Before the season, Jarred Vanderbilt had a case to be considered one of the best prospects in his class. Injuries derailed him, making him one of this year’s more unique players.
As a high school player, Jarred Vanderbilt was a five-star recruit and consensus top-15 prospect drawing comparisons varying from Lamar Odom to Draymond Green to Dennis Rodman.
It is more than fair to debate the accuracy of each of those, but that should illustrate two things: Firstly how tantalizing his strengths were. And secondly how difficult it is to fit Vanderbilt’s game into a pre-existing template.
His time with the Kentucky Wildcats was disappointing for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which was a foot injury limiting him to just 14 games.
Partially due to the limited role he was given, he also did not demonstrate noticeable improvements in his main areas of weakness — shooting, finishing with touch or his off hand and lower body strength.
To put it bluntly, not being a reliable finisher at the basket while also not having a jump shot caps anyone’s NBA utility. Vanderbilt is an excellent athlete and can elevate for dunks. But he does himself no favors as a secondary creator or role player if defenders can comfortably sag off of him either as a pick-and-roll operator or as a functional wing driving from the perimeter.
His shortcomings are nothing to sneeze at. They are potentially damning.
But similarly, his strengths are so profound. He could find a role as an athletic, ball-handling small-ball 5 who is an elite rebounder and immensely versatile on defense just as easily as he could never make a NBA roster.
It should say a lot about those strengths that he decided to remain in the draft despite the combination of injury struggles and a complete lack of even passable shooting range.
Vanderbilt is a hard worker who applies himself to the game with as much fervor as anyone who plays the sport, understands the game and will at the very least pass the ball, rebound and defend multiple positions well.
It is just a matter of how much his weaknesses will inhibit his ability to do those things in a way that makes him worth a contract and rotation minutes.
Because of this jarring juxtaposition of positives and negatives with his game, Vanderbilt has built himself cases to get drafted anywhere from the late first round to, well, not drafted at all. Let’s start with his case for the former.