When the Sacramento Kings took Nik Stauskas with the eighth pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, there were two logical choices for the Charlotte Hornets who held the ninth pick in the draft (thanks Joe Dumars!).
1. Draft for need (primarily shooting)
2. Draft for talent and potential
If you were in the "draft for need" camp, then you were likely upset Charlotte passed on Doug McDermott and if you were in the "draft for talent and potential" camp, then you were likely very happy Charlotte selected Noah Vonleh.
One of the youngest players in the draft with some of the most impressive measurables and great collegiate rebounding numbers, Vonleh represented a scout's dream. Unfortunately for Hornet fans, he was drafted onto a roster jam packed with frontcourt players.
Vonleh missed most of training camp and preseason due to injury and had very little opportunity (outside of garbage time) to get on the court through the first 37 games of the season. Evaluating a player during garbage time is difficult, so there hasn't been much real game tape from which to examine Vonleh's potential playing in the regular rotation.
Luckily for fans, Noah Vonleh finally got meaningful minutes when Cody Zeller was held out of Thursday's game against the Toronto Raptors. In just under 10 minutes of action, Vonleh showed exactly why fans can be excited about his potential, and also why he likely won't crack the rotation if the Hornets push for the playoffs.
In general, Vonleh played within himself and found ways to impact the game without being involved whatsoever in the offense. Despite being the fifth option and looking a little lost at times, Vonleh made two plays that really stood out in this game.
The first came in the second quarter after the Raptors had erased a large early lead. Trying to make up for a previous turnover and battling Lou Williams for a rebound, he came very close to picking up a loose ball foul. However the referees held their whistles as Vonleh fell to the floor and Williams turned up court. Trailing the play, Vonleh could have taken a breather, but instead he made a great hustle play that ignited a 7-2 run for the Hornets.
Keeping with the spirit of the play above, Vonleh made another nice hustle play in the final seconds of the third quarter. After a Gary Neal missed layup attempt, Vonleh out hustled Patrick Patterson (the Mike Rowe of the NBA himself) for an offensive rebound and displayed some quality big man fundamentals during the ensuing putback.
Using his length to secure the rebound was impressive enough, but it was how he finished the play that likely had coach Clifford smiling. At just 19 years old, Vonleh already has the lower body of a much more mature NBA player. He used said lower body to force Patterson away from the basket, which gave him the space necessary to make the layup without fearing a block from behind. At the end of the play you can see how frustrated Patterson is for letting the rookie get the best of him.
Room for growth
When asked in interviews about the lack of playing time for Vonleh, coach Clifford routinely says he isn't ready and offers up quotes like these for explanation:
He’s a 19-year-old who missed all of September, when the foundation was put in, and all of October and is now playing catch-up.
Without seeing practice it's impossible to know just how ready or not ready Noah Vonleh is for the speed of the NBA game. Again looking to the Toronto game, there were a few plays that jumped off the screen that seemed to back up Clifford's comments.
In the play above, Vonleh was visibly confused on whether he should be establishing post position or if he should be coming up the floor to set a second screen for Brian Roberts. He ultimately decided on coming up past the elbow to set the screen. However it wasn't timed very well and Roberts decided not to use it. In the end, Vonleh's man was allowed to just hang out in the paint and deter Roberts (or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) from getting to the paint.
In another play, Vonleh spent almost the entire possession following the ball around looking to set a screen. In three separate cases he was either waived off by the ball handler or his screen was rejected.
There were other plays, especially in the first half, where Vonleh just seemed confused on where to be within the offense. Defensively he made a few mental lapses (like allowing Amir Johnson deep post position) that will likely be cleaned up over time.
In the end, Vonleh played in an important game against a rested Raptors team and did enough to make you think he could be called upon again if needed. However, at this point, Cody Zeller and Marvin Williams are playing so well (and so smart) there's little reason for Vonleh to get regular minutes at the power forward position. In addition, those clamoring for him to play over Jason Maxiell as the third center should also temper their expectations. Maxiell has played very well during the five games without Al Jefferson. While Vonleh is clearly the player with more potential, Maxiell has proven to be a savvy veteran with a few gallons left in the tank athletically.
Having seen Vonleh play for yourself, what do you see his role being for the remainder of the year? Answer in the poll below.
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