Stylistically, it’d be hard to find two point guards more different than Ja Morant and Steph Curry. The former is an elite athlete that lives in the paint and makes his money finishing at the rim, typically in highlight fashion. The latter is the greatest and most unique shooter the league has ever and possibly will ever see.
But Jarred Vanderbilt has taken the assignment of defending them each this postseason and, at least through one game in the series against the Warriors, has found success against both. In Tuesday’s Game 1, Vanderbilt asked for and received the task of defending Steph, a mission that resembles something close to a marathon sprint around the court than a typical defensive assignment.
Vanderbilt stood up to the task throughout the night, making Curry work for his points which is as good as anyone can ask. After the victory for the Lakers, he spoke about his work on the defensive end of the court.
“Like I said when I got here, I want those types of assignments,” Vanderbilt said. “I feel that’s how I can impact this team and bring value to this team.
“I think that’s my calling on this team. I like those matchups, those challenges and that’s what I’m here and to do.”
According to NBA’s matchup data, which can be spotty at times, Vanderbilt spent the most time of any Laker defending Curry. Impressively, Vanderbilt was credited with allowing only one 3-point attempt, which Curry made. In total, Curry shot 3-5 from the field against Vando with one turnover and one shot blocked.
Regardless of what the stats say, though, it was clear that Curry had to work for his baskets. And, again, that’s as much as you can ask of people defending him, which all the Lakers did in fairness on the night.
Vanderbilt doing this, though, immediately after defending Morant a series before is particularly impressive.
“Comparing him and Ja, it’s a lot different,” Vando said. “With (Steph), there’s no shifts, there’s no digs. I’m just focused on him because he’s obviously most dangerous on court, especially without the ball in his hand, the way he moves and cuts and comes off screens. The biggest thing was stopping him and limiting him.”
The focus required to go from a gameplan built around Morant and then one built around Curry and not having any letdowns is remarkably impressive. Now, though, the challenge is to continue to repeat that performance for the remainder of the series.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.