Jarred Vanderbilt is the Next Dennis Rodman

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Players with Jarred Vanderbilt’s pedigree don’t usually play with his manic intensity. A top 15 recruit in 2017, Vanderbilt was festooned with the traditional trappings of five-star stardom. Beyond simply being a McDonald’s All-American, Vanderbilt was a minor-scale celebrity through puberty—”The TOP 9th Grader in the Country?” asks/shouts a BallisLife video from 2014 and his junior year mixtape has 138k views and declares that he’s “6’8 with Lamar Odom handles!”. It’s gauche to compare any high schooler to Lebron James, but, with the way that Vanderbilt’s guard skills and size were touted, the implication wasn’t subtle. Naturally, he committed to Kentucky. 

In Lexington, though, Vanderbilt fell victim to the fact that college offenses don’t have the bandwidth to support more than one or two ball-dominant players. With Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox at the helm, Vanderbilt struggled with injuries and couldn’t find a comfortable fit in the rotation and fell to the 41st pick in the 2018 NBA Draft as a result. 

Now, though, Vanderbilt has proven himself as one of the NBA’s elite defenders.Even if the top of the Defensive Player of the Year ballot is typically the bailiwick of rim-protecting big men, Vanderbilt is building an increasingly strong down-ballot case. Advanced metrics like EPM, DARKO, LEBRON, DRIP, RAPTOR and FARTS (guess which one I made up!) universally hail Vanderbilt as one of the league’s best stoppers. 

But defense isn’t statistics: it’s Vanderbilt howling in from the weakside corner to blow up an offensive set. As an integral cog in the Minnesota Timberwolves’ rotation, Vanderbilt is the key-man of Minny’s aggressive, 11th-ranked defense.On a bifurcated roster that consists of three scorers and 10 rabid, obnoxious defenders, Vanderbilt is the most rabid and obnoxious. Put him in a pick-and-roll, and he’ll hedge a point guard to the outer edges of the universe; challenge him in space, he’ll poke the ball loose; try to dunk on him and, actually, don’t try to dunk on him.

But outside of his physical gifts, Vanderbilt is special because of his mind. He plays with the focused, unceasing thrust of an amphetamine high, processing and instantaneously responding to stimuli. It’s not just that Vanderbilt can physically do things that less athletic players can’t; he does things no other players would even think to do. This side of Dennis Rodman, his motor is unparalleled—Vanderbilt moves faster on defense and snags more contested rebounds than any other high-minute forward.

Against spaced-out, decentralized offenses, the instinctive, protean Vanderbilt is the ideal player, canvassing and patrolling the whole court. While he never replicated the world-destroying dominance of his adolescence in the NBA, he regained his status as one of basketball's most promising young players by refashioning his game into something equally singular and valuable.

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