With just a few days before the start of the regular season, the Boston Celtics’ roster is finally set. Injuries to Danilo Gallinari and Robert Williams gave the team some unexpected decisions to make with the end of the bench that included Noah Vonleh and Justin Jackson.
Jackson had an up-and-down preseason campaign, but Vonleh was the epitome of consistency. His rebounding and finishing at the rim helped him stand out among the training camp invites, and now he finds himself on the regular season roster.
Vonleh is from Haverhill, Massachusetts, so he’ll be getting the chance to play for his hometown team. He said that he’s very excited about the opportunity.
“I was very excited, especially when they reached out to my agent about the idea of bringing me in early August. I was very excited. I looked at the roster, I looked at the guys that were coming in, and I felt like I had a great chance and a great opportunity, and they also told me that I had a great opportunity. So, I’m just happy. Yesterday, finalized it, and I’m officially on the roster.”
Despite being just 27 years old, Vonleh has seven seasons of NBA experience with seven different franchises, and Boston will be his eighth. He hasn’t been able to find a consistent role on any team he’s been on.
The young journeyman is focused on changing that. While he expressed his excitement, he also emphasized the fact that he’s not settling for just being on the Opening Night roster.
“But still gotta make it to the trigger date, January 7, so I gotta stay locked in and keep taking it day-by-day from here on out and even beyond that.”
Since Vonleh was on an Exhibit 9 contract, his deal will now be converted to a non-guaranteed deal. If he makes it past January 7, his contract will be fully guaranteed for the rest of the year, and that’s what Vonleh has his eyes on.
Vonleh will have a real opportunity to earn that chance, too. With Williams out rehabbing from knee surgery and Al Horford entering his age 36 season, Boston’s center depth will be tested. Vonleh, Blake Griffin, and Luke Kornet will compete for a good chunk of regular season minutes in these early weeks.
Vonleh said that his focus will be on screening well, playing with energy, and rebounding the basketball at a high level.
“Just coming in, doing my work, screening, getting guys open, playing with a lot of energy, playing high energy,” Vonleh said after practice. “And rolling, putting a lot of pressure on the rim, and just rebounding. I feel like I can be one of the best rebounders on the team, so I just gotta be on that glass.”
During the Celtics’ four preseason games, Vonleh finished 10th on the team in minutes, but he led the squad in rebounding. He totaled 29 boards in roughly 56 minutes of action and had as many points as he did rebounds.
This falls in line with how he’s played his entire career. In 339 minutes of NBA action, he’s notched 1660 points and 1742 boards. Boston noticeably struggled to rebound the ball in their preseason finale against the Toronto Raptors, so Vonleh could play a valuable role for the Celtics as a specialist in that area.
But as important as rebounding will be, they remain a defensive-minded team. They were the best defensive squad in the league last year, and Vonleh believes that he can fit in well on that side of the ball.
“It’s been pretty good. I mean, you see how the whole league is going, it’s based on versatility. A lot of guys are switching. Teams are going one through five. We’ll start off with the five man being in the drop sometimes, but as the game goes on, we’ll start switching one through five, and I feel like I’m one of those guys that can incorporate well into that.”
Throughout the preseason, Boston mainly put Vonleh in drop coverage, but they could ask him to switch more as the season goes on. And according to the man himself, he’s comfortable doing just that.
More so, Vonleh said that everyone is extremely motivated as they attempt to push toward their ultimate goal of an NBA championship.
“I feel like everybody is still locked in. I wasn’t here last year, but just watching the whole process, seeing how they made it all the way to the Finals and came up a couple games short. I mean, guys are motivated, everybody’s talking about starting off the season on a good note. So, we just gotta keep coming in and working hard. A very mature group.”
The Celtics will begin their season at home against the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. EST.