As part of Denver Stiffs’ transition from Denver Nuggets postseason coverage to offseason coverage, staff members will be conducting End of Season Reviews for all 17 players on the roster. There will continue to be news, NBA draft, free agency, and trade articles, but over the next three weeks, an accompanying End of Season review (or two) will also post every week day.
Today’s review: Noah Vonleh
After just six seasons, forward-center Noah Vonleh can already consider himself to be an NBA journeyman, having played for the Charlotte Hornets, Portland Trail Blazers, Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks and Minnesota Timberwolves before being traded to the Denver Nuggets back in February.
Part of the four-team trade that saw the Nuggets trade Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez and Jarred Vanderbilt to the Timberwolves, Minnesota traded Vonleh to Denver along with Keita Bates-Diop and Shabazz Napier (Napier was traded to the Washington Wizards the next day). Upon his arrival, the former lottery pick wasn’t expected to crack the Nuggets’ rotation given the team’s frontcourt depth and he had many of the same qualities in his game as one of the players traded with him in Bates-Diop.
Despite disappointing stints in Minnesota, Portland and Charlotte specifically, Vonleh has proven himself to be an athletic and versatile defender who can impact the game as a rebounder and do a little bit of everything else to boot. After signing a one-year, $2 million contract with the Timberwolves prior to the trade, Vonleh will become an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
Regular season stats
2019-20 regular season: 3.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.6 turnovers, 0.3 steals and 0.2 blocks in 10.5 minutes per game (36 games) — .565/.200/.781 shooting splits
(w/ Nuggets): 1.9 points, 1.1 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.3 turnovers in 4.3 minutes per game (7 games) — .833/1.00/.500 shooting splits
Overview of 2019-20 season
After he came to life a bit with the Knicks in 2018-19, averaging 8.4 points and 7.8 rebounds per game while shooting 33.6% from 3-point range, more was expected of Vonleh entering the 2019-20 season.
Unfortunately for the Timberwolves, Vonleh’s perimeter shooting was atrocious (14.3% from 3-point range) while he played for them and he wasn’t averaging anywhere near the amount of minutes that he was in New York. With Minnesota slowly circling the drain in an underwhelming season, the T’Wolves cut ties with the then 24-year-old and sent him to Denver in a trade that saw the Nuggets give away fringe rotation players for what would become fringe roster players.
In Denver, Vonleh’s chances of making an impact were minimal considering the players he had in front of him on the depth chart (Jerami Grant, Paul Millsap, Michael Porter Jr., Nikola Jokic and Mason Plumlee). His reality turned out to look just as it did on paper, with him providing little more than depth for the Nuggets.
Season Grade: D
2019-20 was one of Vonleh’s three worst seasons; being traded in two of those seasons should highlight just how poorly the 6’10” big man fared. Not only did he fail to capitalize off of his time playing for the woebegone Knicks but he’s now on the verge of playing for his seventh team in as many seasons.
The ‘D’ in Vonleh’s grade doesn’t just denote his dreadful performance in 2019-20, it also stands for Development. Vonleh, who is just 25-years-old, still has time to develop his game past that of a niche player who can play solid defense and attack the glass. If he wants a better chance of cracking the rotation for a future team, even the Nuggets if he should return, he has to have at least one elite (or nearly elite) skill.
Highlight of the Year
The best play from Vonleh all season might have been his finish on this assist from Nuggets fan favorite Bol Bol during the team’s exhibition games.
What’s next for Noah Vonleh?
Vonleh is young, athletic and does his best work on the less glamorous end of the basketball court. The truth of the matter is that he has tangible skills that many teams around the league covet in terms of defensive versatility and the ability to matchup to an offense’s speed without giving up size.
However, unless Vonleh’s dream is to be used as a situational defender, then he’ll need to devote his offseasons to radical improvement. Finding himself able to function as a facilitator in the short roll, working on a consistent 3-point stroke and becoming more aggressive in transition would all go a long way towards helping him take the next step forward in his career.
He should be able to latch onto a team this offseason in free agency. What he does with the opportunity will be all up to him.