Pistons Lead

Pistons Could Turn to Vonleh for Cheap Frontcourt Stability

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Continuing our examination of Detroit’s Mid-Level Exception, we turn to their other need– frontcourt stability.

Noah Vonleh should be the team’s top choice here. I understand he is listed as a power forward and that I did say Thon Maker played most of his minutes in that spot last year. But, like I also said, I think Maker offers versatility in the frontcourt to go between power forward and center. And I think adding Vonleh only adds to the versatility of an already very versatile frontcourt in the Motor City.

Stats

Vonleh stands 6’9″ in shoes weighing 250 lbs with a 7’4.25″ wingspan. This past season, Vonleh played 1722 minutes in 68 games and posted the following stats:

8.4 PPG (53% FG, 34% 3PT, 71% FT, 56% TS) | 7.8 RPG | 1.9 APG | 0.7 SPG | 0.8 BPG | 14.8% Usage | 11.1% Assist Rate | 14.7% Turnover Rate

This stat line is impressive considering how terrible the Knicks were last year. From an offensive perspective, he can do a little bit of everything you want out of a modern day big man. He shoots the three, grabs rebounds, and even posted a 35.5% free throw rate this past year. To put that in perspective, that is a better rate than Derrick White, Lauri Markkanen, Gary Harris, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Dennis Smith Jr.— all of whom played between 1500-1800 minutes last year.

Defense

Vonleh’s defense last year was one of his major calling cards. He posted career highs in blocks, steals and defensive rebounds (415) this past season. He also posted career highs in blocks and steals to show for some of that improvement. He even showcased his defensive prowess against the likes of the MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo. So not only was he getting after offensive players, but he killed many possessions by pulling in those rebounds.

And more than anything else, Vonleh’s physical tools and basketball skillset perfectly balances out Maker’s. Just looking at the difference in their rebounding stats tells you this. Maker pulled in 202 total rebounds last year compared to Vonleh’s 528. And while Vonleh grabbed 415 of those on defense, Maker only managed to snag 161 while on defense. So Maker needs a better rebounder as a frontcourt mate in the second unit.

Fit Alongside Thon Maker

Vonleh also is more physical than Maker at this point. I think the main reason the Pistons played Maker more at the 4 is because he is not physical. He is very thin and is easily moved off his spots. In a conference with Giannis, Joel Embiid, Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, playing Maker at center is a liability. That’s not to say Maker can’t get bigger and stronger, but the way the team has used him suggests he will remain mostly at power forward. If nothing else, his rebounding numbers suggest they keep him away from playing too much center.

Pairing Vonleh with Maker can also help them both shoot better from three. Maker shot 32.0% from three for the entire year last year. That is very similar to Vonleh. Yet, Maker played his most minutes alongside Zaza and Vonleh alongside Enes Kanter. Neither pairing took extra defensive attention away from Maker or Vonleh in terms of spacing. They had to jack up 3s because the center they played with never did. Their teams were also in the bottom 10 for total 3-point percentage. And they have they added bonus of playing with Blake, Kennard, Tony Snell, and Langston Galloway. All of whom require the defense to account for at all times as three-point shooters.

Final Verdict

Teams may offer Vonleh more that $3,123,000 due to his age and upside. Yet, he joined the Knicks at 22 years old on a minimum salary this past year. And a guy like Nerlens Noel (24 this past offseason) ended up signing a deal that paid him less than $2,000,000 annually. The center position is becoming devalued and even guys like Vonleh and Noel with huge upside and room to improve are thrown by the wayside. I know it only takes one team to fall in love with him, and the Pistons are paper thin on the amount of money they can offer. The market for backup centers recently, however, seems to indicate that teams do not want to spend much money regardless of skill or upside.

And again, if the Pistons can strike earlier than other teams and offer Vonleh this opportunity, they can beat others to the punch. Maybe it is just a one-year deal again, but that would be a great opportunity for Vonleh. He can outplay Maker, whose contract will be up at the end of the year. Andre Drummond also has a player option at the end of this year too. And looking at how much the team needed to play a 34-year-old Zaza Pachulia this past season, Vonleh will be guaranteed plenty of quality minutes.

Vonleh is still only 23 years old, so he offers the upside and youth they have been seeking this whole offseason. He is the best combination of skill and upside the team could hope for from a big man this offseason.

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