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January 16, 2019

NBA Trade Rumors: Sixers have expressed interest in Knicks forward Noah Vonleh

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With a shortage of useful players in the frontcourt, the Sixers will be in all sorts of rumors between now and the February 7 deadline. The latest report, by way of Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News, ties them to Knicks power forward Noah Vonleh.

Vonleh's name will be familiar to a lot of Sixers fans, who kept track of the Indiana product during the first season of Sam Hinkie's rebuilding project. Fortunately, the Sixers were able to come away with Joel Embiid and Dario Saric from the 2014 NBA Draft, instead of betting their future on a guy who has spent most of the last four seasons trying to find his place in the league.

Vonleh's first four seasons, split between stops in Charlotte, Portland, and Chicago, were a bit of a mess. He didn't impact the game as a rebounder despite some great physical gifts, struggled to step out and hit jumpers despite showing promise there in college, and was still in the process of figuring out how to leverage his gifts as a defender.

The Knicks may be a bit of a tire fire, but Vonleh has actually delivered on some of his promise while on a prove-it deal in New York. Playing for just $1.5 million this season, Vonleh has been a success in New York. The jumper has finally come (he's shooting 41.1 percent from three on just over two attempts per game) and he has developed into a versatile, at times impactful defender on a team that needs more of them.

Vonleh is listed as a power forward, and that's certainly fair if we're only viewing his game through an offensive lens. But on the defensive side of the ball, he has shown a little more versatility than, say, Mike Muscala. Vonleh has some serious physical gifts — he's 6-foot-9 with a wingspan eclipsing 7-foot-4 — which allow him to make up for any speed disadvantages he may have matched up with perimeter players. He's also bulky enough to battle guys in the post, even if he's under-qualified to deal with the Joel Embiid types out there.

(But hey, there aren't too many of those.)

In theory, Vonleh would offer Brett Brown another player in the mold of Jonah Bolden, who could help deal with pick-and-rolls in their switch-heavy scheme and also serve as good weakside help next to Embiid. It's not an apples-to-apples comparison, with Vonleh the better shooter and Bolden the more aggressive shot blocker, but there is at least proof of concept for a player like Vonleh succeeding next to the franchise big man.

The real question here is what the cost would end up being for a player like Vonleh. 

Vonleh's aforementioned salary is a big help for the Sixers, as it ensures they can make a deal using one of the players on the fringes of the rotation, rather than jettisoning a starter. In fact, should the Knicks be interested, the Sixers could even swap out big man Justin Patton for Vonleh, with Vonleh's ability to help immediately being more valuable to Philly than New York.

However, that low salary and Vonleh's expiring status ensures that there will be plenty of playoff teams interested in his services. To that end, any deal will likely hinge on what sort of pick(s) the Sixers are willing to sacrifice to get a deal done. They have one of the most valuable second-round picks in this year's draft, a pick owed to them by the woeful Chicago Bulls, but that seems like an asset they'd like to hold onto if possible, either as a sweetener in a bigger deal or as a potential lottery ticket in June.

They might not have a choice. New York has all the incentive in the world to keep any young, productive players they can find in the fold, and I doubt the Sixers will be the only suitor.

As far as depth options go leading into the deadline, I like Vonleh a good bit. He's still young (Vonleh won't turn 24 until late August), offers some value on both ends of the floor, and is seasoned enough that he can help the team right now. 

That separates him from many of Philadelphia's recent acquisitions, where the Sixers have had to sacrifice shooting, defense, or upside in order to find role players who fit in. If Elton Brand does make a push for Vonleh, the Sixers will have a chance to get a helpful player now who may also pay larger dividends down the road.

UPDATE: Following the publication of this story, multiple team sources reached out to PhillyVoice on the matter of Vonleh, with one calling the initial report, "100 percent inaccurate." That's pretty firm.

But, I will remind you all to remain skeptical of everyone this time of year. The Sixers may indeed not be interested, or they may be doing their best to keep their pre-deadline activity under wraps. I'll leave it up to you to decide what the truth is.

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