After playing in the starting role in the third preseason contest before the season, and putting together a 14-point, 13-rebound performance, former Indiana standout Noah Vonleh is on a mission to carve himself out a spot on the Boston Celtics roster. With Blake Griffin signing on, Vonleh will be knocked down a peg, but with the number of months open with Robert Williams III out of commission, Boston could use a long big man who can collect rebounds efficiently, and protect the rim at all costs.
Playing time is going to be few and far between when this team is healthy, but with potentially back-to-back quality outings in the preseason, the former top-10 selection in the 2014 NBA Draft will have sent a message to head coach Joe Mazzulla that he has to be a lock to make the roster. Luke Kornet’s sprained ankle before the preseason gave Vonleh the chance to show his worth, and while Griffin adds something different to the frontcourt, Vonleh and his 7-foot-4 wingspan will be able to eat up minutes at the five if necessary. Vonleh is tied for third in the preseason for total rebounds alongside Pascal Siakam, and Mason Plumlee.
Following his outing against the Hornets in the third contest of the warmups before the regular season, Vonleh spoke about what his goals are before he crosses the white lines, stating, “The biggest key when I check into the game and I’m on the floor with those guys is just getting a little angle, trying to get those guys open, using my body to create angles, get them the mismatch…And if they want to throw it in there if I have a guard on me, we’ll exploit that also.”
The Massachusetts native also leads the NBA preseason in field goal percentage with an astounding 83.3 percent from the floor out of all the players that have played in a total of three contests. Last season, Vonleh played for the 28-10 Shanghai Sharks in the Chinese Basketball Association, collecting a team-high 9.9 rebounds while putting up 15 points per game which was good for third on the team.
What Noah Vonleh’s role could be for the Boston Celtics
With limited center depth and a team that may be forced to play small with Jayson Tatum at the five at some points, Noah Vonleh is a quality security blanket for a Boston Celtics team that finished fifth in the league last season in rebounds per game during the regular season.
Being able to set legal screens and roll to the basket without getting in the way of penetration into the lane is going to be vital. Just like the play Vonleh and JD Davidson executed towards the end of the fourth quarter on the road against the Hornets, the former Big Ten Freshman of the Year must be able to give the guards options for a potential floater or a lob right in front of the rim. From exposing mismatches to forcing the opposition to second guess their decision of coming into the paint, Vonleh has shown in a small sample size that he has all the tools to supplement even some of what Robert Williams III provides.
Currently, nobody knows how much of a chance Vonleh would have had if Kornet was on the floor for preseason action, but as life goes for professional athletes everywhere, taking the opportunity at hand has the potential to turn an entire career around. His task does not require too much, and just like Blake Griffin, it seems that he understands what he needs to do in order to receive more playing time, and help contribute to as many wins as possible.
Rebounding has never been an issue during his underwhelming professional career, averaging 5.1 boards per game during his NBA career, and just 4.9 points to go along with it. For players that have played more than one game in the preseason for Boston so far, Vonleh leads all players in rebounds with 8.3 in 15.6 minutes per game. He last played over 10 contests in an NBA season back in the 2019/20 season with the Timberwolves before he got dealt just before the trade deadline to Denver in a four-team trade that included Clint Capela heading to Atlanta.
Fighting on the glass, and hustling for loose balls were just some of the trademarks of the Boston Celtics last season, but without Williams III, and his Defensive Player of the Year-type abilities, somebody is going to have to step up in order to relieve an aging Al Horford from significant minutes as the sole big in the lineup.
Vonleh is a somewhat experienced professional who has a lot to prove in a league he still is trying to find his footing following a promising college career. With Mfiondu Kabengele on a Boston Celtics two-way contract, and Luke Kornet rehabbing from his setback, Vonleh’s position in the depth chart has changed, and if he can put up an encore to his outing against the Hornets, the trust between him, and Mazzulla will only get better, increasing the chances of reviving a lost NBA career.