Every comeback like the one the Lakers had on Sunday has a spark, something that ignites the team to start that long climb back up the hill. It could be a play, a call, a moment or — as was the case for the Lakers — a player.
Jarred Vanderbilt didn’t pull the Lakers all the way back on his own against the Mavericks after the purple and gold fell behind by as many as 27. However, it was his repeated hustle plays on both ends of the court, particularly in the third quarter, that turned the team’s slow jog of a comeback into a full-on sprint.
His final tally of 15 points, 17 rebounds and four steals doesn’t even tell the story of the impact he had in the contest.
“Very valuable,” Anthony Davis said when describing Vanderbilt’s impact, via Spectrum SportsNet. “Being down 27 (points), 14 (points) at half, and he comes out and sets the tone for us defensively on Luka, getting some steals, making him shoot some tough shots, his rebounding on both ends of the floor. He just started an effect for our group to lock in defensively.
“On the other end, he knows guys like to play off of him and make him shoot and he knows how to play off it with his corner cutting and crashing into the glass, getting us extra possessions. His value for our team, you can’t even put it into words what he brings and does for us. Having a player like that definitely helps us.”
There really is no singular stat that measures the impact Vanderbilt had on the comeback or the run. His plus-minus of +14 is an indicator but doesn’t pay the whole picture. His team-high net rating of +31.4 goes a bit further. In reality, it’s the cumulation of all the small things that led to one really big impact.
Defensively, he matched up with Luka Doncic most of the day and did as well as one could reasonably do.
Jarred Vanderbilt against the Mavs:— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) February 26, 2023
- Held Luka to 2-7 from the field as primary defender
- Tied a career-high with 8 OREB
- Finished with 15 PTS, 17 REB, and 4 STL
Making an instant impact for the Lakers pic.twitter.com/UwO9or8j70
Offensively, his 15 points feel like an added bonus, particularly in the half-court setting. His lack of jumper would be a hindrance to most, but his activity all over the court means his points come in a number of ways.
“I think some guys in our league,” LeBron James said of Vanderbilt, “when you’re not great at something, teams are able to use that to their advantage defensively. They can either sag off of you or play off of you. Sometimes, you’re playing offense 5 on 4, whatever the case may be. His basketball IQ and his intelligence of being guarded this way for so long has actually used it to his advantage. Teams turn their head because they’re not paying attention to him because they don’t think he’s a threat (from 3-point range), goes backdoor for a layup as you saw in the fourth quarter with the reverse (layup). Teams are not accounting for him when shots go up so you saw eight offensive rebounds he had.
“His energy, his effort, he knows where to be on every single possession and he knows how to utilize teams not accounting for him as an offensive threat. That is basketball IQ in its own right and that’s what makes him the player he is.”
Vanderbilt is exactly the type of player the team lacked for many years. Acquiring him at the deadline in itself would have been a victory for the Lakers. His impact has been immediate and, as was the case on Sunday, entirely game-changing.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.