
With the knowledge of Anthony Davis lurking in the paint behind him, Vando had peace of mind knowing he was free to terrorize opposing perimeter-scoring threats. Ham’s faith in JV on defense was highly evident throughout the second half of the season and even into the playoffs.
Jarred Vanderbilt has shown Lakers fans exactly what he brings to the table.
In the first-round showdown against the Memphis Grizzlies, Vanderbilt’s primary assignment was Ja Morant. Morant, one of the most explosive scorers at the point guard position in the NBA today, encountered immense difficulties dominating as he so usually does.
There just are not many opposing defenders standing 6’8″ with long arms that possess the combination of agility and athleticism which Vanderbilt has. And while the Grizz are by no means a one-man show, containing Morant puts you at a major advantage. Thus, the Lakers were able to steamroll through the Memphis series with relative ease.
In the second-round duel with the Warriors, Vanderbilt’s primary assignment was no downgrade: Steph Curry. A much different player than Morant at the point guard spot, Curry is arguably the greatest shooter of all time and has a subtle way of getting wherever he wants on the basketball court, whether it be with or without the ball.
Once again, Vanderbilt’s defensive annoyance outweighed the offensive star power. Curry’s numbers were still solid throughout the series, but his shooting numbers illuminate Vanderbilt’s impact. Similar to Memphis, the boys from the Bay go much further than Stephen Curry. However, find a way to keep Curry in check and your winning probability will skyrocket. Vanderbilt’s tenacity proved enough to stymie Curry just enough to contribute to another six-game series victory for the Lakers.
Ham’s distrust in JV on offense was highly evident in the infamous Western Conference Finals series against the Denver Nuggets. His defensive energy was still there, but the impact on that side of the ball just did not seem to meet the level it did in the prior two rounds. And with him not doing anything on offense to justify keeping him in the lineup (shot a funky 24.1% from 3 in the postseason), Vanderbilt found himself buried on the bench for the majority of that series.
Even after a tough WCF series against Denver, nobody was surprised when the Lakers front office chose to exercise the team’s option on Vando earlier this offseason. His defensive efforts last season alone should have been sufficient in making the call to bring him back.
With or without any accolades after the 2023-2024 season, we know that Vando is going to go out and compete defensively every second that he is on the floor. He is going to dive for every loose ball. He is going to fight through every screen. He is going to wrestle in the paint for rebounds. We know what we are going to get from Vanderbilt on defense.
What we do not know, however, is what we are going to get from Vanderbilt on offense. As previously mentioned, he did not provide much in the scoring department after coming over in the trade last season. Fortunately, he did not have to.
Even more fortunately, he still will not have to. LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Austin Reaves, D’Angelo Russell, Rui Hachimura and Gabe Vincent should shoulder most of the load with regards to the ball dropping through the net. He does have some potential as a secondary ball-handler/playmaker, although again this is a team that will not need him to provide much (if any) of that due to the list of names from the previous sentence.
Rui Hachimura’s performance should do a lot of the dictating when it comes to Jarred Vanderbilt’s minutes, but somewhere around 20 minutes per contest seems plausible. 20 minutes of causing nightmares in the minds of those he defends should be the primary goal for Vando heading into year 2 as a Laker. If he can keep his 3-point percentage up around league average, that 20 minutes could rationally inflate to 25-30.
With shooting being the biggest need for this team next to LeBron and AD, Jarred Vanderbilt should have been living in the gym all summer long with no visitors allowed aside from his trainers and the shooting gun. If he truly put in the work to improve his jumper, we will soon find out.