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February 04, 2023

NBA trade rumors: Utah's Jarred Vanderbilt could be 'leading target' for Sixers

Could the Sixers be making a push for springy Utah Jazz forward Jarred Vanderbilt?

The Sixers' quest to build a tougher, deeper team around Joel Embiid and James Harden continues in the days leading up to the deadline, and a new report names Utah big Jarred Vanderbilt as one of the names of interest for Philadelphia.

That's the latest from Jake Fischer at Yahoo Sports, who had this to say on the Vanderbilt trade market:

One of the possible trade destinations for Westbrook, Utah, also remains a major catalyst ahead of the deadline. Any deal that sends Westbrook to the Jazz would almost certainly include veteran point guard Mike Conley, wing shooter Malik Beasley and forward Jarred Vanderbilt, but sources told Yahoo Sports that Utah’s front office has discussed various deals across the league with each of those three players — including several combinations of Beasley and Vanderbilt heading out of Salt Lake City together. 

The Jazz continue to tell inquiring front offices they value Conley, Beasley and Vanderbilt as worth one first-round pick each, and Utah has discussed several frameworks that would send Beasley and Vanderbilt to teams as a package deal, such as with Atlanta, Portland and New York, sources said. Nickeil Alexander-Walker has also been included in several trade frameworks alongside Beasley and Vanderbilt, sources said.

Vanderbilt’s name has also appeared amid the trade deadline conversation surrounding reserve big men, most notably with the Philadelphia 76ers, sources told Yahoo Sports. While teams like the Indiana Pacers have viewed the 6-foot-9 Vanderbilt as an attractive option at power forward, Vanderbilt has been described by league personnel as a leading target in Philadelphia’s quest to fortify its frontcourt reserves behind Joel Embiid. [Yahoo]

Quite a bit to unpack here, so let's start with an obvious one — unloading the only first-round pick the Sixers can move (all the way out in 2029) in a move for Vanderbilt is probably not going to happen, though stranger things have happened. Utah asking for a first-round pick for each of their outgoing players is classic deadline posturing, though if it ends up that the market says they are worth the asking price, Philadelphia will probably find themselves priced out of these talks.

The Sixers-specific piece of this reporting is interesting, though, because Vanderbilt doesn't seem to fit in the box of true "backup center" that the Sixers have been said to be hunting for. In fact, Vanderbilt is probably closer to a better version of what they have on hand.

Standing 6'8" (or 6'9", conflicting reports on this) with a 6'11" wingspan, Vanderbilt is a terrific frontcourt athlete with a fair amount of defensive versatility. He is nominally a power forward, but he possesses the lateral quickness, length, and strength to switch across at least the 3-5 spots, and at least situationally against guards. That versatility was on display last season when he was a huge driver of Minnesota's success, and Vanderbilt would often toggle between guarding the interior to defending wing scorers as prolific as Kevin Durant. Vanderbilt is a disruptive player, useful on-ball and able to create blocks and steals with well-timed help.

Offensively, there's a lot more to sort out. Vanderbilt is a good finisher and an active cutter, someone who will slither around bigger guys for offensive rebounds and putbacks if you're not on guard. How he fits into a team, though, is a matter of some debate. With the Wolves, it was easy to get away with being essentially a non-shooter next to Karl-Anthony Towns, one of the most prolific shooting bigs in history. Vanderbilt's role in Utah has dwindled some lately, thanks to the emergence of Walker Kessler (a non-shooter) at center for the Jazz. After starting almost every game for the Jazz over the first 2.5 months of the season, Vanderbilt has come off of the bench for the Jazz in their last seven games, playing under 20 minutes in four of those outings.

You could argue Vanderbilt would give Philadelphia a more polished version of the idea of Paul Reed: an active, versatile defender and someone who you could probably justify playing in either frontcourt spot depending on the rest of the lineup. Many have pined to see Reed get chances alongside Embiid over the years, and Vanderbilt could do that while also serving as a big in switch-heavy lineups. But Vanderbilt is not a true rim protector and isn't helping in a scenario where the Sixers need to defend a true big in the playoffs, unless he's swarming as a help defender with Embiid checking that sort of player.

The Sixers are after options for different scenarios in the playoffs, and Vanderbilt would be an excellent option to have in the event Georges Niang's defensive issues render him unplayable when it counts. You do probably run into the opposite version of that problem, though. Vanderbilt has the makings of a corner three, though his shooting is not frequent or effective enough that teams would guard him on the perimeter, and you would need to bank on James Harden and Tyrese Maxey spoon-feeding him some easy looks at the basket. His activity is sensational, something that would breathe life into an offensive-minded group on the bench, but figuring out a role for him would be somewhat of a challenge.

Is there a fit here? Maybe, but only if the Jazz are willing to come down a bit off of that alleged price, IMO. If you could sell Utah on taking a flier on recent first-round pick Jaden Springer and play up the value of Charlotte's 2023 second-round pick, you could be onto something. A package of Furkan Korkmaz/Springer/2023 second rounder for Vanderbilt not only returns a good rotation player, but it also drops the Sixers under the luxury tax threshold. Vanderbilt is an attractive piece for a lot of playoff teams around the league, and those teams might be willing to give up more than that with the idea in mind to extend him to a long-term deal, which is the main hurdle if you're hoping to steal him on the cheap. Beyond that sort of deal, I'm not sure Vanderbilt is worth cashing in better chips to get on the team.

Just 23 years old and already in his fifth NBA season, Vanderbilt has the profile of the sort of player the Sixers should be after. He's young enough to be a potential long-term contributor and good enough to help right now. But those facts could very well price them out of talks.

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