The Minnesota Timberwolves must bolster the power forward position, and the quickest way to do that is to insert Jarred Vanderbilt into the starting lineup.
Through the first seven games of the season, the Minnesota Timberwolves have had a revolving door of starting power forwards.
Jake Layman started the first three games of the season, including two wins alongside now-injured star Karl-Anthony Towns. Then, Jarrett Culver got the start at the 4-spot in two blowout losses against the LA Clippers and Washington Wizards. Finally, Head Coach Ryan Saunders went with Juan Hernangómez alongside Ed Davis for the most recent two-game series against the Denver Nuggets and Thursday’s loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.
The only starting power forward with a positive plus/minus mark in an individual game during the first two weeks of the season was Hernangomez, who put up a +3 in Tuesday’s loss to the Nuggets. Juancho scored a season-high 25 points in 34 minutes in that game.
Of the three starting power forwards, Culver is the only one who has a positive on/off net rating (+11.3), and it should be noted that the Wolves have a net rating of -4.4 with Culver on the court.
Power forward was the biggest question mark for the team heading into the season and has been the most glaring of many problems for the Wolves in the midst of a five-game losing streak. So, what is the answer?
Minnesota Timberwolves: Jarred Vanderbilt should be a starter
Enter Jarred Vanderbilt as the one true hope this team has to solidify the power forward position once and for all.
The third-year big man out of Kentucky didn’t even play in the team’s two wins this season. He then played largely garbage time minutes in consecutive blowout losses to the Lakers, Clippers, and Wizards before seeing just 55 seconds of playing time in the first loss to Denver.
Vanderbilt finally broke out on Tuesday night in Denver with 11 points, five rebounds, two assists, three steals, and two blocks in 23 minutes off the bench in the 123-116 loss.
It was his hustle that helped keep the Wolves in the game and should propel him into a starting role for the team moving forward. The 21-year-old is averaging 5.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.6 steals and shooting 68.8 percent in 13.4 minutes per game.
The Wolves outscored the Nuggets by nine points with Vanderbilt on the court on Tuesday, and he’s had a positive impact on the court all season.
The 6-foot-9 Vanderbilt has a net rating of 19.2 so far this season as well as an on/off net rating of 38.2, which are both second-best on the team behind Jaden McDaniels, who has played just 25 minutes in garbage time this season.
Vanderbilt has easily been the second-best big-man for the Timberwolves this season behind Towns and will help fix one of Minnesota’s biggest weak spots during this young season: defensive rebounding.
Minnesota had the worst defensive rebounding rate in the NBA at 68.3 percent entering Thursday’s game in Portland. So far this season, Vanderbilt has been the Wolves’ third-best defensive rebounder behind Towns and Davis, putting up a defensive rebounding rate of 21.2.
Anyone who watched the Nuggets game on Tuesday saw Vanderbilt boxing out on the defensive glass and skying for rebounds, securing five himself and tipping several others to teammates.
His toughness and willingness to fight in the post will hopefully give the Wolves the physicality and intensity they’ve been missing since Towns was injured. He’s been beaten defensively at times, but his length, intensity, and rebounding ability are all qualities that matter a great deal.
Of course, a major caveat to the theory that Vanderbilt can be a game-changer is that he has put up attractive advanced metrics in an extremely small sample size; Vanderbilt has played just 67 minutes over five games this season.
Time will tell if he can keep the energy up all season, but the early returns should give fans hope that the Timberwolves can shore up the gaping hole at the power forward position and Vanderbilt can hold down the fort in the frontcourt until Towns is able to return from his wrist injury.