Three trades under the radar: How did the Los Angeles Lakers even get their hands on Jarred Vanderbilt?

The blockbuster trades by Kyrie Irving and especially Kevin Durant were the highlights of the Trade Deadline. There were also other smaller deals that helped certain teams enormously. We present three of them.

Midseason trades are always a thing. Of course there is a lot of movement year after year, but the past has shown that this often has little impact on the eventual champion. Well, Kevin Durant might be an exception here as there has (arguably) never been a player this good who has been traded during a season.

Superstars are usually not available in February, it’s mostly about adding more pieces to the puzzle. Sometimes this helps as the playoffs progress – see Rasheed Wallace 2004 (Pistons), Pau Gasol 2007 (Lakers) or Marc Gasol 2019 (Raptors), but usually the framework for a long run is already in place. A good example of this is the Golden State Warriors, who never tampered with the roster during their prime.

The deadline is more important for teams with playoff ambitions to pimp the roster again. There are a few examples of this this year. We’ve picked out three trades that have turned out to be hits so far.

Josh Hart (Guard, New York Knicks)

Stats for the Knicks: 11.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.2 steals at 61.7 percent FG and 59.1 percent threes in 28.4 minutes (9 games)

The trade at a glance

received curtsy received blazers get sixers Hornets received
Josh Hart Cam Reddish Jalen McDaniels Svi Mykhailiuk
Rights to Bojan Dubljevic Matisse Thybulle Second round pick 2024 (CHA) Second round pick 2027 (POR)
Ryan Arcidiacono
Rights to Ante Tomic
First round pick 2023 (NYK)

The Knicks are undefeated with Hart in the lineup. Coincidence? The Wing itself wants nothing to do with it. “I don’t like these headlines. Let it go. The team plays well and works TOGETHER,” Hart wrote on Twitter after the sixth win in a row and in a way the 27-year-old is right. Still, there’s no denying that Hart has had a positive impact on the Knickerbockers.

Hart is the missing piece of the puzzle on the wing for the Knicks, delivering what Evan Fournier or traded Cam Reddish failed to show. The former Laker is a bit short for a wing at only 1.93 meters, but he still plays “bigger”, not least because of his strength on the board. In connection with his good ball handling, he brings pace with the second unit and is therefore another solid playmaker.

In any case, Hart is a classic Thibodeau player. Hart wears himself out, acts unselfishly and has a high basketball IQ, practically a real coach’s darling. No wonder Hart still sees almost 30 minutes per game as a reserve player. That’s debatable, since Quentin Grimes is less on the field for those minutes. The guard was initially symbolic of the Knicks’ turnaround this season, but now the role of the Knicks’ best shooter has diminished somewhat.

The results currently speak for Thibodeau, also because Hart hits his few threes. At this point, however, the numerous open attempts are missing, which he does not take. That was a big issue in Portland in particular, because Hart rarely knew how to use the freedom that Damian Lillard created. In the playoffs, that could become an issue again.

That should also decide what the upcoming contract of the 28-year-old will look like. Almost certainly, Hart will become a free agent because while he has a $13 million player option, that salary isn’t guaranteed. So the stakes are high for Hart, even if, like ex-college teammate Jalen Brunson, he’s a CAA client. Because as we know: Knicks President Leon Rose used to be the boss of this agency, so the lines of communication are correspondingly short.

Jakob Poltl (Center, Toronto Raptors)

Stats for the Raptors: 15.4 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists at 75.0 percent FG in 27.7 minutes (10 games)

The trade at a glance

received raptors received spurs
Jakob Poltl Khem Birch
First Round Pick 2024 (Top 6 Protected)
Second round picks 2023, 2025

In Toronto, too, it was clear to many that things couldn’t go on like this. The past playoffs and especially the first months of the regular season made it clear that lineups without a center and almost exclusively long-armed wings (with limited shooting) have certain limits. Second-round pick Christian Koloko showed signs, but understandably he was a bit overwhelmed in the long run.

Many had assumed that Toronto would voluntarily give up the season and give up one or the other rotation player, the opposite was the case. Instead, the Canadians actually invested three picks in an upcoming free agent in Jakob Pöltl. That is quite risky, but after ten games it can be seen that this was a very sensible addition.

The on/off numbers also show that a center helps. Both Koloko (very few minutes) and Pöltl have a very strong defensive rating of 103 during their time with Toronto. The Raptors are still a bit peculiar with their approach to defense, but Pöltl is the necessary lifeline. It’s one thing to put massive pressure on the ball, double a lot and then spin wildly, but it’s another to do it perfectly.

With all the solid to good wing defenders, it was often amazing how many simple mistakes the Raptors allowed themselves on defense. A theory about this: The opponent is stressed, but at the same time your own stress level increases. It was a tactic that mostly worked against weaker or tired teams, but the elite teams found solutions and plenty of easy finishes.

Pöltl can play this style, after all he knows it from his early years in Toronto, when coach Nick Nurse was already acting as an assistant coach under Dwane Casey. The Viennese have solid footwork for their size and usually have an excellent position under the basket. There he hardly blocks throws, but loudly cleaning the glass Opposing teams take eight percent fewer ringside attempts when the Austrian is on the field.

And then there is the offensive component. The Raptors have many solid ball handlers, but none that are truly elite. Pöltl helps here with bone-dry blocks and as a roll man (strong 1.42 points per play) gives more offensive variability. All of this doesn’t make Toronto a top team, but one that makes more sense and can annoy even the best on a good day. “We are in the process of readjusting our team,” VanVleet summed it up recently.

The crucial question to evaluate this trade, however, will be what Pöltl will do in the summer when he becomes a free agent. Back in the Spurs days, there were rumors that Big Man was asking for $20 million a year. Does he get that? The center market is likely to be difficult again this summer, but there may have been an agreement (unofficially) already under the table.

Jarred Vanderbilt (Forward, Los Angeles Lakers)

Stats for the Lakers: 8.0 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.4 steals at 54.7 percent FG in 24.2 minutes (9 games)

The trade at a glance

Lakers received received jazz Obtained Timberwolves
D’Angelo Russell Russell Westbrook Mike Conley
Malik Beasley Juan Toscano Anderson Nickeil Alexander Walker
Jared Vanderbilt Damien Jones Second round pick 2024 (WAS or MEM)
First Rounder LAL 2027 (Top 4 Protected) Second round pick 2025 UTA
Second-round pick 2026 UTA

We already wrote it in post-trade analysis. The Lakers are going back to their roots a bit. Not just because they finally gave up Russell Westbrook, but because they’re more like the 2020 team again. A little lacking in quality compared to three years ago, but the recipe of LeBron, Davis plus scratchy roleplayers gave the Lakers a championship in the bubble.

This applies less to Malik Beasley and certainly not to D’Angelo Russell, but rather to Vanderbilt. In a perfect world, Vando would be an even better shot, but there’s a reason the soon-to-be 24-year-old has traded three times in five years and only made around $4.4 million that season. Nevertheless, he is worth his weight in gold for the Lakers ecosystem, as the first games have already shown.

Vanderbilt is the much-needed defender for the wing, particularly relieving James (if he can play again) and finally bringing the size with him. The prime example was the Dallas game when Vanderbilt visibly unnerved Luka Doncic. The Slovenian is a superb rebounder himself, but the forward’s sheer will gave LA several more chances.

And Vanderbilt also employed Doncic on defense. He has fast hands, is athletically strong and can switch. There are attributes that are few and far between in the Lakers squad and give coach Darvin Ham more options. For a long time he had played numerous small lineups with three or four guards due to a lack of opportunities, but now Big Ball is also possible.

Shooting will always be a problem, but Vanderbilt finds ways. He runs the fast break consistently, can bring the ball himself after rebounds and always keeps moving. LeBron also noticed this after the game in Dallas. “If you’re not good at something, teams will ignore you so you play five-a-side. But he’s smart enough to take advantage of that. They don’t see him as a threat.”

That’s a good point, because Vanderbilt always scores points in the Lakers jersey. These are backdoor cuts, putbacks or points in transition. Little things that can hurt. Now that he’s playing alongside two absolute superstars it also helps and should help Vanderbilt (if the Lakers make it) not being played off the field in the playoffs either. It’s fair to ask, how did the Lakers get their hands on him so cheaply?

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