12 & 6, 10 & 11, 8 & 14. These are some of the totals that Noah Vonleh has put up recently. Ever since the all-star break, Vonleh has started to become more consistent and his playing time has started to increase. Many people believe that this slow uprise is in direct correlation with the addition of the "Bosnian Beast", Jusuf Nurkić.
Fans are picking up on the tendency of Nurkić continually dishing the ball to an open Noah Vonleh when he receives the ball in the post. This is a fairly new occurrence as in the beginning of the year it seemed like Vonleh would never receive the ball because Plumlee would always catch the ball in the high post and look towards the wings. It also seemed like a lot of the guys didn't trust Vonleh 100%.
This mindset changed with the arrival of Nurkić. If Vonleh is open, Nurkić will try to get the ball to him. There are many factors that have contributed to Noah's uptick in production, but many people believe that it is the gravity that Nurkić has that makes such a big difference to Noah Vonleh and the team.
When Mason Plumlee would catch the ball at the high post, the defense would sag off expecting a pass. Plumlee couldn't really shoot outside of the paint so all the defense would have to do is jam the paint and let Plumlee either shoot the ball or kick it to the corner for a lower percentage shot. Because the defense could pack the paint against Plumlee, it left Vonleh very little room to operate and that led to Vonleh's best looks being short-corner jumpers that don't have the highest percentage. Coupled with the fact of a jumper being his main option and that he is a confidence-oriented player, Noah Vonleh could never build up enough confidence to find his rhythm before being pulled out of the game.
It seems like ever since Nurkić came, Vonleh has improved in every category. Before Nurkić arrived in Portland, Vonleh shot a pedestrian 50% from inside the restricted area; in his last 19 games with Nurkić, Vonleh is shooting 61.5% in the same area. Vonleh has also taken 21 dunks in that time frame, more attempts than any other shot. These statistics show that having Nurkić in the game opens up the floor for Vonleh to have extra room in the post to operate. When Nurkić catches the ball at the high post, his defender has to stay with him because he can shoot, and the player from the weak side has to shade towards him to help. Usually the guy helping off on Nurkić is Vonleh's defender which causes him to be wide open. A wide open Vonleh is Nurkić's second option and usually results in beautiful wrap-around passes that frees up Noah for dunks. Either way, Vonleh will get the opportunity to go one-on-one in the post or cut inside for dunks. With as much gravity has Nurkić has, it's no wonder that Vonleh gets all of these opportunities.
One of the Blazers best 2-man lineups as of late has been Nurkić and Vonleh. With that duo on the floor, the Blazers are more efficient (+10% eFG%), and the team scores 13.4 more points per 100 possessions; those are some pretty impressive numbers. The only drawback with this lineup is their tendency to turn the ball over, averaging 4.2 turnovers per 100 possessions. We've all witnessed Nurkić palm the ball like a grapefruit, but that isn't the problem. Nurkić has a habit of looking for flashy passes to back-door cutters that may or may not be there. Nurkić's quick passes coupled with the fact that Noah Vonleh has butter fingers occasionally is definitely not the recipe for success. Even with all the turnovers, it's easy to conclude that when Vonleh and Nurkić are on the floor together, the team will still be in good shape.
If you've watched a Blazer game since the all-star break, you can tell that Vonleh is becoming a more consistent player. It's pretty self-explanatory to put this recent development and addition of the "Bosnian Beast" together, and that is obviously the biggest factor. Whether it be averaging 3 more rebounds a game, or having his net rating increase from -2.7 to 9.7, the film and statistics back it up. Noah Vonleh will keep getting better and better and he will be helped out by Jusuf Nurkić.
*Stats for this article are from basketball-reference and the NBA Stats page