Vonleh Shows His 'Mean Streak' On The Boards In Memphis

by Casey Holdahl
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MEMPHIS -- Off of the court, Trail Blazers power forward Noah Vonleh is a rather sweet young man. The 6-9 forward out of Indiana is kind, usually soft-spoken and perhaps even a little bit shy, though that's not all that uncommon for a 22 year old, even one playing his fourth season in the NBA.

But Vonleh's teammates say that while all those things are true, he also has a sinister side just under the surface..

"He definitely got a mean streak in him," said Damian Lillard, "I've spent a lot of time around him."

That mean streak came out Monday night in Memphis, with Vonleh grabbing 18 rebounds, one shy of his career high, to go with 11 points and three blocks in Portland's 100-92 victory versus the Grizzlies at FedEx Forum. His work on the glass was the main factor in the Trail Blazers out-rebounding the Grizzlies 60-35 and 15-5 in offensive rebounds.

"The other team was just missing a lot of shots and I was just having a nose for the ball, boxing my guy out and going after it," said Vonleh. "That was the mindset I went in there with because I know Memphis, they like to make the game tough and real physical. Those guys like to crash so I knew I was going to have to go in there and have that mindset and be real active on the boards."

After playing the best basketball of his career starting at power forward alongside Jusuf Nurkić last season, the expectation was that Vonleh would enter the 2017-18 season in the same role. But a right shoulder injury suffered in the first days of training camp sideline the forward for all of camp, preseason and the first seven games of the regular season. And when he did get back on the court, he looked like a player who missed all six weeks of preparation before the start of the season.

But in the last two game since returning to the starting lineup -- he started four of his first five games back before being replaced by rookie Caleb Swanigan -- Vonleh seems to have regained the form he had at the end of the 2016-17 season.

"Man, he was a beast down there," said Shabazz Napier of Vonleh's performance Monday night. "Got every single board, got a lot of blocks out there, was trying to dunk everything, which we love about him. Today was just a great showing for him. We tell him all the time 'Every shot that goes up, act like it's your rebound.' Today he just showed a great effort in doing that."

While Vonleh is unlikely to grab 18 rebounds every night, the effort he expended in order to get those boards Monday night in Memphis can remain constant. And if that's the case, Vonleh's mean streak could go a long way toward helping the Trail Blazers put together an extended winning streak, something that has eluded them so far this season.

"We just need to continue to remind (Vonleh) that we've got a lot of faith in him, keep his confidence up and let him know what he's a big part of what we doing," said Lillard. "You'll see that a game like tonight is the kind of game he can have. It wasn't like he had 35 or nothing like that, he just dominated in the areas we need him to dominate in."