clock menu more-arrow no yes

Midseason Review: Jarred Vanderbilt

The long-awaited frontcourt partner for Karl-Anthony Towns has arrived.

Dallas Mavericks v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

The energy from the Kevin Garnett years is rising from the darkest, dustiest area of Target Center. Jarred Vanderbilt and Patrick Beverley are at the forefront of that. This season is nostalgic for those who experienced it years ago: seething defense. Passion and energy you can feel. Authenticity. KG actually cared. You could see it.

I’d never diminish what the greatest Minnesota Timberwolves player of all-time did for this city by making inaccurate comparisons. But these two players epitomize what this city rallies around, and that’s a KG-esque player. If there’s one way to describe Vanderbilt’s impact on this team, or to put into words just how valuable he is, it’s that.

Vanderbilt has solidified himself as the starting power forward of the future. Likely considered one of the biggest contract “steals” in terms of length and amount, Vanderbilt will be terrorizing opposing teams in Minneapolis for the next 2.5 years while also allowing the Wolves to upgrade the roster.

The four-team trade that brought Vanderbilt and Malik Beasley to Minnesota just over two years ago was a definite win for the Wolves, as they sent out Robert Covington, Shabazz Napier, Keita Bates-Diop and Noah Vonleh.

Vanderbilt earned his playing time through grit and hustle when he joined the Wolves. Almost immediately, his menacing defense and high motor were visible to everyone. He didn’t ignite the Wolves’ offense, but he set fire to the opponents’.

Vanderbilt is currently averaging 7.2 PTS, 8.8 REB and 1.5 STL per game in 2021-22, but as anyone who watches the Wolves knows, his impact often isn’t reflected in numbers (although, sometimes it certainly is).

He started the year a bit uncomfortable on offense. We learned quickly that the majority of his value came on defense, with exception to crashing the offensive glass or general hustle. Although still figuring things out, he absolutely has improved his offensive game. One simple thing that’s clear: he’s catching the ball when it’s thrown to him. In the past, he struggled to corral passes. I’m not sure what caused this change, but I’m glad it happened.

Vanderbilt’s points per game has jumped to 8.4 during January and February, up from his average of 5.7 through the first three months of the season. This increase could be chalked up to any number of things, but all that matter is that it is improving. The hope isn’t that Vanderbilt gets to 20 PPG (although, that’d be cool), it’s that he finds a role and excels in it. It’s becoming more clear that, come playoff time, it gets harder and harder to operate with one-dimensional players on offense. He’s still just 22 years old, so to see him improving, however fast or slow it may be, is encouraging.

He’s as much the reason as anything else that the Wolves have a top-15 defense this season (been top-10 for a good chunk of the year). His smothering on-ball defense and chaotic, yet structured, flying around create a case for an All-NBA defender.

Throw Beverley in the mix, and you’ve created a nightmare. Bally Sports should have a viewer discretion warning because of these two.

Let me pause and say the defense hasn’t been great recently. It’s clear the team needed the NBA All-Star break to rest and reset. However, the Wolves still have the personnel necessary to bother teams night in, night out.

This team is certainly capable of being top-15 on offense and defense, and it seems like we’re in stretch of the season before they find that groove. As of now, they’ve spent time on both ends of the spectrum — starting the year with suffocating team defense while struggling on offense, and recently playing great offense but struggling on defense. It only makes sense that after the break they settle in somewhere between those two points.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

We thought the energy of the late-90s/early-2000s was gone, that we’d never rekindle that fire you felt in your gut watching that team play. But it wasn’t. It lingered, waiting for the right time to remind us what we have in this city is special.

This quiet-ass fanbase just needed more.

Wolves. Back.