On the flip side of the ball, Vanderbilt is nothing short of dominant and a diamond in the rough. D-LEBRON ranked him as the second-best defensive power forward in the league last year with a value of 2.44, and for a good reason. He has excellent hands, averaging 2.7 steals per 100 possessions, and is an insane shot blocker, averaging 1.9 blocks per 100 possessions.
As the drop big when defending pick and rolls, Vanderbilt does an excellent job moving his feet, reading the ball-handler, and jabbing at the ball to make a play. As a help-side rim protector, Vanderbilt’s head is always on a swivel, sniffing out drives and cuts to the rim and emphatically swatting them away.
Vanderbilt has already learned to leverage his lean frame and quick feet against opposing bigs looking to expose his skinnier frame on post-ups. He denies the ball as long as he can, then hops back behind the big posting up, then bounces back in front of them as soon as the post-entry pass is made, completely breaking up the play without outmuscling the big. In isolation, Vanderbilt is exceptional for someone his size.
He is excellent at mirroring his man and continually jabs at the ball to break up their momentum. If the opposing offensive player somehow gets to the rim, Vanderbilt has great verticality and the length to block or alter the shot.
His motor on the offensive end stretches to the defensive end, often picking up full-court and flying around the half-court to make a play on the ball. When teams try to use this energy against him in screening actions, Vanderbilt has no problem getting skinny and phasing right through the screen to keep with his man, just another tool that makes him an elite point of attack defender.
Vanderbilt’s only defensive shortcoming is widespread amongst younger bigs, foul trouble. He averaged nearly five fouls per 100 possessions with the Wolves last season, a mark that played a large part in why he couldn’t get heavy minutes on the court.
His aggression could be exposed by more intelligent players, specifically guys that know how to foul bait. If Vanderbilt wants to be more than a bench player for his career, he needs to become more disciplined on the defensive end.
I think Vanderbilt is well worth a spot on the Boston Celtics roster. He would fit well as a backup four behind Jayson Tatum, providing Ime Udoka with some energy, rim pressure, and defense off the bench.
Another reason I like Vanderbilt so much in green is that he can play beside Al Horford or Robert Williams due to his off-ball prowess, something Grant Williams and Jabari Parker don’t possess. He’s confined to a specific rotation or particular role. Whoever’s on the court, Vanderbilt can play beside.