The season is still young, but Noah Vonleh is making an impact off the bench for the New York Knicks that cannot be ignored.
Noah Vonleh has been a welcomed addition to the New York Knicks big-man rotation which currently includes Enes Kanter and rookie Mitchell Robinson. And despite the small sample size, Vonleh’s effort and movement are important factors which have Knicks fans excited about the direction of David Fizdale’s offense.
Vonleh, although not necessarily a household name, is quickly becoming a standout reserve. Prior to the season, Vonleh told Marc Berman of the New York Post that he was eager to demonstrate his high basketball I.Q. out on the court and that he was ready to join a group of hungry underdogs on the Knicks.
“I saw this as a great opportunity for me,’’ Vonleh said. “With coach Fizdale getting the job there, there’s a bunch of young guys who are hungry. I heard great things about him from places he’s been. I’ve talked to him what I can do as player and bring to the team.”
Early on, it’s clear that Vonleh brings a strong motor, good screens, great rebounding, and athleticism. The Knicks offense features heavy doses of pick and roll and dribble handoffs, which need strong screens set by their big men.
Prior to the game against the Miami Heat, and per NBA.com, Vonleh ranked second on the team, behind Kanter with 3.8 screens assists per game. Per 36 minutes, Vonleh ranked in the top ten in the NBA with 7.9 screens assists per game.
For some context, Vonleh’s current average of 3.8 screens assists per game would rank within the top 20 for both the 2017-2018 season and the 2016-2017 season. If the Knicks are to continue developing a fast-paced offense with more shots for players like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Damyean Dotson, Vonleh is absolutely critical in freeing up space for the shooters.
Vonleh’s impact is also felt on the boards. And while Coach Fizdale’s preference for a fast-paced offense may favor players that are lighter on their feet and more skilled in dribbling and shooting, Vonleh’s size is not compromised by a lack of skills in those aforementioned areas.
Vonleh ranks second on the team with 8.5 total rebounds per game and 3.0 offensive rebounds per game. Vonleh has wowed crowds with some impressive putback dunks. Furthermore, his effort on the glass, on both ends of the floor are keys towards stopping the momentum of the opposition and/or extending good offensive runs for the Knicks.
In Vonleh’s debut against the Atlanta Hawks, the video above showcases Vonleh’s movement without the ball, athleticism, offensive rebounding, and action within the pick-and-roll. The good news is that this wasn’t the last time we saw this type of production from Vonleh.
It also helps that, in a reserve role, Vonleh has proved to be efficient in his production. Against the Milwaukee Bucks, Vonleh played almost 19 minutes, posting a line of 11 points on 60 percent shooting while adding five rebounds and two blocks.
In a loss against the Boston Celtics, Vonleh contributed seven points, 13 rebounds, and three steals in 21 minutes of play. And despite the small sample size, Vonleh has been ranked within the top ten in the NBA in both player impact estimate and in defensive rating.
But, just like on any team, one player’s positive play can be and sometimes is a detriment to another player’s time on the court and development. Vonleh’s hot start is likely to keep Mitchell Robinson on the bench for now. Fizdale has opted to play line-ups with both Enes Kanter and Robinson as well as Vonleh and Robinson at the four and five positions, but that doesn’t appear to be a long-term solution.
Robinson is a clear talent, but some ankle issues, Vonleh’s play, and his own raw/still developing skill set have led to inconsistent minutes and production. Is it possible that Vonleh’s play may push Robinson into the G-league? Who knows, but the question will certainly be asked if Vonleh continues to produce.
Overall, these are problems that Coach Fizdale won’t be complaining about any time soon. The Knicks took a chance, a low-risk and high-reward chance with Vonleh and it appears to be paying off. The best case scenario may be that Vonleh works himself into a valuable asset where the Knicks can look to trade him to a contending team and receive a draft pick in return. But until then Knicks fans will certainly enjoy watching Vonleh’s gritty lunch-pale style of play.