‘Maniac’ Jarred Vanderbilt’s effort key to Utah Jazz’s three wins — but can’t stop first loss in Houston

Rockets 114, Jazz 108 • The energetic forward brought yet more rebounds and hustle to the table Monday, though they still fell short against a previously winless team.

(Michael Wyke | The Associated Press) Houston Rockets guard Kevin Porter Jr., right, looks to pass the ball as Utah Jazz forwards Jarred Vanderbilt, left, and Lauri Markkanen, center, box him up during the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Oct. 24, 2022, in Houston.

HoustonLauri Markkanen has been the breakout star of the new-look Utah Jazz. But Jarred Vanderbilt has inarguably been the engine powering the team.

Appropriate, for a guy nicknamed “V8.”

He’s impressed teammates and coaches with his nonstop motor — haranguing opposing scorers, hustling after loose balls, keeping plays alive with an uncanny ability to tip the orange Wilson wherever needed, and snatching rebounds out of the air from seemingly everywhere.

So many rebounds.

“Oh man, you can just tell how hard he plays,” said Collin Sexton. “You can feel his energy and how bad we wants it.”

“Vando, he’s a maniac, man,” added Mike Conley. “He’s all over the place.”

“I wish that I could teach what Jarred does — his understanding of angles, his understanding of timing,” said Will Hardy. “… He’s a special talent rebounding the ball, he just has the eye for it and knows how to track it. Maybe I should have him in the coaches meetings more and we could try to teach it better.”

The coach excitedly explain some of the subtleties and nuances of Vanderbilt’s game, notably the timing (“Sometimes he doesn’t sprint immediately on the release, he waits a second for his guy to turn and watch the ball”), and the angles (“He’s taken some different routes — sometimes he goes behind the backboard, sometimes he really curls towards the middle”).

The man himself, meanwhile, said his process is actually pretty simple.

“I would say just effort, man. Like, I’m physical. I like to hit people, and embrace contact,” Vanderbilt said. “And I’ve got a knack for the ball. I want it.”

Monday’s 114-108 loss against the Rockets — the Jazz’s first after three straight wins to open the ‘22-23 season — was his third time totaling double-digit rebounds this season, as he finished with 11 boards.

He had 12 rebounds in the season opener against Denver — all in the first half, before foul trouble early in the third quarter severely curtailed his availability thereafter. He added another 14 against Rudy Gobert and the Timberwolves.

He only totaled four in New Orleans, but he did find another unique way to contribute to the overtime victory.

Vanderbilt came into the game having made three total 3-pointers in his career. Against the Pelicans, he made two during his 15 minutes and 8 seconds of first-half play.

The fifth-year forward actually has a second well-known nickname, “The Vandolorian,” which would go from merely cool-sounding to actually apropos if he can become consistent at hurting opponents with his shooting.

Again, he said, his success there Sunday just came down to putting in the effort.

“I’ve been working on it all summer, and coach here gives me the confidence to shoot the ball, you know?” Vanderbilt said. “So, when you’re open, you’re just letting it fly. That plays a big part sometimes.”

Hardy, asked if he is actually good with the forward letting it fly from the corner, praised him for constantly working on his game, spending time with several of the Jazz’s assistant coaches to augment all aspects of his offensive repertoire, and ultimately concluded: “He knows that we have confidence in him to make the right play.”

Still, whatever the Jazz get from him on that end feels like a bonus.

Indeed, his 14 points Monday night (he was one of seven Jazz players to score in double digits) were a big help. The problem was Utah’s porous fourth-quarter defense, as Houston shot 11 of 16 in the final period.

Despite Utah’s closing lethargy in this game, Vanderbilt makes his biggest impact setting the tone by flying around.

Of course, there are downsides to that much kinetic energy. That aforementioned foul trouble in Denver wound up limiting him to playing just 18:06 total, before he fouled out. Against Minnesota, he played just 24:52 because of racking up five fouls. And in New Orleans: five fouls in 28 minutes.

The coach doesn’t want him to tone his frenetic act down, merely to channel it a little and to be a bit smarter about how he deploys it.

“It’s really that there’s one or two a game that he doesn’t need to commit,” Hardy said. “Vando plays so hard all the time that fouls are a little bit inevitable — especially with the guys he’s guarding, the matchups he’s taking on, everything we ask him to do on the defensive end. So it’s just recognizing those moments where he doesn’t have to grab a guy, he doesn’t have to pull their jersey, he doesn’t have to put his arm around their leg on a post-up. We’re talking about it, he understands it. But I’m never gonna knock Vando for his effort on that end.”

And neither will anyone wearing the same jersey.

“I’m so happy he’s on our team, man. I was so tired of playing against him when he was in Minnesota,” Conley said with a laugh. “He’s a valuable tool, a versatile tool that we can use that goes and just gets his hand on everything and creates other opportunities for us and extra possessions.”