Due to reasons I’ve already covered in the Jason Maxiell and Steve Clifford columns we only saw 25 games of Noah Vonleh this season. Much of his minutes came in garbage time or the second-unit scrimmages that were games in April.
So let me just post that funny Jason Maxiell .gif one last time and then look back at the potential-filled plays that have us salivating over what Noah Vonleh could become.
Based on his athletic capabilities Noah Vonleh projects to be a capable all-around defender. In my opinion, Vonleh has shown to have a rare combination of speed, length and strength. The way he has handled stepping out to the perimeter has been impressive. Noah seemingly could be able to be as good of a hedger of pick-n-roll as Cody Zeller is, albeit having to do it less frequently due to the sample size. His mobility allows him to recover to his man right after stopping the path of the ball handler.
For the record, I believe that the first play should have ended in a Greg Monroe traveling violation, while the defense on the second one is near perfect. Vonleh even bumps Shawne Williams on his way down. If anything, Noah’s overzealous recovery should have ended with a foul-call on this play.
His mobility on defense can also be seen when guarding perimeter players. Vonleh’s willing to get down in his knees and keep up with a smaller player behind the three-point line. It often starts in transition defense with Noah choosing to pick up his assignment before the opponent has even crossed the half-court line.
Matter of fact, I love his confidence to do so. Vonleh doesn’t even look around to see whether there is anyone more suitable to pick up Afflalo on that first play. He’s just raising his hand and proclaiming that he’s “got this”.
As visible on the plays where his man drove to the rim, once you get there his long hands can become a problem for you. Just look at the poor Danilo Gallinari who faked his way to the middle of the floor and then managed to pump fake Vonleh out of his way for the second time, only for Noah to manage one more jump and still bother Gallo’s shot.
The play is also a form of his hedging potential. He cuts off a curling Randy Foye’s path to the basket and then closes out on Gallinari.
Josh Smith had to throw up a rainbow shot to make a field goal over Vonleh, while others have struggled to finish over the youngster when he does his best Roy Hibbert verticality impression and keeps them straight up high.
Any stat posted in this column has to be taken with a grain of salt because of the low amount of minutes Vonleh has played, but what fun would it be if I didn’t tell you that Noah Vonleh’s wingspan has forced opponents to shoot with 43.2% at the rim. Obviously, it’s not representative of much but it’s right up there with Rudy Gobert (40.4%), Andrew Bogut (41.4%) and the premier rim protectors of the league.
Either way, I would be somewhat sure that this isn’t the side of the ball where we have to worry about Vonleh. If all are to be kept on the roster, the Hornets could become a real defensive menace in the paint thanks to the three big rotation of Biyombo, Zeller and Vonleh (and Kidd-Gilchrist flying in whenever he pleases).
The thing that remains to be seen is whether Vonleh and Zeller can be played together with Noah matching-up with opposing centers. He seems to be freakishly well-built for a rookie but has had gangling episodes of not standing up to the test of NBA big men strength.
Even though we’ve had Biyombo hedging pick-n-rolls a bit more often as of late, it’s still a safer bet to have him protect the paint and guard less mobile players. Meanwhile, the duo of Noah and Cody could offer the best of both worlds and have us amp up our defense a bit. It could have the potential of being based on conservative Thibodeaun schemes, yet have hedging, traps and switches in the pick-n-roll sprinkled in as both bigs show the potential to keep up with assignments on the perimeter.
To make any kind of duo work though, they have to be playable on offense. Vonleh, in my opinion, is the one who can be the key to this.
The main argument that supports this is his ability to work from behind the three-point line. Vonleh’s already past Zeller in the floor spacing experiment as he’s comfortable popping out for a three-pointer. It is frightening for a defense to make the decision between someone like Biyombo rolling to the basket off a screen-and-roll, while another big in Vonleh steps out for the three.
The bump on the screener is what the other big (the one guarding Vonleh) is accustomed to do. If he starts to get concerned about Vonleh’s shooting, the roll man now would have all types of space in which to operate.
Yet we can possibly hope that Vonleh wouldn’t be just any three-point specialist, out there for only one cause of popping out for the long-range shot. Noah has quite nimble feet and is surprisingly good at handling the ball for his size. So far he’s actually been somewhat shy about taking his three-point looks in favor of driving to the basket, which, of course, is nothing but encouraging.
He managed to catch Anthony Tolliver off balance a few times at Detroit when attacking his close-outs after the aforementioned scenario where Vonleh pops out on a Biyombo screen-and-roll.
And I can’t resist not to post this. It looks like a whole lot of hot-dogging and doesn’t quite get him anywhere, but, man… This kid can handle the ball.
When trying to score from around the basket, he looks more comfortable in the finesse game. Even though he sports a decent hook shot with both hands, it tends to look like he can get over-powered in the paint. Vonleh’s converted only 25% (4/16) of his shots in the post and overall has had trouble finishing when bouncing into the large grown ups of the NBA (a percentage of 47.1% within three feet, 31.6% between three and ten feet, per Basketball Reference).
He’s much more comfortable in the pick-n-roll. Vonleh already seems to have a good understanding on what do after he has caught the ball in the mid-range area. Noah’s adept at slowing down, finding the open pocket through which the ball handler can dish out a pass and then proceeding with one agile move to find an angle for the finish.
It’s situations like these that show off his ball handling ability even better. The ability to change his direction in small space is an uncanny one for a man of his size. Shout out to “jdm3” from RealGM who was the one to point this out to me.
To remain calm is truly hard when evaluating Vonleh’s potential. He hasn’t yet played significant minutes with notable Hornets players. All four of the line-ups he’s most played on contain the two of Jason Maxiell, Troy Daniels and Jeff Taylor. You can’t really then look at any of his numbers from this season and conclude much.
Obviously, the same applies to some of the tape that I analyzed. You won’t get to face Anthony Tolliver at the 4-spot every night and by that I don’t mean no disrespect against Tolliver. There simply will be bigger dudes against whom Vonleh will have to prove the same skillset.
But I’ll say this. Noah Vonleh can be capable of doing everything I want out of a big man in 2015. An agile big who can both protect the rim and move around the perimeter on defense, while spacing the floor with threes and being able to be a threat in the pick-n-roll on offense. The tools are there. We’ll be there to see how Vonleh manages to use them…
Not enough of a sample size.