The Denver Nuggets have been experiencing a rough stretch of games as they had three losses in the last three contests, with defense being their primary issue. Despite the slight improvement they showed in a hard-fought loss to the Dallas Mavericks on December 6, the team is not close to being even adequate at the defensive end of the floor.
The Nuggets are troubled by their defensive efficiency, while the bench players have been struggling to keep the team afloat in games. With this in mind, they may need to consider a trade in order to shake things up and change some of their bad habits.
During the past summer, Denver tried to address their defensive issues by adding several specialists, including Bruce Brown and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Despite their efforts, the depth in the team’s bench has been the weak link so far and Michael Malone is hesitant to offer extra minutes to rookies like Christian Braun and Peyton Watson.
As a result, Denver has been lacking the length and ability to defend against various offensive schemes in pick-and-roll and transition plays. They are allowing easy buckets in these sorts of situations as the opponent’s guards neutralize Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray and find effortless baskets either in the paint or the three-point line.
The Denver Nuggets are not doing well in covering for their stars’ defensive deficiencies, as the wings are lacking length and quick recoveries after helping inside the paint. With that said, there is one player who could provide a much-needed boost to the rotation, Jarred Vanderbilt.
Why the Denver Nuggets need to trade for Jarred Vanderbilt right now
Utah Jazz wing/center Jarred Vanderbilt can be a nice addition and a rotational piece for the Denver Nuggets, having the ability to add some of those elements to the team. The Denver Nuggets have the contracts to match Vanderbilt’s $4 million yearly salary, and they can give up some of their younger players as well as future assets to sweeten the pot.
Taking this into account, Vanderbilt has the length and quick feet to be a solid help defender, the same way Jerami Grant was during his time in Denver. He also has just one more season in a team-friendly deal he signed last year ($13.1 m/ 3 yrs).
Jarred Vanderbilt, who started his NBA career in Denver, was a second-round pick before getting traded to Minnesota months later. He was then part of the blockbuster deal the Timberwolves made for Rudy Gobert last summer.
His current value shows he’s no more a raw talent waiting to be nurtured. He was instrumental in Minnesota’s defensive scheme last season, and he’s done the same as a member of the Jazz this year. Vanderbilt has also become a fairly reliable three-point shooter in the process during the first 24 games of the season, which would be a more than welcome skill set in the Mile High.
This season, Vanderbilt has been averaging 8.6 points, 8.3 rebounds, and a little less than three assists in more than 24 minutes per game. Furthermore, he’s shooting more than 60% from the field, while hitting few threes (46.2%) on 1.1 attempts per game.
More importantly, he’s Utah’s best defender being part of the most-used five-man lineups the Jazz put on the floor this season, outscoring opponents by a plus-5.7 and a plus-13.9 in 347 and 276 minutes respectively, per Cleaning the Glass.
Vanderbilt is contributing to winning and that’s the most important aspect for Denver if they are willing to give up something for a player ready to perform immediately.
The Nuggets need positionless defenders like Vanderbilt
The Denver Nuggets are the worst team in transition defense allowing 1.25 points per possession through the first 24 games of the 2022-23 NBA season. They are also bottom ten in allowed points per possession in pick-and-roll situations (0.92 PPP) when the ball-handler attacks and points per possession (1.23 PPP) when the opponent’s roll-man attacks, per NBA.com.
The Nuggets are lacking length inside to counter-react to those plays. Outside of Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter Jr., the rest of the squad is kind of undersized in those situations. Vanderbilt will definitely be able to provide assistance due to his six-foot-nine frame along with his massive seven-foot-one wingspan.
The sheer size alone would offer another level of versatility to the lineup in that Vanderbilt could play alongside Nikola Jokic and Aaron Gordon as a “switch-everything” defender. The value he can offer on the defensive end could be exactly what the Nuggets are looking to improve the bench, providing more flexibility for Malone.
The veteran coach has been hesitant to put rookies and younger players into play the last few years as the Denver Nuggets hope to win a title with superstar Nikola Jokic still in his prime. Vanderbilt has proven his value as an NBA-ready forward/center, and he should have no problem performing for a team that aspires to win the NBA title.
Should Utah decide to go all-in on the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes at some point until the trade deadline, the Nuggets need to do everything in their power to try and snatch Jarred Vanderbilt.