Noah Vonleh was supposed to be the symbol of the Charlotte Hornets new founded luck coming with their re-brand. After years of bad lottery luck under, the Bobcats name, they finally struck gold when they got the Detroit Pistons pick in a draft many deemed the deepest it's been since 2003. The Hornets ended up taking Vonleh and it was known immediately he would be a bit of a project. The skinny kid out of Indiana had a lot of potential, but it was quite clear that he wasn't ready to play immediately.
Stats Via Basketball-Reference
Shot Chart Via NBA.com/stats
A few numbers jump out very clearly here, but lets start with games played. Vonleh only played in 25 games, and even though it says he averaged 10 minutes per game, the majority of those were in garbage time. Outside of the end of the season, when the Hornets fate had become clear, Vonleh spent the majority of his rookie year on the bench. He did however get to see some meaningful minutes at the end of the year when Steve Clifford was resting veterans.
Other numbers that jump out is the poor shooting percentages, despite the majority of Vonleh's shots taking place near the rim. This is most likely an effect of Vonleh being a 19 year old rookie going up against bulked up NBA veterans. A large part of why Vonleh didn't play this season was due to his inability to be useful on the offensive end. He didn't have a consistent enough jump shot to cause damage on spot ups, and he was far too small to work down low in the post. Perhaps if he was better off ball, like Cody Zeller, he could have stolen some minutes from other big men, but right now at this stage of his career he needs the ball in his hands to succeed.
The biggest reason that Vonleh didn't play however was his defense. Most rookies are already bad on defense, and Vonleh was no different. He was often late on rotations and he wasn't strong enough to body up on bigger defenders. His inability to provide useful help defense or on ball defense left coaches with no choice but to pick other bigs on the roster over him.
Despite all the negatives, there is one area Vonleh exceeded well in and that was rebounding. Even though his numbers were low, he averaged a decent amount in his limited minutes, and had a defensive rebounding percentage of 25 percent. Already, he has the instincts of a solid rebounder, and that is only going to get better with experience. At the moment this is his greatest skill.
However, while Vonleh wasn't ready for NBA action as a rookie, the sky is the limit for this kid's potential. At 19 years old, he's already shown that he has a developing jumpshot that will allow him to space the floor, and in college he was an efficient post up player. He's still learning on that end, but he had flashes that should have Hornets fans excited for what he'll be doing in the future.
Defense right now is the biggest piece of work. Vonleh has the length and size to be a great NBA defender, but right now he's just too young, small, and inexperienced to use that effectively. Even though defense was easily Vonleh's worst skill, as a rookie, fans should be excited that this is the area he should improve in the most. The majority of rookies are bad on defense coming out of college, but they more often that not improve and Vonleh should do so. He will also grow into his frame, gain muscle, and be able to put that length and size of his to good use.
Vonleh has a bright future and there's no reason for Hornets fans to not excited for him. He had flashes of what he can bring to the Hornets in his rookie year, and the year of experience should be good enough for him to finally crack the rotation. At some point, a young player has to be set free and allowed to make mistakes. If the Hornets want to get the best out of their rookie then they need to let him learn, even if that means losing a game here and there while competing for a playoff spot. The long term gain will be far greater than the short term.