An ode to Timberwolves’ forward Jarred Vanderbilt’s unique skill set

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Jarred Vanderbilt has a unique skill set that fits the Wolves perfectly. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Minnesota Timberwolves forward Jarred Vanderbilt has a unique skill set that fits the Wolves perfectly. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports /

On the fringes of the massive four-team trade that was completed in Feb. 2020, the Minnesota Timberwolves uncovered a unique gem in Jarred Vanderbilt.

How the Timberwolves stole Jarred Vanderbilt from the Nuggets

Back on Feb. 5, 2020, the Timberwolves completed a four-team trade that was centered around Robert Covington. They also included a bevy of minor expiring contracts, cashing in on value signings from the previous offseason and shuffling their roster in the process.

Out went Covington, Jordan Bell, Noah Vonleh, and Shabazz Napier — all pending free agents, and all players who have been out of the league for the majority of the 20 months since the trade. The Wolves took back Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez, two players who had seen their minutes reduced on the back-end of the Denver Nuggets’ rotation, casualties of a loaded depth chart.

On the fringes of the deal, however, then-front office boss Gersson Rosas asked for what was essentially a straight-up swap of forwards: 24-year-old second-year man Keita Bates-Diop for 20-year-old second-year man Jarred Vanderbilt.

The move flew under the radar at the time in most places, although yours truly touted the addition as savvy. Here’s an excerpt from what I wrote here at Dunking With Wolves at the time:

"The intrigue here is as a potential top-flight defender and rebounder that is entirely switchable. In theory, he should be able to guard most 3s and 4s and be able to compete with many 5s and even 2s.With his ability in transition and on the glass, that means that Vanderbilt’s floor should be as a rotational player, think someone like Jordan Bell or maybe early-career James Johnson, before he developed a 3-point jumper. There’s still some starter-level upside, although having Vanderbilt on his current contract would be a coup if he’s able to develop into a legitimate option off the bench.This is somewhat of a “challenge trade” by Rosas and the Wolves. Basically, they’re betting that the 20-year-old Vanderbilt will outperform the 24-year-old Keita Bates-Diop, as the two forwards were essentially a one-for-one on the side of the larger deal."

Not bad, huh? Let’s look at just how unique Vanderbilt’s season has been to this point, and why his skill set plays so well with the Wolves.

An ode to Timberwolves’ forward Jarred Vanderbilt’s unique skill set

Vanderbilt only appeared in two games following the trade to the Wolves before the season was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last season, Vanderbilt wasn’t in the rotation to start the season. Eventually, he began to receive time out of necessity, first under former head coach Ryan Saunders and then under Chris Finch. He finished the season first on the team in total rebounding percentage among rotation players, trailing only little-used big man Ed Davis but outpacing Towns on the glass.

Leading into this season, yours truly made the case for Vanderbilt to start at power forward. While it didn’t happen right away, Finch has finally arrived at the conclusion that Vanderbilt should be on the floor as much as possible.

Predictably, Vanderbilt is leading the team in rebounding percentage through the first 30 games of the current season. He’s also first in steal rate and third in block rate, all while carrying the lowest usage rate on the team on the offensive end of the floor.

It’s certainly a unique skill set — one that’s been not-so-outlandishly compared to Hall-of-Famer Dennis Rodman.

What’s most interesting at this stage, however, is the combination of all three of those categories. Rodman’s career rebound rate was an insane 23.3 percent; Vanderbilt’s is only 17.6.

But Vanderbilt’s 3.0 percent steal rate this season and the 2.8 percent for his career dwarf any of the numbers Rodman put up in the same category. Vanderbilt currently ranks No. 6 in the entire NBA in steal rate and No. 28 in block rate. Additionally, while Vando’s rebound rate pales in comparison to Rodman’s, his current mark of 18.1 percent is still tied for No. 16 in the league.

There are not many players who are able to rank so highly in three key categories. In fact, only Andre Drummond joins Vanderbilt in the top-30 in total rebound rate, steal rate, and block rate thus far this season.

As Patrick Beverley would tell us, Vanderbilt is getting it done across the board defensively and deserves more recognition.

The Wolves were in need of top-flight, versatile defenders. Jaden McDaniels provides that and can guard 3s and many 2s, but Finch needed someone who could also hold their own on the glass and guard bigger 3s and 4s.

Now, with Vanderbilt, McDaniels, and Beverley all offering plus defense and the likes of D’Angelo Russell and Beasley showing legitimate improvement on that end of the floor, the Wolves have trotted out a top-12 or so defense virtually all season.

It’s going to be fascinating to see what Vanderbilt continues to add to his game. For example, after missing his first seven 3-point attempts this season, he’s made his last two. Simply the threat of him being able to make corner threes as a league-average clip, combined with his dynamic athleticism as a cutter would help the Wolves’ offensive spacing quite a bit.

Thankfully, the Wolves locked up Vanderbilt to a three-year extension this offseason, meaning that he’ll be in Minnesota for at least the next two years. He doesn’t turn 23 until April, and there is plenty of upside remaining.

Next. How Towns, Vando dominate the offensive glass. dark

Here’s to the next 2.5 years (at minimum) of watching Towns and Vanderbilt team up together in the frontcourt, leading a suddenly effective Timberwolves defensive unit and controlling the paint on both ends of the floor.