For the following three players, their NBA future is murky. But
they've shown enough at their recent stops to make them worthy of
another look from the league. If they can channel some promise into
production, they could make for the next great comeback story.
Noah Vonleh, the No. 9 overall pick from the 2014 NBA Draft, is
getting his next shot with the Boston Celtics. The Massachusetts
native has earned a training camp tryout for a team with open
roster spots and a need for big man depth. If Vonleh is going to
beat out Luke Kornet, Mfiondu Kabengele and Bruno Caboclo for a
spot in the rotation, he'll have to prove he can take his success
in the Chinese Basketball Association back to the NBA.
The 26-year-old averaged 15.0 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists
and 1.5 blocks per game with the Shanghai Sharks last season — his
first year overseas. He hit 38.0% of his threes on 4 attempts per
game, which is a combination of volume and efficiency Vonleh rarely
showed in the United States. The CBA three-point line is a bit
shorter, but Vonleh knocking down shots in this context is
nonetheless a positive.
Vonleh had to create more for himself with Shanghai than he
likely will need to in Boston. He hit 40% of his catch-and-shoot
threes, shot 46.7% on pick-and-pop plays and made 71.4% of his
attempts on cuts, per InStat Scouting. He's a capable passer out of
post-ups with some solid touch around the basket and a nose for
The desired version in Boston is a Vonleh who can come off the
bench and be a threat from behind the arc while attacking closeouts
and threatening defenses with his passing and short-range scoring.
At the same time, Vonleh has to clear a defensive bar to work in
the Celtics' switch-heavy scheme. We'll see if he can accomplish it
all, but the requisite flashes are worth giving him a shot.
There's got to be a situation where Kris Dunn fits as a
specialist piece. The 2016 No. 5 pick played for his fourth NBA
team, last season, appearing in just 14 contests with the Portland
Trail Blazers. Dunn hasn't picked up a contract or training camp
invite for next season, and I just don't understand how he can fall
through the entire league with some of his high-level skills.
Dunn is one of the better guard defenders in basketball. He
creates steals and transition chances with his length and strong
frame. He contains drives and rebounds surprisingly well for his
position. Dunn has moments of inconsistency and fouls a lot, but I
believe he'd be a tier below an All-Defense-caliber player if he
received rotation minutes.
And then, the offense... Yeah, he's a non-threat as a shooter
right now and a bit of a wild card as a creator. But Dunn's court
vision is extraordinary and he can create space for himself and
others with his handle and passing. This is not a Matisse
Thybulle-esque situation where Dunn is an offensive impediment. He
has enough positive moments worth buying into.
I foresee Dunn as a defensive playmaker who can at least set the
table and keep pace high during his rotation playing time. Maybe
there are too many valleys to warrant steady minutes. But he
absolutely warrants a look off of his defense alone, with offensive
upside still untapped.
Papagiannis played a mere 39 games in less than two seasons with
the Sacramento Kings and Trail Blazers before leaving the NBA
entirely in 2018. He was a stunning selection at No. 13 overall in
2016, and simply wasn't ready for the highest level of basketball
at the time.
Now 25 years old, Papagiannis is changing the trajectory of his
career. He made the All-EuroLeague Second Team this past season
with Panathinaikos in Greece, and averaged 10.3 points, 8.2
rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game in EuroLeague play. He shot 64.6%
from the field and showed all the tools of a low-usage, high-impact
center in the EuroLeague and Greek Basketball League.
Papagiannis has impressive mobility for his 7-foot-1 frame. He
often played in drop coverage or at the level of the screen, and
was able to stick with most quicker guards on their drives. Even
when he was caught out of position, like in the first highlight, he
recovered well and used his length to swat shots. Papagiannis'
sense of timing with his contests is pretty remarkable.
The elite shooting clip came from a heavy diet of roll-man and
cutting shot attempts in the paint. Papagiannis was one of the more
physically dominant bigs in his competitions last season. I think
he would be hard-pressed to find that same dominance against
bigger, faster and stronger NBA defenders. However, he definitely
has the rhythm of rolling down pat, and he's developing a floater
that could help him against rim-protecting bigs.
We don't know what Papagiannis' prospects are of making it back
to the U.S., or if the Greek center even wants to leave his home
country and longtime team. But he's certainly more polished than he
was as a young prospect and fits as a plus defensive player who can
maximize limited offensive responsibilites. Above all, it's just
good to see Papagiannis thriving as a pro when the NBA gauntlet can
often be demoralizing.