Not since Andrei Kirilenko famously donned jersey No. 47 have the Utah Jazz had a player with as perfect a name/number/nickname combination as the just-acquired Jarred Vanderbilt.
“We call him ‘V8,’” explained fellow newcomer Malik Beasley, “because his motor never stops.”
Some Jazz fans may already be in love.
Probably wouldn’t hurt to get to know him a little bit more first, though.
What else does the 23-year-old forward (who was part of the team’s return haul in its massive trade with Minnesota that shipped three-time Defensive Player of the Year and four-time All-NBA honoree Rudy Gobert to the Timberwolves) bring to the table, though?
Well, for starters, he’s shown he can overcome adversity.
A Minneapolis Star-Tribune feature story documented the Houston native’s painful injury history: A sudden growth spurt at 14 years old did not come without consequences. In his junior year of high school at Victory Prep Academy in Houston, Vanderbilt fractured his left foot. After letting it heal naturally, he was back in action the next year.
And he broke it again during a tournament in his senior season. This time, he opted for surgery, with a screw implanted to stabilize the fracture.
That caused him to miss much of his freshman season at the University of Kentucky, though he was eventually cleared for action and appeared in 14 games … before he broke his left foot a third time during a practice.
And that wasn’t even the worst of it.
Vanderbilt had declared for the NBA draft, and the requisite associated medical exams revealed some problematic signs with his right foot, too. He’d wind up having surgery on both feet ahead of the draft, causing the once-presumed lottery pick to plummet before the Denver Nuggets worked out a deal with the Orlando Magic to stop his free-fall with the No. 41 selection.
He wound up playing just 17 games as a rookie. But he remains thankful for his support group helping him through a mentally difficult time, and is grateful to this day to the Nuggets organization for getting him through a physically intense period.
“Really, just the supporting cast that I had around me — my family, coaching staff, everybody in my circle just kept pushing me to keep going. Everybody goes through some adversity, some problems; it’s just how you bounce back from it. I just stuck with it,” Vanderbilt told Utah reporters in his introductory news conference. “Thanks to Denver for allowing me to get healthy and get right and giving me the opportunity to get back to 100% healthy.”
Of course, Vanderbilt then played only 11 total games in his sophomore season — nine with the Nuggets, as he found himself out of a deep team’s rotation, and just two with the Wolves following his inclusion in a sprawling four-team trade.
But, by Year 3, he went from just over 4 minutes per game to just under 18, and he started 30 of the Wolves’ 64 games in that COVID-abbreviated season. And this past season, he was up over 25 minutes per game, and started 67 of 74 games.
“It’s an up-and-down league; one thing about this league [is] at some point, everybody’s going to get an opportunity. Whether it’s late in a game, a blowout game, or anything, you’re going to get an opportunity, so it’s just how you take advantage of that,” Vanderbilt said. “When my name and number got called, I just took full advantage of it.”
How, though, did he do that? What are the Jazz getting with him?
Well, for starters, he’s 6-foot-9 with a 7-1 wingspan and an 8-10 standing reach. Listed at 214 pounds, he’s lithe and fluid, and has shown the ability to go all over the court.
Vanderbilt has a reputation as a good, switchable defender, though the metrics are a bit mixed there. He’s good in pick-and-roll situations, particularly as a bigger defender against a smaller guard, as well as in spot-up and off-screen situations. He was not so great this past season on isolation plays, allowing 1.129 points per possession (admittedly, in a very small sample size of possessions).
Where he has really excelled, though, is in areas predicated upon activity. He has excellent steal percentage numbers, has been sporadically good blocking shots, and has good rebounding numbers across the board.
“Vando, with him you’re going to get great energy,” said Beasley. “… He’s a great rebounder, a great defender, great at setting screens.”
Labeling him a “hustle player” is probably too simplistic, but he doesn’t disagree with the general premise.
“[I’m about] playing hard and changing the culture, bringing that winning atmosphere,” Vanderbilt explained, while also putting it out there that he considers himself “very versatile on both ends of the floor.”
Perhaps less so on the offensive side, if we’re being honest, though.
There, the lefty is … well, very efficient around the rim.
He has a 59.1 FG% for his career, and is at 60.7% on two-pointers. Which is pretty much what you’re getting from him.
Of the 212 baskets he made last season, 197 of them came less than 5 feet from the hoop. And of the 15 others he made, 11 of them came in the 5- to 9-foot range. More than half of his baskets were dunks. He also made 84 layups, but was noticeably less efficient there, converting just 44.2% of those attempts.
Meanwhile, he shot just 2 of 14 on 3-pointers, with both makes coming from the left corner.
When asked what’s been working on and where he wants to improve his game, his answer was unsurprising.
“Finishing around the rim, touch; working on my shooting, trying to expand my range; working on ball-handling and counter-moves,” Vanderbilt said. “I’m still young in my career, where I have a lot of opportunity to still grow and expand my game as well. I’m sticking to the foundation that got me here, but building off that.”
Jazz GM Justin Zanik also acknowledged the potential difference between what the forward presently is and what he maybe can become.
“High-energy, defensive-minded 4-man that I think has some upside to continue to develop in our program,” Zanik said. “He plays hard and cares about his teammates.”
And he never stops.