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Kentucky Basketball Roster Review: Jarred Vanderbilt impresses in small windows

Rebounding was Vanderbilt’s strong suit. Staying healthy was not.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

It seems like there are far too many cases like Jarred Vanderbilt in basketball: Sensational potential is ruined by injury.

Far too often, injury becomes a tendency, and many players have failed to reach their full potential because they were never able to stay healthy.

Vanderbilt’s freshman season seemed a lot like that.

Vanderbilt missed the first 17 games of the season due to an ankle injury. There was contemplation of surgery, and Vanderbilt sitting out the entire season. Instead of those options, Venderbilt rehabbed and stepped onto the floor for Kentucky.

The outcome of that decision was a mixture of really good and really bad, but with more good than bad and a lot of potential shown.

He was fairly efficient from the field, shooting 42.6 percent from the field. But he only attempted one 3-pointer all season and missed it. He also only shot 63 percent from the free-throw line, and when you watch the tape of him trying to operate on offense, he looks undisciplined (unless he’s rebounding).

Speaking of that, what Vanderbilt was very good at in his freshman season was rebounding. His whole game was based on being a glass cleaner. Vanderbilt averaged a team-high 7.9 rebounds per game, That was more than two rebounds ahead of Kevin Knox, the team’s next-best rebounder. His rebounding even helped his offense, as he averaged a team-high 3.3 rebounds per game.

But again, the quality basketball that Vanderbilt played was negated by injury. Just when we thought Vanderbilt was there to add his versatility, size and rebounding to the team for the rest of the year, down he went again.

Vanderbilt wound up playing 14 games. He missed 17 games to start the year and missed another six to end the year. That equals out to him playing in about 61 percent of UK’s games last season.

Looking ahead

Jarred Vanderbilt may have more to gain than any other player in the country by returning to play another season of college basketball.

Vanderbilt is special ... there’s no denying that. But all the NBA has seen of him so far is injury, an offensive game that looks uncomfortable, and rebounding. We all know that Vanderbilt is more than that, but he’s had almost no opportunity to show his talent.

He can defend well, he can run the press, he can dominate the glass, he can finish in transition...he can do pretty much everything you’d ever want a 6-9, 214-lb wing. And he hasn’t showed all of that yet.

If Vanderbilt gets one full, healthy season in, there’s no doubt to me that he’ll excel and impress NBA scouts. If he does that we’ll get a lot more clarity on his draft stock, which will improve (right now he looks likely to go undrafted, falling in the mid-60s on big boards).

When you also add in the fact that the 2019 draft class is quite weak, Vanderbilt would likely improve his draft stock on that fact alone.

Vanderbilt has insane potential. He just has to show more than a glimpse of it if he wants to be a high-ranking NBA prospect.