From Charlotte to Portland, Chicago to New York and Minneapolis to Denver, Noah Vonleh has seen his share of stops in the NBA since being drafted No. 9 overall in the 2014 draft. When the 6-foot-10 forward/center was traded from one crowded frontcourt situation with the Timberwolves to another with the Nuggets on Feb. 5, the 24-year-old could understandably be apprehensive. Instead, he chose optimism.
Browsing online after the trade was announced, Vonleh saw a fan post a picture of him in NBA 2K with a Nuggets jersey. He enjoyed the enthusiasm and decided to add it as his IG profile picture.
“I was trying to not look back. Whatever is in the past, leave that alone and look forward to the future,” Vonleh told Nuggets.com. “Someone posted that picture; I saw it and I was like that’s a pretty dope picture. I just took and put it as my profile picture.”
Vonleh is just one year removed from a solid season with the New York Knicks, in which he averaged 8.4 points, 7.8 rebounds in 25.3 minutes per game and shot 47 percent from the field, including a respectable 33.6 percent from downtown. He couldn’t replicate that success in a limited role with the T’Wolves, going for 4.1 points and 4.0 rebounds in 11.6 minutes per game. Between inconsistent playing time and Minnesota’s current standing in the league, the team currently sits second to last in the Western Conference, Vonleh was open to a move and appreciates being part of a winning culture in the Mile High City. He knows it will be difficult to break into the rotation on an established winner, but he’s welcomed head coach Michael Malone’s honesty during his short time with the team.
“He just told me to stay ready,” Vonleh said. “I know we got a pretty stacked frontcourt so on any given nights I can get some time or there’ll be nights where I don’t play. I just have to stay locked in. Take care of my body, mind and be ready for when the time comes.”
Vonleh has played in two of the Nuggets’ five games since joining the team. Although one of those appearances came in garbage time against the T’Wolves this past Sunday, he did show some promising signs against the Lakers prior to the All-Star break. The former Hoosier played 12 minutes, dishing out four assists, grabbing three boards and knocking down a three in Denver’s 120-116 loss. The long-range shooting and passing are key elements for any big man who wants to fit into the Nuggets’ offense.
With the way this team plays, playing with Joker [Nikola Jokić], you got to have guys who can space the floor and do different things,” Vonleh said. “So I just trying to come in here every day, work my tail off and be ready to translate that from practice into the game.”
In the latest “Five Questions,” Vonleh spoke with Nuggets.com about his adjustment to Denver, his locker room connections and his expectations.
Here is what he had to say:
How are you enjoying Denver so far? What’s the biggest thing you’ve had to adjust to so far?
I’m loving it so far, I’ve only been here for three weeks, it’s been great so far. I’m getting accustomed to the system, getting accustomed to the guys and coaching staff.
The biggest thing when you join a new team is feeling your way out, learning the playbook and system. Just trying to best fit in into the system.
You’re coming from a situation in Minnesota where the team is out of playoff contention to a team that is expected to contend. How does it feel to be a part of a team that’s very much in the thick of things?
It’s a blessing, I thank God for it. Going from the second-worst team in the West to the second-best team in the West, it’s a blessing. To be on a playoff team and play with these dudes, it’s a great group of guys.
Last season, you had a strong season with the Knicks. What worked for you there and are there any similarities with this opportunity?
I think with the Knicks, we weren’t the best team in the league, but we had a bunch of guys who were talented. They [the organization] wanted to evaluate all of the players, so they just told us to go out there and play. I just went out there and played to the best of my abilities. I know what my game is, I’m a versatile player who can defend many positions. I can rebound well and push [the ball up the court]. I can shoot the ball and do a lot of different things.
[In Denver] this is a system where I see the guys maneuver through it and I feel I can fit right in. I feel I can bring some of that stuff [that I showed in New York] back out. I just have to keep working and wait for my opportunity.
Do you know of any of the guys on the Nuggets locker room, aside from the guys you were traded with?
I know Mason Plumlee, who I played with [in Portland]. Keita I came with in the trade. Jordan McRae, I know from working out in the summertime in Atlanta. Jerami Grant I played against in college. I played against a few of these guys in college. I know most of the roster well. A couple of the guys were with the agency I was with.
Did Mason give you an insight into this team’s culture?
He told me this is a great spot. They let their players play over here and you don’t have to worry about anything. Just play hard. Play defense and everything else will work itself out.