Watching P.J. Hairston, the 26th pick in last year's NBA Draft, crack the rotation and play meaningful minutes for the Charlotte Hornets early in the season, while 9th pick Noah Vonleh has only received 24 minutes of action is baffling for some Hornets fans. Vonleh is supposed to be the better player (judging by draft position), so why isn’t he playing? Is something wrong?
The question this boils down to is this: Is there a strong correlation between minutes played during a player’s rookie season with future success? Or more simply, if you’re going to be a good player, shouldn’t you crack the rotation right away?
Here’s the problem with this question in specific regards to Noah Vonleh – his situation is pretty historically unique.
I went back 20 years and looked at teams who drafted in the top-10 despite making the playoffs the preceding year. Out of 200 draft picks, it has only happened 11 times.
1995 Blazers – 8th pick from Detroit, Shawn Respert (traded to Milwaukee—not a playoff team)
- 1996 Pacers – 10th pick from Denver, Erick Dampier
- 1999 Wolves – 6th pick from New Jersey, Wally Szczerbiak
- 1999 Suns – 9th pick from Dallas, Shawn Marion
- 1999 Hawks – 10th pick, Jason Terry
- 2003 Pistons – 2nd pick from Memphis, Darko Milicic
- 2003 Bucks – 8th pick from Atlanta, T.J. Ford*
- 2006 Bulls – 2nd pick from New York, LaMarcus Aldridge (traded to Portland—not a playoff team)
- 2007 Bulls – 9th pick from New York, Joakim Noah
- 2010 Jazz – 9th pick from New York from Phoenix, Gordon Hayward
- 2014 Hornets – 9th pick from Detroit, Noah Vonleh
However, Vonleh is unique among these players in that he’s the only "one-and-done" of the group. He’s also the only teenager along with Darko Milicic, who didn’t go to college. My point — it’s very rare for a playoff team to get a raw, young player on their roster.
|Player||Rookie Season Age||Years in College|
This is exactly the reason why Hornets fans shouldn’t rush to judgment on Vonleh. If he was 100 percent healthy and wasn’t getting playing time on the 76ers — a team who doesn’t want to make the playoffs — that would be troubling and perhaps a telling sign of his actual talent. However, Vonleh’s prospects haven’t changed — he is considered a raw, talented big man who has some Chris Bosh in him, a guy capable of both defending the rim and stretching the floor. However, a raw guy going to a team looking to make a playoff run — and one who just drafted a more-ready forward in Cody Zeller just the year before — isn’t looking to give Vonleh playing time just because.
Vonleh is a guy who wasn’t entirely used correctly in college. Kevin Pelton of ESPN has a projection system called SCHOENE and Vonleh’s highest comps were also guys who have more potential than was used in college: Chris Bosh and Derrick Favors. And it’s unlikely that his projection has changed in less than two months. If the Hornets get a guy even similarly close in talent to Bosh or Favors, they will have gotten a steal with the ninth pick – Bosh is a Hall of Famer and Favors looks like a future All-Star in Utah.
He is surrounded in Charlotte by veteran big men in Al Jefferson, Jason Maxiell, and Marvin Williams. This year is all about learning how to be a professional and getting better in practice. Vonleh may indeed get playing time later in the season, but that won’t make Hornets fans any happier, as it would likely come in a situation where they are not in playoff contention. The Hornets are doing the right thing in bringing him along slowly and he is still the same prospect he was on draft night. No need to worry.