Jarred Vanderbilt has agreed to a four-year, $48 million dollar extension with the Lakers according to multiple reports. The deal, which will now keep the team's Swiss-army knife in the fold for the foreseeable future, came just days after Vanderbilt became extension eligible.
The promptness in which the extension transpired perhaps is a clear sign that both sides were eager to continue to work in lockstep as the Lakers head into a season as one the league’s title favorites.
After heading to Los Angeles in what would prove to be a season-altering trade deadline, Vanderbilt quickly became a fan favorite thanks to his defensive versatility, rebounding and relentless motor.
While the extent of his impact did take a hit during the Lakers’ lengthy postseason run, Vanderbilt still offers enough value through his blue-collar approach and physical tools for the team to have optimism about his role on the roster going forward.
In a vacuum, Vanderbilt’s deal presents little downside. But when viewing it through the wider lens of the Lakers’ offseason in aggregate, it follows what has been a clear shift in approach, while also raising some questions in the process.
With Vanderbilt now retained and the Lakers’ roster all but cemented, let’s examine the micro and macro revelations from his extension.
Building from within
This has not been an ordinary offseason for the Lakers. Instead of finding themselves linked to the latest disgruntled star or big name free agent, Rob Pelinka and the front office detoured from the franchise’s typical modus operandi in favor of a more refreshing approach.
Since their season ended, Pelinka and others within the organization have preached the importance of retaining the core that propelled them to the Western Conference Finals. This came to fruition as beyond their external additions, the most prominent moves the Lakers made this summer came in-house.
The commitment to maintaining continuity also dually serves as an investment for the future. Outside of keeping the aforementioned players on the books going forward, all of the core players the team re-upped are also young. Russell — who is on the shortest deal — is the oldest of the group at still just 27.
For several summers, the front office has had to reshuffle the deck when it came to the roster, given the limited resources that came with a top-heavy payroll. Because of this, the depth chart necessitated relying on external players on minimum deals to play big minutes.
The Lakers should stand on much more solid footing this go-around. When excluding the likes of LeBron James and Anthony Davis — the latter also extended this summer — the team will head into the season with at least four players (potentially more down the road with five others having player options in 2024) inked for multiple years.
Beyond the benefits that come with continuity from a on-court perspective, this also should behoove the team from a trade standpoint. Due to allocating so much money to James, Davis, and most recently Russell Westbrook, the Lakers have been limited from a creativity and money-matching standpoint when negotiating with other teams.
With a slew of young players on aforementioned multi-year and team-friendly deals, Pelinka and his staff could sidle their way into nearly any trade avenue that may present itself.
It remains to be seen if this new approach to roster-building yields better result. But if nothing else, the organization will approach this season’s starting line at a much healthier spot than they’ve been in recent memory, in large part to having players like Vanderbilt in tow.
Plenty of room for improvement
Any long-term investment in a player should come with a bode of confidence that there is a degree of upside that could be realized during the duration of the contract. Skills that were once dormant become actualized, strengths are solidified, and weaknesses gradually get addressed.
This is the likely the case from the Lakers’ perspective in their decision to extend Vanderbilt. Still just 24, Vanderbilt already has proved to a be a positive contributor during his short time with the team. He has also, however, demonstrated he still has ample room to grow.
Vanderbilt’s strengths on the floor are easy to notice. He has tremendous defensive instincts that he couples with his physical tools to disrupt opposing offenses. His activity level also slots in seamlessly next to stars, as his work on the glass and embracement of the “dirty work.” helps win the battle of the margins.
While the “D” component of Vanderbilt’s game is right on track, the “3” aspect is where his weaknesses slow him down. This became glaringly apparent in the postseason, as opposing teams exploited his shaky jumper by often cheating off of him in the half court.
According to Cleaning the Glass, a massive 41% (22% increase from the regular season) of Vanderbilt’s shots came from the corners in the playoffs. He made just 24% of those opportunities.
His efficiency from the corners in particular could prove to be the swing skill that takes Vanderbilt to the next level both from an individual standpoint and in the context of the Lakers’ roster.
With the team leaning into the idea of playing bigger, Vanderbilt’s looks and slotting will naturally begin to be pushed further out onto the perimeter to free up the paint. And when taking into account that he has yet to make a single 3-point attempt from above the break in his career, this only compounds the importance of his corner efficiency. Not only to keep defenses honest, but also, in his quest to stay on the floor given the team’s sudden influx of wings and forwards.
What does the rotation look like going forward?
A large reason why Vanderbilt made such an immediate splash when arriving to the Lakers was due to the 6’8” sized hole on the roster he stepped right into.
Prior to the trade deadline, the team’s roster was flooded with small guards and noticeably short on the wing as a result. The team’s lack of positional size was best exemplified by the 323 possessions Patrick Beverley played at small forward last season. An experience many would like to forget.
In many ways, the Lakers and Vanderbilt found each other at the exact right time, but a lot has changed since that could make Vanderbilt’s role a bit less set in stone this upcoming year and potentially beyond.
After a largely lauded offseason, the Lakers find themselves arguably at their most balanced from a positional standpoint. Beyond Vanderbilt, the team also inked Hachimura to a lucrative extension while also adding to their wing and forward depth with the likes of Taurean Prince, Cam Reddish, and an expected bigger role for Max Christie.
This inrush of size, the superior floor spacing in the perimeter rotation, and the Lakers’ likely aforementioned shift to playing multiple big lineups could put the lanky forward’s spot in the rotation up in the air.
For the Lakers, this is the epitome of a “good problem” to have. For individuals like Vanderbilt though, there could be necessary sacrifices that need to be made in order for the collective unit to thrive.
Despite the makeup of the roster, the Lakers will continue to lean on Vanderbilt in certain matchups, lineups, and whenever they simply need a kick in the ass. It’s an often thankless role the 24-year-old knows well, but also one he takes pride in and will be tasked to do for at least a few more years to come.
You can follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexmRegla.