How Towns and Vanderbilt drive the Timberwolves’ offensive rebounding machine

Karl-Anthony Towns and Jarred Vanderbilt have driven the Minnesota Timberwolves' offensive rebounding efforts. (Photo by Soobum Im/Getty Images)
Karl-Anthony Towns and Jarred Vanderbilt have driven the Minnesota Timberwolves' offensive rebounding efforts. (Photo by Soobum Im/Getty Images) /
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Minnesota Timberwolves, Jarred Vanderbilt
Minnesota Timberwolves forward Jarred Vanderbilt is the best offensive-rebounding non-center in the NBA. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports /

Jarred Vanderbilt specializes in athleticism and ball-tracking (and timing)

Vanderbilt is not as big and strong as Towns, so he wins the rebounding battle with explosiveness.

The combination of athleticism and relentless energy is why Vanderbilt is the top-ranked non-center in offensive rebounds per game. He grabs so many eye-opening boards.

Vanderbilt frequently flies in from the perimeter and uses his momentum to propel himself to the ball. It is crucial for non-shooters to make their man pay for sagging off them, and he does so by slipping past his defender into strong rebounding position.

Vanderbilt is great at faking one way and going the other, almost like an NFL pass-rusher attacking an offensive tackle.

That clip also displays how Vanderbilt makes up for his poor hands around the basket. Vanderbilt ranks just third on the team with 2.1 second-chance points per game in part because he often opts to pass out to open shooters. Receiving kick-outs off offensive boards is one of the best times to shoot because the player is already aligned with the basket, and Vanderbilt has nine assists off his offensive rebounds alone this season.

Another way to alleviate poor hands on gathers is to avoid the gather altogether. Vanderbilt’s high-wire act creates plenty of tip opportunities where opponents can’t swipe at the ball. Eleven of Vanderbilt’s 79 offensive rebounds have resulted in made tip-ins or tip-dunks.

The skill that unlocks all of this is Vanderbilt’s ability to read the flight path of a shot and anticipate where it’s going. Vanderbilt frequently changes direction as the ball is in flight because he knows exactly where it will bounce to. It’s eerily reminiscent of another undersized 4 who became one of the best rebounders of all time.

Above, he’s midway through a baseline cut when Towns’ shot goes up and he somehow knows exactly where it’s going. He reverses course to beat Valanciunas — a monster of a man — to the ball. That’s incredible anticipation, and he caps it with an assist on the Russell three.

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If the Wolves want to stay in contention for the preseason goal of making the Play-In Tournament, they will need Towns and Vanderbilt to continue their versatile and lucrative mission on the offensive glass.