clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Why the Phoenix Suns should be all in on Jarred Vanderbilt

Among other things, this rendition of the Suns is in need of more defensive ferocity

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Utah Jazz Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns have seen a stark drop in their defensive efforts this season.

While they are presently 10th in the NBA in points allowed per game (111.9), which is solid, and 13th in defensive rating (112.6), they’ve dropped to 19th in defensive efficiency (114.2) and 13th in half-court defensive efficiency (96.0).

However, since the start of December, they’ve allowed 116.9 points per game, which ranks 23rd. Their defensive efficiency has plummeted to 28th (119.6), and in the half-court Phoenix is down to 17th (98.6).

For reference, the league average in defensive efficiency in this window is 114.5, and in the half court is 97.7.

Some of this drop in efficiency and effectiveness can be attributed to the number of points opponents are seeing off of Suns turnovers, which is at 16.3 per game via 13.6 turnovers per game in December. As a result, their opponents have been spending just 77% of their possessions against the Suns set defense, ranking dead last.

Another part of this drop could be the frequency at which opponents are feasting in the paint of late, at 53.1, ranking 26th.

Or, it could be their 29th-ranked 12.3 offensive rebounds allowed per game of late.

In all, it’s been a mess and needs to be directly addressed.

Though the need for a player who can consistently be a shot creator to infuse the offense with more scoring prowess, like say, Kyle Kuzma, as Dave King wrote about yesterday, I feel the Suns could maybe benefit more from prioritizing defensive effectiveness and versatility (which is what Jae Crowder’s value stemmed from).

Doing so via a player with a bigger frame and more athleticism (and effectiveness) than Jae presented, or any of the remaining solid defenders on the Suns roster, in addition to adding scoring, could prove to be more fruitful come postseason play.

Insert one, Jarred Vanderbilt.

An intro to Vando

In a 6’9 frame, the 23-year-old Jarred Vanderbilt, a.k.a. “Vando”, has a 6-11 wingspan accompanied by a 39.5” vertical jump.

He’s a near-elite level athlete that has the requisite reaction speed, IQ, lateral quickness, mobility, strength, and level of engagement stamina (on or off-ball) to be a key cog in unlocking a newfound level of defensive versatility, for any team.

Vando is the rare defensive breed that can toggle archetypes on a possession-by-possession basis, operating effectively as a point-of-attack nuisance, chaser in impactfully navigating screens off-ball, actively as a helper in clogging passing lanes one pass away or putting fires out as the low man in secondary rim protection - while also being able to rotate out of helping to recover - and still contain the ball (whew!), be a linchpin while containing as a wing stopper that is capable against the league’s best scores to keep the defensive shell intact, or be a mobile big in defending pick-and-roll at the level of the screen with the versatility to dictate terms.

Guys don't just miss when he guards them, he legitimately dictates when and where shots come from, while also altering releases and vision of the rim.

He unlocks so much scheme, lineup, and positional versatility, while also helping to make the job of others become that much easier, keeping the team out of rotation or helping to clean up in scrambling.

  • For Mikal Bridges, though he’s had some defensive issues at times this season as the weight he’s had to carry has grown, he would be both eased and relieved of taking on the lion's share of perimeter defensive responsibilities. He’s a potential defensive player of the year, at the very least in quality, when adequately surrounded. Vanderbilt more than viably spelling him of guarding the best offensive talents would do wonders. Vando is honestly better equipped to take on many of the players Bridges has been tasked with guarding the past two seasons. Also, enabling Bridges more as a free-roaming helper (almost like a free safety, ie, how LeBron James is now best deployed) would be instrumental and unique from the attack the Suns have deployed.
  • For Deandre Ayton, he would be relieved of being nearly solely tasked with defensive rebounds (Vanderbilt, at 8.0 rebounds per game, would be by far the team’s second-best on the glass). Ayton (and Monty Williams) would also be both enabled and enticed to use Ayton's defensive versatility as a weapon, evolving their defensive base of drop coverage into a myriad of schemes.

Follow me here for a second. If Vanderbilt happened to be at the point of the screen on a ball handler, and Aytons man went to set a screen, they could very easily put two on the ball and play with length. Ayton could also remain at the level and enable Vanderbilt to play as the low-man, taking over for paint and rim protection for Ayton.

This blend of scheme and lineup versatility, in addition to the optionality that would be presented to Monty Williams, would force more creativity from him in defensive coverages, and allow for much more dictating from that end, rather than solely reading and reacting.

The number of events the Kentucky product would be able to cause, and the havoc he’d be enabled to wreck in tandem with Bridges, as well as Craig (or Okogie) on the perimeter would elevate this team to new heights defensively.

A sequence compiler of his type would prove to be invaluable.


Vanderbilt also brings optionality, as he could certainly operate as a small ball five (which would check a huge box for the Suns, as the viability of their frontcourt behind Ayton on a playoff stage is in question). He’s good enough as a screener, underrated as a short-roll playmaker, more than capable as a roller and cutter to mitigate any spacing concerns, can play as a connector or hand-off hub, rebounds with intention (north of 11.5 rebounds per 36 minutes the last three seasons), has an underrated handle to initiate a break after rebounds, and is good at manipulating the dunker’s spot.

2.5 offensive rebounds per game from Vando also falls in alignment with the new trend the Suns have emphasized coming into this season, with postseason play in mind.

He’s also slowly developing into a more viable shooter, on a career-best pace of 15 makes from deep at a 37.5% clip.


With the playoffs in mind, acquiring him would be directly addressing the matchups that have hamstrung them in seasons past.

He can defend all five positions. That’s against Stephen Curry, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Nikola Jokic, Damian Lillard, or Zion Williamson, and do so effectively.

The Suns had a chance, as well as the rest of the league, to nab him before last season via free agency and missed out, as he was maybe the driving force behind Minnesota’s defensive leap last season.

They’ve been linked to him numerous times over the past few months, and even came close in recent weeks as reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic, and the fit is blatantly obvious, as he’d check off a multitude of boxes.

The spoken on trade from Shams mentions the trade would involve three teams:

Via The Athletic

Acquiring Malik Beasley - a shooter and a more than capable shot creator, who is also no slouch in activity defensively - would make the trade that much more beneficial for the Suns and infuse more consistent activity and effectiveness in the role that Landry Shamet presently occupies.

Nonetheless, the wheel is certainly spinning on gazing at the landscape of options that James Jones and company have to choose from to upgrade this roster.

Adding a talent like Jarred Vanderbilt, on a two-year, $4.3 contract that he’s sure to outplay, would be as great of a pivot as any from the Crowder situation.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Bright Side of the Sun Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Phoenix Suns news from Bright Side of the Sun