Noah Vonleh playing the best basketball of his career

PORTLAND, Ore. — Damian Lillard is playing at an all-NBA level. CJ McCollum has been scoring more efficiently than ever. Jusuf Nurkic is dominating the middle.

Role players like Allen Crabbe, Mo Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu have also been instrumental in the Blazers' recent run of success. Evan Turner is back from his injury, which gives Portland's rotation another ballhandler, playmaker and perimeter defender.

Since we're handing out accolades, the contributions of Noah Vonleh shouldn't be overlooked either.

Vonleh has been given more opportunity by the Blazers' coaching staff in the past couple weeks, averaging 24.3 minutes per game, almost 10 minutes more than his season average. He has responded well.

Vonleh is averaging 7.8 points and 8.0 rebounds, while shooting 60.5 percent from the field over the past six games. These numbers are well above his season averages of 3.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 46.3-percent shooting.

During the Blazers' impressive three-game winning streak, Vonleh has played particularly well, averaging 11 points and eight rebounds per game.

  • March 15 at San Antonio: Vonleh played 26 minutes and had 12 points, six rebounds and three assists, while making all four of his shots in a 110-106 win.
  • March 18 at Atlanta: In 27 minutes, Vonleh had the first double-double of his career, posting 10 points and 11 rebounds in a 113-97 win.
  • March 19 at Miami: Vonleh played 29 minutes, made 5 of 7 shots for 11 points and also grabbed seven rebounds in a 115-104 win.

Vonleh's advanced statistics also look impressive. Over the past 15 games, he ranks second in defensive rating at 101.2 points per 100 possessions. The Blazers' offense has scored 107.8 points per 100 possessions during that same time frame, giving Vonleh a net rating of 6.6, which is tied for second on the team with Nurkic.

During his first season and a half in Portland, Vonleh has often looked overmatched, confused on offense and defense. He's looked like a different player the past couple weeks, though, as if something clicked into place and he suddenly knows he can compete on an NBA court.

For a player like Vonleh, who came into the league with enough hype that he was drafted ninth overall, that's a very positive development.

If Vonleh could ever resemble the player many experts envisioned when he came into the league — a Grantland article before the 2014 draft called him a "physical marvel who has a knack for rebounding, who can score on the low block and shoot from outside, and who plays pretty solid defense" — the Blazers will have found themselves another solid building block.

Turner is back: Does that help the Blazers?

Turner returned to the Blazers lineup two games ago after missing 14 games with a broken right hand. Turner hasn't played well since he came back, averaging 4.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 19.5 minutes per game, while missing 13 of 17 shots. A slow start was to be expected, considering his time away from the court and the fact that he's wearing a brace on his shooting hand.

Turner's return hasn't seemed to throw a wrench into the Blazers' momentum. Even though he hasn't played well, the Blazers won both games since he came back.

Turner had a challenging start in his first season with the Blazers, but before he was injured, lineups with Turner were outscoring teams by 3.9 points per 100 possessions in January. He's a valuable role player for the Blazers. The injury didn't change that.

VIDEO: Will the return of Evan Turner help the Blazers?

WinnersView.com brings stories and statistics together to make you smarter about the sports and games you love.

 

In the WinnersView video above, their projection model for the NBA playoffs pegged the Blazers with a 26 percent chance to make the playoffs.

Chin up, Blazers fans. On Tuesday morning, other playoff projections aren't so pessimistic. ESPN's playoff odds have the Blazers with a 64.0 percent chance and FiveThirtyEight gives Portland a 74.0 percent chance of making the playoffs.

Blazers can tie up the Nuggets with Tuesday win

Because Denver lost Monday night to the Houston Rockets, 125-124, the Blazers are now a half game behind the Nuggets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

This means if the Blazers (32-37) beat the Milwaukee Bucks (34-35) on Tuesday night at the Moda Center, Portland will be tied with Denver for last playoff spot.

NBA CONFERENCE STANDINGS

The Blazers are in excellent shape to make a strong run at the playoffs, with 10 of their final 13 games at home, including Tuesday night's game against Milwaukee. Portland is only 17-14 at the Moda Center this season, but they have won three of their past four at home, with the only defeat a controversial loss to the Washington Wizards. In addition, only four of Portland's final 13 games are against teams with winning records.

The Nuggets play eight of their final 12 games this season on the road. Five of their remaining games are against teams with winning records.

At this point, the March 28 game between the Blazers and Nuggets in Portland looks like a crucial game for both teams.

KGW


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