In his second year in Portland and third in the NBA, Noah Vonleh put together a pretty decent season for the Trail Blazers. The 6’9” forward showed glimpses of the potential the Charlotte Hornets saw when they drafted him No. 9 overall in the 2014 NBA Draft, after just one year at Indiana. This year, there were still stretches where you’d forget Vonleh was on the court, but there were also times where he looked like a legitimate starting forward on a competitive team.
After a difficult, injury-marred rookie year in Charlotte, he was packaged to the Blazers in 2016 along with Gerald Henderson in exchange for Nicolas Batum, and was very much a project. Last year, in 78 games and 56 starts, he averaged just over 15 minutes, 3.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 42 percent shooting from the field. In 74 games this year, including 41 starts, Vonleh averaged just over 17 minutes, 4.4 points, and 5.2 rebounds, shooting 48 percent from the floor.
While those numbers look like a marginal improvement, it’s important to look at how Vonleh finished the regular season. After the All-Star break, he averaged 6.7 points and 7.2 rebounds in 24.3 minutes a game, up from 3.2 points and 4.2 rebound in 13.2 minutes during his 48 games played before the break, according to NBA.com. His spike in production coincided with the arrival of Jusuf Nurkic and the turnaround to the Blazers’ season—which bodes well for his future.
In addition to the numbers, Vonleh was a much more aggressive player offensively the second half of the season. You could usually tell within the first five or so minutes of game action what kind of night he was going to have offensively. When attacking early—highlight reel dunks, strong post moves, crashing the glass, taking the midrange jumper—it was generally a good sign that it would be a good night for Noah.
Vonleh became a rebounding machine for the Trail Blazers during the second half of the season. He had 11 double-digit rebounding performances during the season, with six coming in March and April, culminating in a career-high 19-rebound game against the New Orleans Pelicans in the regular season finale. He had three double-doubles in the Blazers’ seven regular season games in April.
The majority of Vonleh’s shots this season came at the rim (149 out of 288) according to Basketball Reference. In fact, he generally shot the ball closer to the paint this year than last (69 shots outside of 16 feet this season versus 96 shots outside of 16 feet last season), and with better results (26 percent shooting from beyond 16 feet last season versus 38.9 percent this season).
Per NBA.com, Vonleh’s defensive rating for the regular season was 105.1, the same as former Blazer Robin Lopez and Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol. However, his defensive win-share was .020, which was about middle-of-the-pack in terms of NBA players.
One area Vonleh definitely regressed in this season was free throw shooting. While he attempted almost twice as many foul shots this year as last, a byproduct of his more aggressive play, he shot over 10 percent worse from the stripe, down from 74.5 percent to 63.8 percent. His foul shooting will definitely be something to keep an eye on next year, and will likely be a focus for him this offseason.
In the playoffs, Vonleh started two of the four games in Portland’s listless first round sweep at the hands of the Golden State Warriors, averaging 4.5 points and 7.3 rebounds during the series while shooting 44.4 percent from the field.
Overall, Noah Vonleh was a bright spot for the team this season, and deserves praise for his solid improvement during the course of the year. His performance in the second half of the season should have Blazer fans excited about what the future holds for the 21 year-old big man, and all signs point to a solid 2017-18 season.