What a win for your Los Angeles Lakers! After being down 27 points with roughly seven minutes left in the second quarter, the Lakers pulled off a miraculous comeback, beating the Dallas Mavericks 111-108. Massive props must go to Darvin Ham and his coaching staff for coming up with the necessary gameplan adjustments to pull off the largest comeback of the 2023 NBA season. But what is a game plan without the players involved in it? Insert Jarred Vanderbilt, who single-handedly changed the game for the Lakers with his offensive contributions and excellent defensive play.
In the Lakers matchup with the Mavericks on Jan. 12, the Mavericks start the 2nd half running their “Horns Out Chicago” halfcourt set. This play gave the Lakers plenty of trouble.
Horns is a formation; Out signifies a cross-screen towards the perimeter; Chicago action is a pindown that goes into a dribble handoff. Chicago Action is a Jason Kidd staple in the Dallas Mavericks’ “Luka Ball” 5-Out offense. It is designed to get the likes of Luka Doncic, Kyrie Irving and, to a lesser degree, Spencer Dinwiddie downhill toward the rim, attacking an often slower big.
In this first play, once Doncic receives the handoff from Christian Wood, he forces Thomas Bryant to step up just enough, freeing Wood for the lob. On the very next play, the Lakers do a better containing the roll, but Luka has enough space to hit a comfortable mid-range jumper.
This time, the Mavs try to run the same play, albeit with different personnel. The Lakers do a better job covering the action this time; however, once the play breaks down into a High Pick & Roll, Anthony Davis and Jarred Vanderbilt double Luka, thanks to their defensive versatility.
Malik Beasley incorrectly tags on the roll man, leaving Reggie Bullock wide open for three. However, this is the start of a great possession and would tease us at what we’d see throughout the rest of the game.
The most significant defensive adjustment was having Dennis Schroder and Vanderbilt pick the ball up full-court. Doing this slows the opposing offense down and makes their star players work a little harder. You could tell that this forced the Mavericks out of their offensive rhythm as, in some cases, they couldn’t get into their offensive action until around 12-14 seconds left on the shot clock.
Here, Vanderbilt picks Luka up full-court, and the Mavs’ preliminary action doesn’t start until 13 seconds left on the shot clock. Vanderbilt and Davis’ defensive versatility allows them to switch on this High Pick & Roll. Schroder does a quality job as the low man in help tagging on the roll, and Vanderbilt gets the deflection causing the turnover.
After a LeBron James missed 3-pointer, Vanderbilt picks up Doncic full-court. On the ball reversal Vanderbilt wisely “influences” Luka to drive toward the baseline, where he would have Beasley ready to help off the corner and Davis at the rim. When Luka tries to bump Vanderbilt, the Lakers wing stays with him and forces a tough shot.
The biggest key here is that Vanderbilt stays vertical and never leaves his feet, even for the Luka pump-fakes. Doncic is a master at drawing fouls, so using your length to defend without fouling is imperative.
With the game on the line late in the fourth quarter and the Lakers holding a one-point lead, the Mavericks tried to switch hunt for Luka and attack James. The Lakers counter this by having LeBron “Hedge” (Show & Recover) to avoid giving the Mavs the switch and temporarily slowing down Luka.
After nearly coming up with the steal, Vanderbilt does a great job closing out and not allowing an easy drive by Luka and does a great job contesting on this Doncic 3-pointer.
Instincts & IQ
This possession is one of my favorite showings from Vanderbilt. He recognizes Beasley is matched up with Doncic and goes into a double team. LeBron adjusts and plays between Bullock and Justin Holiday.
Once the pass gets skipped out to Bullock, LeBron closes out and forces an extra pass that Vanderbilt reads perfectly, leading to a fastbreak dunk.
The Mavericks try to run this action to get Doncic a handoff going downhill and attacking the basket. Vanderbilt does a great job chasing over the top of the handoff, uses his hands nicely to force the turnover, and has a ridiculous pass to Troy Brown Jr. for the easy layup.
Had the Lakers switched this action, Luka would’ve gotten downhill to attack a flat-footed Brown, likely finishing at the rim. Vanderbilt does a great job of having active hands, which forces the turnover.
Vanderbilt shows off some of his offensive IQ here as well. When a player is considered a “non-shooting threat” to other teams, they must be either (a) an elite passer, (b) an elite cutter, (c) an elite screener, or (d) an elite offensive rebounder. Think Draymond Green.
I am not comparing Vanderbilt to Green, as the latter is arguably a top-three defender over the past 20 years. Combine that with his passing ability and screening ability you have yourself a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
In this play, Schroder drives baseline, and Tim Hardaway Jr. helps off the strong side corner (something most NBA teams don’t like doing). Vanderbilt cuts the baseline and hits the reverse layup. When teams plan to sag off you on the perimeter, you must be elite at something of worth offensively. Let’s see if Vanderbilt can continue to show these positive plays offensively.
Vanderbilt has been spectacular since joining the Lakers. His defensive versatility and ability to be an offensive connector is incredibly valuable for this Lakers team. No. 2 fits like a glove next to pivotal players such as Davis and James. If the Lakers can get anything close to this version of Jarred Vanderbilt, they will have someone who can be pivotal for the roster this season and beyond.