At the beginning of the year, it looked like the Los Angeles Lakers were heading for another season of disappointment. They struggled out of the gates, and up until the trade deadline, they were on track to miss the postseason for the second season in a row.
But their myriad of trade deadline moves changed everything. Since the received their deadline acquisitions, they have gone 16-8, making a serious push for the playoffs. And while all of those players have contributed to LA’s success, Jarred Vanderbilt is the key.
His addition to the roster has given the Lakers a go-to perimeter defender who can also rebound and defend the post. With his skillset in the lineup, the Lakers defense has risen to a whole new level, and according to LeBron James, that’s a big reason behind their recent success.
James relayed the following message after the Lakers’ recent win over the Utah Jazz:
“That’s just been us lately. We’ve been one of the top teams defensively,” James said via the NBA Interviews YouTube channel. “No matter if you can make shots offensively, you got to be able to get stops down the stretch. Especially when you’re playing against teams that have been scoring. So, we had to get stops, and we did that.”
“Obviously, since the trade [deadline], we’ve been playing some good basketball,” James said via the NBA Interviews YouTube channel after the Lakers’ loss to the LA Clippers. “But the one thing we’ve been lacking a little bit is just the consistency of our lineups. And obviously, I was out for four weeks, and D-Lo [Russell] has kind of been in and out. But for the majority of it, guys have definitely stepped up.”
Lakers Depend on Jarred Vanderbilt’s Defense
Since joining the team, Vanderbilt has consistently taken on tough matchups, often guarding the opposing team’s best player. He’s guarded the likes of Luka Doncic, Anthony Edwards, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kyrie Irving, and red-hot rookie Jalen Williams.
Let’s take a look at how he’s fared.
In one game guarding Doncic, Vanderbilt spent 5:49 on the Dallas Mavericks superstar, holding him to 0-of-5 shooting from the field and forcing three turnovers. The Lakers won the game.
He guarded Edwards for 13:17 over the course of two games. And while Edwards shot 4-of-7 from the field, Vanderbilt forced six turnovers, and the Lakers went 1-1.
In the case of Gilgeous-Alexander, Vanderbilt covered him for 6:57 in one game, and the Thunder star shot 5-of-12 overall and turned the ball over once. LA picked up the win.
Vanderbilt guarded Irving for 1:31 in two total games, holding him to 1-of-4 shooting, forcing one turnover, and helping the Lakers go 1-1.
Lastly, Vanderbilt got the Williams assignment for 2:44 over the course of two games, holding the rookie to 1-of-4 shooting and forcing one turnover. The Lakers won both contests.
LeBron James Praises Jarred Vanderbilt
The stats show it, the team’s record shows it, and James’ comments back it up – Vanderbilt has been a game-changer for the Lakers.
James even spoke about the team’s length after a recent win over the New Orleans Pelicans.
“We have a lot of length,” James said via the NBA Interviews YouTube channel. “Myself, Vando [Vanderbilt], obviously AR [Austin Reaves], and AD [Anthony Davis], obviously, at the rim. So, I mean, D-Lo [Russell] is actually pretty long as well. So, it gives us a lot to do defensively as well.”
Vanderbilt’s presence on the roster gives the Lakers an extra layer on the defensive end of the court, and it’s his presence that could help elevate them into title contention.
James and Davis may be the most important cogs in the machine, but Vanderbilt is right behind them.