Noah Vonleh did not play one game in the NBA last season. When the Boston Celtics signed him in September to a training camp deal, there was no guarantee he would make the roster. But he did, and Vonleh was the first player off the bench in the Celtics’ October 18 opening-night win over the Philadelphia 76ers.
After the game, Vonleh said he was excited to play an NBA game again after spending 2021-22 playing for Chinese Basketball Association’s Shanghai Sharks.
“I haven’t been in the league for a year — played in China last year. First game back, so I was definitely very excited,” Vonleh told reporters. “I don’t think there was any anxiety or anything. I was pretty prepared. I put in the work and prepared myself for that moment, so just got to keep going.”
In 20 minutes of action, Vonleh put up two points, two rebounds, one steal and one block while finishing with a plus/minus of plus-seven. He was assigned the task of covering Joel Embiid both when subbing for starting center Al Horford and when he and Horford were on the court together.
Vonleh’s Thoughts on Falling Out of the NBA
Vonleh said his getting rejected by every team in the NBA last season impacted his work ethic.
“It definitely motivated me. It made me even hungrier,” Vonleh said. “I feel like I’ve got a pretty good work ethic, but being out of [the league], I was just wondering why and questioning certain things. But it just made me more motivated and made me work a lot harder. I ended up up getting this opportunity here and just trying to make the most of it.”
He said the biggest difference between the NBA and the CBA is the lack of elite-level bigs, like the one he faced on opening night.
“China’s different,” Vonleh told reporters. “They don’t have no Joel Embiids out there. So that’s different. But it just felt great being back out there and competing against NBA-level talent.”
Before joining the Celtics, Vonleh last played in the NBA for the 2020-21 Brooklyn Nets, appearing in just four games. The last time he saw significant action was in 2018-19, when he averaged 25 minutes in 68 games for the New York Knicks.
How Vonleh Matched Up With Embiid on Opening Night
Vonleh was in the same 2014 draft class as Embiid, who was picked third overall by the Sixers, ahead of Vonleh’s selection at No. 9 by the Charlotte Hornets. While Embiid emerged as star in his six full seasons with the Sixers, Vonleh became a journeyman, playing for eight different teams, including the Celtics, in eight NBA seasons.
Celtics interim head coach Joe Mazzulla trusted him enough to cover Embiid the most defensively on opening night. According to NBA.com, Vonleh covered Embiid on 26 possessions, allowing eight points.
By contrast, Horford covered Embiid on 20 possessions, allowing him to score 11 points, and Grant Williams covered Embiid on 13 possessions, allowing him to score four points. By helping hold Embiid, an MVP candidate, to 26 points, Vonleh played an integral role in the Celtics’ 126-117 win.