Noah Vonleh checks in at number five overall on my 2014 NBA Draft big board and it’s for good reason. Of all the true big man prospects in this draft, he projects as the second best two-way big behind Joel Embiid, my number one guy. The difference is that Vonleh will be a power forward at the next level rather than a center like Embiid will. That doesn’t mean that Vonleh can’t play center, because he can, but he shouldn’t be asked to do it for long stretches of time. I have him slightly behind Aaron Gordon on my big board but the two of them could almost certainly be interchangeable.
Vonleh is a 6’10” and 245 pound power forward with a 7’4” wingspan. That height, weight, and wingspan combo makes him an extremely intriguing prospect. When you add in the fact that he’s still just 18 years old and won’t turn 19 until two months after the NBA Draft, you can sort of start to see why scouts love him so much and tab him as a guy with incredible upside. He has the size, the age, and the game to translate into a force of nature in the NBA.
Offensively, Noah Vonleh’s game is developing but he features quite a few good things on that end of the floor. He’s able to use both hands effectively around the rim and even uses both on jump hooks which showcase his solid to good touch. On non-transition attempts around the rim, Vonleh was 66 of 114 (57.9%) this season. He was assisted only 21 of those 66 makes, which comes out to 31.8%. This is primarily because he scores 25% of his field goals at the rim on putbacks and shoots 71.4% on those shots. This is actually a higher mark that Julius Randle, a player I have way lower on my draft board. Randle, for the record, has had 20.9% of made field goals at the rim come on putbacks and he shot 70.6% on those attempts.
So, this shows that Noah Vonleh can be adept offensive rebounder and garbage man. But Vonleh is already a whole lot more than just that. He only took 81 total jumpers this season but he made 33 of them. While 40.7% isn’t a staggering number by any means, he actually showcased good form and range on his jumper. He was able to step out and knock down threes at a very high rate (16 of 33) and was a solid free throw shooter (71.6%) for a big man with a long wingspan. On non-transition jumpers, Vonleh shot 31 of 76 (40.8%) so he was just as good in the half-court as he was in transition as far as jumpers are concerned.
His length allows him to finish around the rim – to the tune of 57.9% on non-transition attempts – but he does have some problems finishing through contact around the rim. He could be a really good pick-and-roll big man in the NBA but a lot of that relies on his ability to knock down jumpers at a consistent rate, which he’s shown he has the skill to do, and his understanding of spacing and capacity to actually catch the ball when he rolls to the rim. His hands have been a little bit of a problem here and there but they should come along with time.
Vonleh averages 1.09 points per possession, 0.21 turnovers per possession, 0.99 points per play, but only got 10.4 possessions per game at Indiana. A lot of that was due to guard play. Indiana had guards who, at times, refused to dump it down low and looked for their own shots. By comparison, Julius Randle also averaged 1.09 points per possession but put up just 0.96 points per play despite having 13.8 possessions per game at Kentucky. They were also close on turnovers per possession. Randle averaged 0.19.
As far as offensive downsides are truly concerned, Vonleh’s footwork could use some work. He’s not comfortable operating exclusively out of the post and his footwork tends to get sloppy at times which really hampers what he wants to do against defenders on low post possessions. You can saw his rawness when he works in the post. He struggles to get his shot off against overly physical defenders, which is a problem for a lot of big men in college simply because referees let a lot of hard contact go down low, and it affects what he wants to do as the game goes along. Vonleh also tends to get a tad out of control when he tries to beat his man off the dribble. He carelessly leaves the ball out too far from his body and leaves him open to getting stripped on drives.
I mentioned earlier that he has problems catching the ball sometimes but it’s not because of an issue with his hands entirely. He’s just not ready to catch the ball sometimes and that might be because Vonleh didn’t actually think he was going to get the ball in certain situations since he was so used to the guard in the pick-and-roll taking the shot for himself. Still, though, you’d like to see more awareness out of Vonleh on the offensive end as a pick-and-roll big man despite being a good catch-and-shoot and pick-and-pop player.
As far as defense goes, Noah Vonleh has his good and his bad moments. He has the size and wingspan to be a dynamic defensive player and rim protector but he gets lazy and zones out from time to time. He can’t do that in the NBA or else he’ll be destroyed off of backdoor cuts, backdoor lobs, and drive-and-drops all game. He’ll become a liability there if he doesn’t pick up his intensity and intelligence. Vonleh also can lack poor situational awareness and body control which leads to him fouling more than you’d like. He averaged 3.9 fouls per 40 pace adjusted minutes, which is entirely way too high. But his rate statistics are good when you combine them. 3.3 blocks and steals per 40 pace adjusted minutes is pretty solid and a good indicator that he can be a disruptive defender going forward.
Vonleh’s a pretty solid post defender already and deterrent around the rim but when defending off the ball, as mentioned, he lacks the wherewithal to be locked in at all times. It’s hard to take a guy in the top five when he’s prone to bouts of complacency but you really do have to wonder how much of that was because of the guys around him. When you’re on a bad team, you can tend to get lazy and not try as much as you should simply because you feel like there’s no reward even if you do. But he has to battle through that and work the opposite mentality into his game.
Vonleh also has a problem of not playing up to his height and he tends to lack the raw explosiveness of a guy like Aaron Gordon. I mean, that’s not a fully bad thing since there’s so few Aaron Gordon’s out there but Vonleh plays below the rim a lot for a guy who has really good length and size. He relies on skill to score more than size so he’ll have to be taught to play bigger than he does now. He’s also going to have to get more leaping ability, which can be done, in order to finish a little more above the rim. And, despite being 6’10” with a 7’4” wingspan, Vonleh only played 41 shots this year with 28 coming at the rim. By comparison, Joel Embiid blocked 72 shots this year and had 47 come at the rim. You’d like to see Vonleh be more of a shot blocker but that should be able to come with more reps and time since he is so young.
I really do like Noah Vonleh as a prospect. I’m sure we’ve all heard the Chris Bosh comparisons thrown around and we’re probably all sick of them by now but that is who he could turn out to be. Bosh was a 6’11” power forward with a 7’4” wingspan when he came out. Sounds eerily similar to Vonleh. They had a similar body type, game, and everything else. In per 40 pace adjusted minutes during his only season at Georgia Tech, Chris Bosh averaged 19.6 points and 11.2 rebounds with 2.7 blocks and 1.2 steals on 56/47/73 shooting. Noah Vonleh averaged 16.5 points and 13.1 rebounds with 2.0 blocks and 1.3 steals on 52/49/72 shooting. Their numbers are similar and so too are their games in a way but Bosh was by far the more polished prospect coming out. Vonleh is gonna take some time and that’s just fine. The payoff could be huge.
I have Noah Vonleh fifth on my big board, which is why he’s the fifth draft profile I’ve done, and I really think he’d benefit from certain fits. For instance, I think that going to Boston and working with Brad Stevens would be fantastic for him. I hope for his sake that he doesn’t end up in Sacramento, Detroit, or Cleveland. Another good fit for him could possibly be in Philadelphia next to Nerlens Noel where they could be a potential twin towers for years to come. Also, Denver with Brian Shaw and the triangle offense could be good for him. Either way, Vonleh’s future is insanely high. But his floor, like Aaron Gordon’s, could also be insanely low if he doesn’t pan out. I have faith in the kid, though.
Draft Projection: Top 10
Upside Comparison: 2006-2007 Chris Bosh
Downside Comparison: 2011-2012 Anthony Randolph
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