Can Jarred Vanderbilt Win the NBA's Hustle Award?

Photo Credit: Erik Williams (USA TODAY Sports)

It’s hard to overstate how much Jarred Vanderbilt has done for the Minnesota Timberwolves this year. He plays with the energy and tenacity that Patrick Beverley brought to the team, only with the quickness of a 22-year-old. Vanderbilt is almost like the power forward equivalent of Mr. 94 feet. Except he’s 6’9” with a set of springs in his knees that allow him to rebound over everyone on both sides of the court.

You can see his effect on games, but outside of rebounds, much of what Vando does is hard to quantify through traditional statistics.

In the last five years, the NBA has started logging “Hustle Stats” to track the little things that players do to help their team that don’t often get acknowledged. The categories tracked in Hustle Stats are as follows: deflections, loose balls recovered, charges drawn, screen assists, box-outs, and contested shots. Every year the NBA accumulates these statistics to create a composite score, and the player ranking the highest gets named the hustle player of the year.

Beverley won the inaugural award.

Along with Pat Bev, Vanderbilt is the hustle leader of the Timberwolves. He’s scrappy and runs from end to end of the court. But how does Vando score in the “Hustle Stats” compared to his peers? Does he have a chance to win the award?

Vanderbilt currently ranks in the top 10 of one of the major hustle categories. Vando ranks ninth in deflections per 36 minutes, with 3.9 deflections. For reference, Gary Payton II currently leads the league with 5.2 deflections. Vanderbilt ranks near the top 10 in loose balls recovered, grabbing 1.2 loose balls per 36 minutes. Ja Morant is the leader in that category, averaging 1.6 per 36 minutes, only 0.4 ahead of Vando. Anthony Edwards is tied for third with several other players averaging 1.4.

However, Vando ranks well outside the top 10 in the other four categories. That shouldn’t necessarily rule him out of the conversation for the award, though. Timberwolves legend Thaddeus Young won the Hustle Award last year, ranking in the top 10 of three categories, and led the league in charges taken and offensive loose balls recovered per minute.

It’s somewhat bizarre that Vanderbilt is nowhere near the top 10 in box-outs per 36 minutes, with only 1.3. A surprise, given that Vanderbilt pulls in 12.9 rebounds per 36 minutes, which currently ranks him at 13th in the league. Even the NBA.com explanation of the “box out” stats states that “there is a direct correlation between boxing out and rebounding. If a player ranks among the league leaders in rebounding, he’s most likely near the top of the rankings in box-outs as well.” However, the article points out that a break in this correlation may happen “when a player is able to swoop in for a rebound because his teammates boxed out the opposing players.”

The lack of correlation in Vanderbilt’s statistics could show that he is more of a glass crasher than someone who boxes out to get his rebounds.

It could also partially result from the NBA’s definition of boxing out being a bit subjective and hilariously complicated. “The number of times a player made physical contact with an opponent who was actively pursuing a rebound, showed visible progress or strong effort in disadvantaging the opponent, and successfully prevented that opponent from securing the rebound.”

I refuse to believe that Vanderbilt only boxes someone out 1.3 times per 36 minutes played. And if that is true by the NBA’s definition, then the “Hustle Stats” fail to recognize the hustle Vando puts in to get his rebounds, which leads me to believe the system is somewhat flawed or at least improperly named. Perhaps they should add “glass crashes” or “cuts to the basket” into the Hustle Award categories as well.

Regardless, Vanderbilt currently ranks 30th in the NBA in win shares per 48 minutes at 0.166, which is incredible for someone who fails to average more than 10 points a game. Young ranked 43rd when he won the Hustle Award at 0.147 win shares per 48 minutes. Vanderbilt’s win shares may help him catch the attention of the awards panel, even if the fantastic things he does are too subtle for the “Hustle Stats” to track.

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