Los Angeles Lakers forward Jarred Vanderbilt — who didn’t make his season debut until a Dec. 2 matchup against the Houston Rockets due to a heel injury — said that he has been pushing himself to play at less than 100 percent because he believes the team is a contender.
“Because we have a chance,” Vanderbilt said when asked why he returned before being 100 percent healthy. “I consider us being a contender. And I know how far we can go if fully healthy, so, that’s the reason I tried to come back and fight through it and get right.”
The 24-year-old forward is off to a slow start to the 2023-24 regular season in terms of scoring the ball. Across six appearances with the Lakers, Vanderbilt is averaging just 0.8 points per game while shooting 20.0 percent from the field.
When asked if his conditioning is fully back to where it was before injury he responded in the negative.
“Nah, it’s still a process,” said Vanderbilt. “… I wasn’t expecting to come back overnight so just keep trying to stay positive, keep pushing through it.”
He’s also averaging 4.2 rebounds, 1.0 assist, 0.3 steals and 0.3 blocks per game in 14.3 minutes per game off the Los Angeles bench.
In the Lakers’ most recent game against the New York Knicks on Monday, Vanderbilt finished with zero points, two rebounds and one assist in a game Los Angeles went on to lose by a final score of 114-109. He also didn’t attempt a single shot from the field.
Asked if the injury is affecting his play, Vanderbilt answered in the affirmative.
“It’s naturally limiting what I do, obviously,” said Vanderbilt. “So just trying to make the most of it, trying to stay on top of it. It’s a tough injury. So just trying to stay on top of it and trying to make the best of it.”
Lakers star forward LeBron James put together an impressive all-around performance. He dropped 25 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists and one steal while shooting 10-of-23 from the field and 2-of-8 from behind the 3-point arc in 39 minutes of playing time.
As for the opposition, point guard Jalen Brunson was arguably the team’s top performer. The 27-year-old floor general — who is averaging a career-high 25.6 points per game in 26 appearances with the Knicks so far this season — accumulated 29 points, four rebounds, three assists and one steal. Plus, he shot 10-of-21 from the field and 6-of-6 from the free-throw line.
After losing to the Knicks, the Lakers now own a 15-12 record on the season, which is currently the eighth-best record in the Western Conference. The Lakers are also riding a two-game losing streak, as the team lost to the San Antonio Spurs by 14 points back on Dec. 15 before coming up short against the Knicks.
The team needs to get healthy soon, and Vanderbilt should be one of its main priorities as he’s one of its best defenders. He was asked how many games it will take until he is fully back.
“I don’t even want to put a game on it because there’s no expectation on when it’s going to come back,” said Vanderbilt. “But just staying on top of it and keep doing the proper precautions to make sure I’m doing the proper things to make it get better.”
Vanderbilt and the Lakers will hope to snap their losing streak when they play star forward DeMar DeRozan and the Chicago Bulls on the road on Wednesday.