Okay, so first thing’s first, this post will not cover Vanderbilt University nor its fight song, but I only wanted to mention the amount of work I put in to take a player in Jarred Vanderbilt, Googling the lyrics of the Vanderbilt University fight song, and then combining the two for a relatable and cohesive title. Look man, I care. Regardless, the cat is out of the bag (who put the cat in the bag though?) and we’ll obviously be focusing on the humble emergence of this Timberwolves player, someone who is currently one of several players in the leagues who are emerging through the expansive and growing amount of minutes available due to rosters performing a unique form of seppuku.
“When you look down our roster, there’s not too many other bigs… So that right there made me just get my mind-set right that it’s a possibility of me going in.” – Jarred Vanderbilt, 1/7/21.
Fair point Jarred. That quote, attributed to him after the recent game against Denver where Vanderbilt logged solid minutes, marks the realization that we should all share. The third-year forward, coming to the Wolves this last February for Juancho Hernangomez and Malik Beasley, will no doubt see time directly due to a wrist-dislocation suffered by Karl-Anthony Towns. And it’s not like we haven’t seen this before with Towns going down for a bit last season with a knee injury. During that time, Gersson Rosas made massive changes tilted toward augmenting the defense at the trade deadline, ultimately leading to Gorgui Dieng emerging as the de facto benefactor of Towns’ absence. However, in the five games missed by Towns as of this writing, the same approach by the team was simply not working, as the Wolves have carried the worst defensive rating in the league. But against the Nuggets, both the familiarity with his former team and his energy were lauded and noticed. After all, he finished with 11 points, five rebounds, two blocks, and three steals in 23 minutes while guarding All-NBA center Nikola Jokic.
And like Vanderbilt alluded to in his quote above, looking up and down the Wolves’ roster, there really aren’t many fours or fives present. Naz Reid is younger, but certainly still appears set to be more of a depth piece than a minutes eater due to defensive shortcomings. On the flipside, Ed Davis has been seeing some minutes, and while he does bring some of that defensive prowess that Naz lacks (but which Jarred also has), his offensive game is a much larger question mark. And of course, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was cut after training camp. To be blunt, even if Vanderbilt didn’t have a career night against the Nuggets, just the simple notion of what the Wolves have in terms of the roster, we’d still be heralding him as a legitimate and potentially effective player, at the very least in the short term, simply because Minnesota doesn’t really have a choice but to play him while Towns is out.
That’s the rub here too. Due to the nature of how the team was constructed, I guess it’s even Team President Rosas’ team ethos (to always favor cap space), we now have a team that has several glaring holes. Of course, the one most talked about here is the lack of big man depth, directly fueling Jarred Vanderbilt and putting him front and center in a season thus far riddled with roster complications. Now, I’m sure there are plenty of other similar situations and scenarios throughout the league, and Vanderbilt is a player out of many that look to build a name for themselves through the newly acquired rotation minutes. But the ingredients here grab my attention a bit more. Even though the breakout game may not have been necessary to establish Vanderbilt as an option moving forward for the Wolves, the impact of achieving a double-double against the Trail Blazers immediately after the Nuggets game will go a long way to establish a greater share of minutes when Towns does come back eventually.
Note: This post was written before the Wolves played against the Spurs in which Vanderbilt netted just two points in 12 minutes with 2 rebounds and 1 assist. I remain confident in Vanderbilt after this game, but clearly, there will be some ups and downs.
Listen (or is it read?), I’m not here to make the argument that Jarred Vanderbilt will become a consistent double-double machine and start netting 35+ minutes a game, but there’s no reason at all that he can’t hold down the four position for the foreseeable future, and I’ll even go further and state that he might hold down the four the entire season. How that value will fit on your team is more of a question you can answer, but judging how this season is going, I don’t see any downside in seeing what happens when Vandy starts to fight.
Jay is a longtime Razzball everything who consumes an egregious amount of Makers Mark as a vehicle to gain wisdom and augment his natural glow. Living in the D.C. area, he also likes spending time visiting the local parks and feeding lettuce to any turtles he encounters, including Mitch McConnell. You can follow him @jaywrong.