Noah Vonleh is the next big name in line on my series documenting the likely stars of the 2014 NBA Draft. As with before, comments, criticism, and disagreements are very much welcome. Everybody sees players differently (see: Hasheem Thabeet, Andre Drummond, Shabazz Muhammad), and it always interesting to get other opinions.
BACKGROUND: Noah Vonleh is a 6'10", 240lbs power forward from New Hampshire. He was a McDonald's All-American his senior year in high school and chose to attend Indiana University over other high-profile colleges (including UCLA and Kansas). Vonleh is generally one that has stayed out of the spotlight, avoiding the use of Twitter or other social media options. A former top-15 high school player, Vonleh was a bright spot in a rough Indiana season. He is expected to enter the draft as a freshman.
- Size and Length. Vonleh has solid size for an NBA power forward (6'10", with some saying he is just a shade under at 6'9.75"), but he seems much taller with his 7'4" wingspan. Unlike many bigs, Vonleh uses his length effectively in most scenarios (rebounding, defense, etc.)
- NBA-Ready Body. From a physical standpoint, Vonleh is ready to play in the NBA right now. At 6'10" and 240lbs, he is very sturdy and uses his strong upper and lower body well. He not afraid to get physical on the inside, and his strong frame helps to make him a bruiser.
- Fantastic Effort and Very Coachable. If Vonleh isn't good at something, it's not for lack of effort. He is always diving after lose balls, going after rebounds, and giving his all on both ends of the floor. Vonleh also has a great motor, so his effort will not wane as the game gets longer. Where he continues to stand out is his willingness to be coached. Vonleh is a great kid who, although quiet, has no problem learning and being taught. Commitment is not something of Vonleh's that needs to be questioned.
- Excellent at Rebounding. Rebounding is probably Vonleh's biggest attribute. He is very active on both the offensive and defensive glass (leading the NCAA in per-minute rebounding at about 15 per game), and as mentioned before, goes all-out to get the boards (this includes crashing the glass hard from the perimeter if he happened to be out there). He is also fundamentally sound, ensuring to box out his man every time.
- Solid Jump Hook. Vonleh's offensive game is still raw, but he does have a trusted jump hook that he can hit on a consistent basis. He can make it with both the right and left hand, and he is generally under control when attempting them.
- Smooth Jump Shot. Vonleh has a smooth and fluid jump shot that he can hit consistently. He has also shown a surprising ability to make the three, shooting 51% for the season (although only attempting about one per game, so it is a small sample size). He will likely have no problem making outside shots in the NBA.
- Good Man-to-Man Defense. Vonleh has shown a great ability to defend opposing post players effectively. He does an excellent job at using his length by continually keeping his arms straight up in the air, making it difficult for opponents to make a shot over his large wingspan. With a strong upper and lower body, combined with his length, scoring on him in the post will always be a difficult assignment.
- Aggressive and Physical. Vonleh has the physical tools to be a rough and aggressive player, and he uses them to his advantage. He has no problem banging other guys around deep inside the paint and is willing to be physical with others. He uses his tenacity, as mentioned before, to snatch rebounds, as well as to keep a good defensive stance against post players and to score inside with his trusty jump hook. He will not have a problem with physical play in the NBA.
- Low Defensive IQ. Vonleh may always put in the effort, but he has a long way to go on the defensive side of the ball. He just simply appears lost defensively far too often, unsure of where to go and what to do. Vonleh has struggled mightily with regards to figuring out when to double team, when to play help defense, when to watch the weak side, when to challenge shots, and so on. Too often, Vonleh is found out of position from where he should be. He is good one-on-one, using his length effectively (although he does bite on pump-fakes a little too much), but other than that, he has quite a bit to learn about defensive concepts and schemes.
- Poor Basketball IQ in General. Vonleh's defensive IQ is more obvious than anything, but he also lacks a good basketball IQ overall. He has a difficult time seeing the floor, is unsure of when to attack and when to pass, and is at times just unaware of the situation (i.e. catches the ball 2 feet from the basket with nobody close to him, but decides to quickly pass it back out without even looking at the basket). Excessive fouling and turnovers are a big problem for him as a result. He is only a freshman in college, but it is not known just how quickly he can progress his IQ. This is certainly a big concern looking forward.
- A Black Hole on Offense. As a result of a low basketball IQ, Vonleh too often ends up being a black hole on offense. Because he doesn't see the floor well at all, he will end up being a little too reckless and attack a set defense hard, drawing offensive fouls easily. He doesn't seem unwilling to pass and make the right decision, but rather just confused at when to do so. At this stage of his career, passing Vonleh the ball will almost certainly result in him trying to make a play, whether the play is there or not.
- Raw Offensively. Like most big men, Vonleh is certainly raw on the offensive side of the ball. He does possess a nice jump hook, but that and a good jump shot is about as far as his repertoire has come. His footwork is lacking and needs improvement if he wishes to continue building his low-post game. Vonleh appears to be a slow learner and will likely need much time to become a more competent offensive weapon.
- Poor Leaper / Shot-Blocker. Vonleh is not a good jumper, and as a result, is just a decent shot-blocker. He relies more on his length to get the job done, making him more of a below-the-rim type of player on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball (which is not very promising for someone 6'10"). While he does average 1.3 blocks per game, that statistic will likely diminish once he plays in a league full of players who finish above the rim (for reference, DeMarcus Cousins also averages 1.3 blocks per game). He's not a bad shot-blocker, but he's not what is commonly known as a "shot-blocker." Again, the effort is there, just not always the ability and results.
OVERALL ASSESSMENT: Upon first glance, the 6'10" and 240lbs Noah Vonleh is a physical specimen, one who would appear to be very athletic and a great shot-blocker with his length. Those assumptions, however, are what have gotten him more attention than he probably deserves. Vonleh is a strong, lengthy, and determined player who is always going to give you his full effort and be a fantastic rebounder, and those player just don't come along every day in his kind of body. What he isn't, however, is a defensive force (at least not yet) and a great jumper. In many ways, Vonleh bears a striking resemblance to Jason Thompson: Both were 6'10 or 6'11 power forwards who possessed a solid outside jumper, an excellent rebounding ability, gave 100% effort, had a great work ethic, a great rebounder, great length, and a low basketball IQ. Vonleh isn't as quick and can't see the floor nearly as well as Thompson (who grew up a guard until a late growth spurt), but he is longer and much stronger. Thompson is also a better leaper, and he isn't exactly a world-class jumper. Some comparisons that have been made are Jamal Mashburn and Wayman Tisdale, although I did not get a chance to see either in their prime to judge those comparisons. As mentioned, Vonleh is very similar to Jason Thompson in many ways, and while Vonleh has a higher upside, I feel that a likely outcome is simply a slightly different version of Jason Thompson (more focused on strength rather than quickness and speed, and a better post-defender). Vonleh is one of the most interesting cases in this draft, and it is difficult to tell just how far and fast he can develop. At times he shows great shot-blocking skills, a promising low-post game, and defensive awareness, but then those will drop off a cliff in the next game. If he does continue to showcase his skills and improve defensively, he could certainly be a solid 14ppg, 10 rebound, and 2 block kind of guy.
All-around highlights of Vonleh. Shows his trusted jump hook, his ability to hit the outside shot, and his continual effort.
A great video showing Vonleh against a very talented Syracuse team. Vonleh displays a little bit of everything here, from good shot-blocking, nice jump hooks, and aggressiveness to offensive fouls and questionable decisions.