tering the 2023-24 NBA season was expected to be L.A.‘s exceptional size. And forward Jarred Vanderbilt, who has been injured with bursitis in his heel, was very much expected to be a part of that equation. More than anything in their lackadaisical 3-5 start, it was Vanderbilt’s presence that was missing.
The Lakers have won five of their last six games, in large part thanks to their ability make shots and make up for Vanderbilt’s absence. The Lakers were getting clobbered on the glass to stat the year, with a rebounding percentage of 47.5% in the first eight games. That was 24th in the NBA. In their last six games, they’re at 51.5% on their rebounding rate, 10th in the league.
That’s how they want to play this season. That’s where the return of Vanderbilt, which is impending as he rounds into shape, figures to get the Lakers into their true season groove.
I don’t think most people understand how valuable Jarred Vanderbilt is to what they want to do,” one Western Conference coach told Heavy Sports. “You can’t replace LeBron and you can’t replace Anthony Davis. After them, everyone on that team, you can pretty much replace them. But Jarred Vanderbilt, you can’t replace that grit and that hustle and the rebounding and the defense. And you talk to them, people with that team, and they feel like they still have to unleash him.
The unleashing should be coming soon. Jarred Vanderbilt has been ramping up to a return for a week now. While he is not a big stats-gatherer, Vanderbilt is a versatile 6-foot-9 forward who can rebound and defend multiple positions. He played 24.0 minutes per game and averaged 7.2 points and 6.7 rebounds after he was acquired by the Lakers at the trade deadline, from Utah.
The Lakers confirmed his value this summer, signing Vanderbilt to a four-year, $48 million extension.
Getting him back on the floor is tricky, though, because Vanderbilt was unable to do much while dealing with the heel problem.
“The biggest thing with (Jarred Vanderbilt) is because for so long he had to do stationary drills, just individually, he hasn’t had really any contact, obviously,” coach Darvin Ham told reporters last week. “So he is just day by day ramping up and getting his conditioning, low-impact conditioning as well as basketball stuff. And just to see how he recovers from that day to day.