Somewhat of an afterthought signing this offseason, veteran big man Noah Vonleh just might be playing his way onto the Boston Celtics roster.
Vonleh turned in his best performance of the preseason Friday night on the road against the Charlotte Hornets when he shook off a sloppy first half to post a double-double of 14 points and 13 rebounds. Vonleh, who shot 6-for-8 from the floor, got the starting nod with the Celtics sitting all of their regular starters beside Jaylen Brown in the 112-103 win.
Vonleh seems to be winning over Celtics interim head coach Joe Mazzulla, who praised the journeyman’s strong showing.
“I think he’s great. He understands the game, screens well, fits into our defensive identity,” Mazzulla told reporters, per The Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn. “Very happy with the way he played. He did some good things for us.”
With Robert Williams sidelined to begin the season and Luke Kornet dealing with his own injury that has kept him out of all three preseason games, it has opened up an opportunity for Vonleh to show he can be a serviceable backup big man.
Vonleh’s size — he stands at 6-foot-10 and 257 pounds — and adept rebounding could help him take on that role. Vonleh leads the Celtics in the preseason in rebounding. His stature could come in handy, too, when spelling Al Horford and Grant Williams, especially considering the front courts some of the other powers in the Eastern Conference can throw out onto the court.
Vonleh, who is on his eighth team as he enters his eighth year in the NBA, is looking to catch on with the Celtics after playing last year overseas. Vonleh only played in four games for the Brooklyn Nets during the 2020-21 campaign.
The 2014 NBA lottery pick has certainly made a considerable case for a roster spot, as did Justin Jackson, who notched 16 points off the bench against the Hornets. That has Washburn feeling Luka Samanic, Brodric Thomas and Jake Layman could be the odd men out.
The Celtics will have to make three roster moves before they open the regular season on Oct. 18 when they host the Philadelphia 76ers at TD Garden.