Of all the injuries the Lakers have battled through this season so far, the most challenging has likely been Jarred Vanderbilt’s. Such a unique player that was such an important part of their defensive identity last season, Vando missed the opening 20 games of the season.
A player whose skillset you can not replicate, the Lakers were not the same team this season. His return has brought some sense of normalcy, but it hasn’t returned the Lakers to normal yet.
Vando has played six of the team’s last seven games, but has never eclipsed the 17 minutes he played against the Spurs. He’s averaging just 14.4 minutes and, while he’s shown flashes, has not looked quite the same player he was last season.
After Monday’s game against the Knicks, Vando offered some insight into why that may be, admitting he’s still playing through pain in his heel.
“It’s limited what I do,” Vanderbilt said. “I’m trying to make the most of it, try to stay on top of it. It’s a tough injury. Just try to stay on top of it and try to make the best of it.
“It’s still a process. I’ve played five games now. I wasn’t expecting it to come back overnight. Keep trying to stay positive, keep pushing through it.”
The surest sign that the foot is still bothering him came in that Knicks game when he was forced to the sideline after aggravating the injury. He returned to the game, but it was one of the first real looks at how much the injury is still bothering him.
For now, he’s still uncertain how much longer he expects to be limited.
“I don’t even want to put a game on it,” Vando said. “There’s no expectation of when it’ll come back.”
This begs the pretty natural question of why he would come back if he’s still less than 100%. Well, he’s just as aware of how important he was last season and how good the Lakers can be this season.
“Because we have a chance,” Vanderbilt said. “I consider us a contender and I know how far we can go full healthy. That’s the reason I tried to come back and fight through it.”
What’s clear is that Vanderbilt is pretty limited in what he can do right now. And if his minutes aren’t increasing, then it feels fair to start to assess if it’s worth having him out there and if he’d be better served taking a couple more weeks off and getting back to full health.
But I’m neither a doctor nor did I stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.