When Jarred Vanderbilt arrived on the Lakers last February, it didn’t take long for him to showcase his unique skillset. With his defensive abilities, grit, high motor, IQ and focus, the 24-year-old forward instantly proved that he’s more than just a virtual throw-in in the Russell Westbrook trade,
Although his flaws — particularly offensively— were greatly exposed in the postseason, Vando showed enough during the Lakers’ incredible late turnaround last season to get the team to invest in him long-term. The Lakers are well aware that what Vando brings to the table is something that’s hard to find in a player of his value. It’s the same type of skillset that makes him, according to Darvin Ham, one of the best Swiss army knives in the NBA.
After last Monday’s loss to the Houston Rockets, Ham perfectly summarized why Vanderbilt is one of the best Swiss army knives in the NBA and the importance of his presence on the team:
“He’s one of the best Swiss army knives in the NBA,” Ham said. “His versatility defensively, the amount of things he can do from initiating in the break, catching and finishing in the paint, playing in the half roll, playing (dribble handoff) basketball, offensive rebounding, getting deflections, steals, making all the hustle plays you could possibly ask for – a bunch that don’t show up in the stat sheet – but he gives us a lot of versatility and does the small intangibles that you need to win.”
That’s why it’s not a coincidence that every time Vando is on the floor, the eye test indicates that the Lakers just play with so much more energy compared to when he isn’t. He’s easily one of Los Angeles’ most reliable defenders and is someone who seems perfectly content knowing that the stat sheet won’t reflect what he does best on the floor. As Ham reiterated, the versatility and intangibles he brings to this team are essential to their success.
Vanderbilt has played in 28 of the Lakers’ 50 regular season games so far this season and suffice it to say that the team would have been significantly worse off without him.
Remember when he put up 17 points along with five rebounds, three steals on 8-11 shooting from the field in a win against the Chicago Bulls last week? Or in just last weekend’s victory versus the Golden State Warriors where Vando was team-best +30 in 40 minutes as he filled the box score with 14 points, nine rebounds, five assists and four steals. These are two of the handful of games that perfectly depict why he’s the epitome of a Swiss army knife.
There’s no denying that Vanderbilt’s impact on this team translates to winning but it’s his his health that’s preventing him from doing it consistently. After missing the Lakers’ first 20 games of the season due to a left heel bursitis injury, the forward has been in and out of the lineup due to multiple foot issues that he’s been dealing with all season.
What’s unfortunate is that as soon as Vando felt the healthiest he’s been all season, he suffered another injury to his right foot that caused him to leave early in Thursday’s victory against the Boston Celtics. While there’s no update on Vanderbilt’s status yet aside from the fact that his x-rays reportedly came out negative, it’s safe to say that losing him would be detrimental to the Lakers’ success moving forward — especially this time of the season when L.A. desperately needs to make a run.
The fact that the Lakers rely so much on what Vanderbilt brings to the table goes to show why he’s one of the best Swiss army knives in the NBA. Not everyone possesses the type of skillset he has which is why when he’s healthy and right, Vanderbilt is that gem the purple and gold can count on to always contribute to winning basketball.
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