After the first two weeks of the 2017-18 season, the Portland Trail Blazers have not yet been able to recreate the same level of play they employed at the end of the 2016-27 season, play that would eventually earn the team their fourth-consecutive playoff berth. But that might soon change, especially with one of the main contributors during that run finally returning to the lineup.
Noah Vonleh, who started 41 games last season, many of those alongside center Jusuf Nurkić, has been fully cleared by the team’s medical staff after missing most of training camp, all of preseason and the first seven games of the regular season due to a right shoulder strain.
“I’ve been trying to stay patient,” said Vonleh, who went through an extensive workout with rookies Caleb Swanigan and Zach Collins after Tuesday’s practice in Tualatin. “Just focus on my rehab, focus on getting better working on some things on the court. Just trying to get myself ready to go.”
The 6-10 forward in his fourth season out of Indiana averaged 6.7 points per game on 58 percent shooting and 6.7 rebounds after the All-Star break last season while comprising a solid starting frontcourt alongside Nurkić.
“(Vonleh) really fit in last year,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “Obviously everybody knows how well he and Nurk played together, so that’s a positive. I don’t know what the rotation is going to be but he brings an athleticism to the position. As a young player, he still brings experience to the position.”
Vonleh played the best basketball of his career in the 19 games he started alongside Nurkić last season, with the implication being the attention that the “Bosnian Beast” garnered in the post and paint opened up chances for Vonleh. But with Nurkić struggling on offense to start the 2017-18 season with Vonleh sidelined, perhaps the partnership wasn’t as one-sided as most assumed.
“Obviously Nurk got a lot of the attention but Noah did play very well with him,” said Stotts. “Hopefully they can pick up where they left off, but I don’t know. They just worked well together.”
Most assumed Vonleh would resume his starting role going into the 2017-18 season, but that plan was scuttled after the former Hoosier injured his shoulder during a scrimmage in the first days of training camp. Stotts said Vonleh would see his first action of the season in Wednesday night’s game versus the Jazz in Salt Lake City, though just how much he plays and whether he does so as a starter or reserve is not yet clear.
“It’s feeling good,” said Vonleh of his shoulder. “When I’m out there playing I’m not really thinking about it. Went through a couple three-on-three, four-on-four situations. I wish we would have had some more practice time before I get out there but that’s how the league goes. I’m just ready to go out there if my name is called. Just go out there, play with energy and give it my all.”