Better Late Than Never On Jarred Vanderbilt and Jordan McLaughlin

Photo Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn (USA TODAY Sports)

The long wait on Jarred Vanderbilt and Jordan McLaughlin is finally over. The two impact role players who came into this offseason as restricted free agents recently inked their new deals this Friday. The Minnesota Timberwolves took their time on bringing them back, but it was well worth the wait, given the low salary hits each player will have for years to come.

Let’s look at how we got here with each player because both of these acquisitions sum up the Gersson Rosas era well.

Vanderbilt came over in a four-team deal during the hectic 2019-20 trade deadline. He was a small piece at the time and one of the least valuable assets acquired.

The shortened season limited him to seven games with the Iowa Wolves and two garbage time games in Minneapolis. However, this quickly changed. Last season he became a staple of the rotation as a high-energy role player by playing to his strengths, defense, and rebounding while trying his best to hide weaknesses on the offensive side.

McLaughlin was a two-way free-agent signing who was playing with the Long Island Nets, Brooklyn’s G-League affiliate, where he spent his first season in the league. He went on to play 23 games in Des Moines and 81 games in Minnesota over the last two seasons.

For context, players who are picked up on two-way deals rarely receive quality NBA rotational minutes. This pickup is a good reflection on Minnesota’s development staff.

Low Risk, High Reward

So far, the financial breakdown of Vanderbilt and McLaughlin’s deals is pretty simple. Vanderbilt is on a three-year, $13.8 million deal ($4.6 million AAV), and McLaughlin signed a three-year, $6.5 million pact ($2.15 million) with two years guaranteed per Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic.

These deals are similar to Naz Reid and Jaylen Nowell’s rookie-scale deals, the “Gupta special.” These offer immense upside because most players will outplay their deals. Your average bench player in today’s game is making around $5-10 million a year.

Even if Vanderbilt or McLaughlin are not in the rotation, they are still great third-string players to have in case of an injury. It is comparable to a low rookie scale contract or a veteran minimum.

Potential Growth

This allows room to grow. Vanderbilt, 22, and McLaughlin, 25, can build on their skill sets and maximize what has gotten them to the league.

Vando has already shown his impact on the court and statistically. Last season, he led the team in defensive rating, which manifested in his high-energy play, switching on to whoever was assigned in front of him. He was also one of Minnesota’s best rebounders, which is important given the Wolves are heavily undersized and struggled on the boards last season.

He also ranked first on the team in effective field goal percentage due to his shots coming in or around the restricted zone. This is highlighted when he uses his athleticism to get a dunk or layup off a roll or rebound.

McLaughlin has also shown traditional point guard abilities, running the offense and setting up others. He still has the ability to hit an open look as well. He’s undersized for his position but has learned to maximize his abilities and developed into a reliable role player.

Valuable Depth

Best-case scenario, neither of these players even see minutes in the rotation. McLaughlin can be the third-string point guard who knows how to run the offense effectively, and Vanderbilt can be a backup energy big who can sub in for defensive purposes and provide forward depth.

Patrick Beverley historically has dealt with an injury that limits him every season, and D’Angelo Russell has also battled ailments during his time in Minnesota. Having a ball-handler who can step in at any time will be beneficial given their injury history. Vanderbilt will most likely get more minutes than McLaughlin after starting 30 games next to Karl-Anthony Towns last season, and his only new competition will be Taurean Prince.

Having these low-cost options for years to come reflects well on Rosas’s ability to fill out the roster. The Wolves need depth players like Vanderbilt and McLaughlin and had three roster spots to fill before they signed. To use two of them on returning players who have played in coach Finch’s system on low-risk, team-controlled contracts is a win from the front office.

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