Photo credit - Chicago Bulls

Hoosiers in the NBA: Noah Vonleh Season in Review

The 2017-18 NBA season has ended for five of the eight former Indiana Hoosiers that registered statistics in the league this year.  Today marks the third in a series of more in depth reviews of their respective seasons as we discuss former Hoosier freshman phenom Noah Vonleh.

We didn’t know Noah Vonleh long, but he certainly made an impact during his one year with Indiana.  While the 2013-14 season wasn’t a memorable year for the IU program, Vonleh certainly made his mark.  He averaged 11.3 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks while shooting 52% from the field overall and 48.5% from distance.

Ultimately, Vonleh won the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, and won the Big Ten Freshman of the Week 7 times along the way.  He finished the year with 10 double doubles and finished 3rd nationally in rebounds per game by a freshman.  His 3-point field goal percentage was the best in the country for players with more than 30 attempts.

Vonleh was a lottery pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, taken at No. 9 by the Hornets.  As an interesting side note, he measured some of the largest hands ever during NBA combine.

THE 2017-18 SEASON

It was a season of change for Vonleh as he was traded from Portland to Chicago in March.  The Bulls became his 3rd team in 4 NBA seasons after playing for Charlotte in his rookie year.  By just about any measure, the trade to the Bulls worked out well.  First let’s take a look at Vonleh’s aggregate stats for the entire season:

Games/Games Started – 54/16
Points – 4.9 (career high)
Rebounds – 5.8 (career high)
Assists – .6 (career high)
Blocks – .3
Steals – .4 (ties career high)
FG% – .444
3FG% – .303
FT% – .621

 

 

He missed some time to begin the year with the Blazers with a shoulder injury.  In 33 games played with Portland, he averaged 14.4 minutes, 3.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, and .4 assists.

In 21 games with the Bulls, the 6-9 245 pound forward averaged 19.0 minutes, 6.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.0 assists.  As you can see in the graphic above, the trade allowed Vonleh to push his numbers to career best averages in several categories.

For his career Vonleh is averaging 15.5 minutes, 4.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, and .4 assists.

You can see highlights of a 14 point and 13 rebound night vs. Miami on March 29.  The points were a season high.  He had an 18 rebound game earlier in the season while still with Portland.

A JOURNEYMAN OR SWEET HOME CHICAGO?

While there were legitimate questions whether Vonleh was “NBA-ready”, his selection in the lottery left little doubt as to whether he was viewed as having NBA potential.  In today’s era, that is all that matters — at least insofar as what it takes to get drafted.

Unfortunately for Vonleh, he was quickly cast-aside as not NBA-ready by Charlotte, and shipped off to the Blazers after one year.  While the opportunity was better in Portland (he started 109 games), never saw more than 20 minutes a game in his nearly 3 season there.

Vonleh summarized his journey this way in an article produced by the Bulls:

“Charlotte, they were a playoff team and I was a lottery pick, so it was tough,” said Vonleh. “They had their team set and brought in more veteran guys to help them get back to the playoffs, so that was tough. Being in Portland, a playoff team, is tough for young guys because when you are on a team like that you make mistakes, you are coming out quick. Over here, I can play through mistakes and be better as a player. For me, it’s more opportunity here. The team is going through a losing phase right now, so it opens up more time.”

He is considered by some to be a “tweener”, with not enough of a perimeter game to play power forward, and not enough size to play center.  The result has been 4 years of respectable play, but so far not the right situation to take the next step.

NEW OPPORTUNITY / OLD SUPPORTERS

The move to Chicago presents a new opportunity for Vonleh, and as the statistics illustrate, perhaps one that he can capitalize on.  The Chicago Tribune had an article on the former Hoosier that mentions IU from several angles, including this quote from Tom Crean who continues to offer advice to his former player:

“He can go into Chicago and really make a statement in terms of how he will work and make his teammates better,” Crean said. “When a guy has that kind of foundation — a good mother and that kind of work ethic — he’s going to be all right.”

The Tribune piece also had this assessment from former IU player and coach, and current ESPN analyst and Indianapolis radio show host Dan Dakich:

“Great body. Strong as hell but doesn’t necessarily play strong as hell. More of a pick-and-pop kind of a guy. Still young. Great kid. I don’t know that he’s a franchise guy (in the NBA), but there’s a big upside. He is a talented guy and he can shoot the basketball.”

The article also revisits Vonleh’s decision to leave IU after only a year.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Vonleh is now a restricted free agent, which means is available on the open market but the Bulls have the right to match an offer.  He is scheduled to make $4.7 million next year under his current contract.

At still only 22 years old, the sky is still the limit for Vonleh.  If his spike in production in his brief stint in Chicago is any indication, he has the potential to make big strides over the next few years in the right situation.

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