LAS VEGAS Developing Charlotte Hornets rookie Noah Vonleh is important. Just dont confuse important with urgent.
On draft night, when the Indiana forward fell through the top eight picks, the Hornets felt they couldnt afford to pass on Vonlehs potential. Between the arm length (a 7-foot-4 wingspan), footwork and skills, he has long-term potential to be a cornerstone player for Charlotte.
But note the phrase long term. Hes still 18 years old, having turned pro after a single season of college basketball. Coach Steve Clifford has no expectation of immediate impact from Vonleh. To presume otherwise, Clifford said, is unfair to 6-foot-10 Vonleh and his teammates.
If youre going to take younger guys, youve got to give them time to grow and put them in situations where they can grow at the pace that works for them, Clifford said of Vonlehs situation.
We have to have Noahs best interest and progress in mind. At the same time, hes affected by our results on the floor. Were trying to win. Its not fair to throw him out there night after night against starters. Thats also not fair to Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, etc. All the parts have to work together.
Vonleh said he gets Cliffords point that throwing him into situations before hes ready could prove more negative than positive. Also, he appreciates the Hornets are coming off a 43-39 record and a playoff appearance.
The Hornets had the chance to draft him only because of previous trade with the Detroit Pistons that resulted in the ninth pick.
Charlotte is a team that got into the playoffs and the lottery you dont have a lot of teams like that, Vonleh said Tuesday after a summer-league practice. Theyre looking to make the playoffs, and I have to be patient and wait for minutes.
If minutes are on the table, I think Ill be ready to play. But I dont know that Ill get all the minutes Id imagine getting in years to come.
Vonleh has shown glimpses of his potential: He grabbed 18 rebounds during a game Sunday against the Sacramento Kings. But Vonleh acknowledged Tuesday the physicality of summer league is a big change from college ball. It will be that much more so in regular-season NBA games.
Adjustments such as that are why Clifford is against force-feeding minutes to rookies.
I can make a really healthy argument that sometimes when guys are given too much (opportunity) they havent worked for, it very much hurts their development, Clifford said.
That doesnt mean Clifford isnt vested in Vonlehs future. Much the contrary.
The hardest thing to get in this league is guys at the top of your lineup, he said. Any opportunity you have to get somebody who could be your first- or second- or third-best player, youve got to do it.
He has ability at both ends of the floor to be one of those top-three guys.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell
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