Draft Prospect: Noah Vonleh

May 23rd, 2014 | by Ben Dowsett
Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images

Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images

With the draft lottery finished earlier this week, another piece of the summer puzzle has fallen into place, the Jazz slotted to select fifth in June.  It seems strange to see an entire year’s worth of expectation now represented in a single digit, and a predictable reaction is disappointment that Utah was unable to remain in the top four or even sneak up into a higher slot.  As per usual, some of the more outlandish responses are mostly out of place, such as the idea that any chance of drafting Jabari Parker has now evaporated1 or, even more egregious, the notion that drafting outside the consensus top four of Parker, Wiggins, Embiid and Exum makes it impossible to obtain a potential major impact player.

The perceived strength of this draft among knowledgeable folks since at least as early as November or December has been its great depth, throughout the lottery and even beyond.  Moreover, every year we see examples of unexpected events surrounding the draft – a name or two who skyrockets up boards in the weeks leading up, a supposed “sure thing” guy dropping several spots for whatever reason (Nerlens Noel comes to mind), or a head-scratching move by a front-office2.

In short: a ton can happen between now and then.  Chill back, Jazz fans – I feel your frustration, but far from all is lost.  It wasn’t anyone’s first choice, but the fifth and 23rd picks in the deepest draft in at least a decade is nothing to sneeze at.

That said, predicting how things might change before June 26th is an exercise in straw-grasping, and being slotted fifth does introduce the non-zero chance that Utah doesn’t get a shot at any of those four big names.  And while there’s no consensus fifth pick, one name that has begun to receive a lot of attention in recent weeks is center Noah Vonleh.

Coming out after a single year at Indiana, Vonleh projects as the sort of stretch big much of the NBA has begun to prefer over the last half-decade or so.  For starters, he already has a deft shooting touch for an 18-year-old:

Vonleh shot 48.5 percent this season at Indiana, albeit on just over one attempt per game – this number is obviously not sustainable over a larger sample size, but his form is solid and seems to lack any major bad habits, and he should become a legitimate floor-stretcher in the NBA barring a major regression.  He’s also capable as a mid-range shooter, both facing up from the post and coming out of pick-and-pops, and can make shots on the move:

Vonleh has drawn the most NBA comparisons to Chris Bosh, and while I’m typically not fond of our seemingly inherent need to attach a current NBA contrast to every single prospect3, many elements of their offensive styles are indeed similar.  They have the same body type, both with gangly long limbs and somewhat graceful styles for men that size.  Bosh actually took a comparable number of three-pointers in his year at Georgia Tech and had a similarly unsustainable percentage (46.8%), a fact many forget since he then mostly eschewed this part of his game until last season.  Vonleh also shows a soft touch in the post and around the basket much like Bosh, and continued progression with his jumper could see him become the sort of midrange threat the Heat big man has blossomed into.

Vonleh doesn’t have the same sort of explosiveness Bosh did at this age, but he’s far stronger than his wiry NBA counterpart, with a higher ceiling as a post player and rebounder.  He’s a bull down low on both ends, with a high motor and effort level that should endear him to his NBA coach right away.  He’s comfortable on either side of the block, with excellent handles for his size, effective jump-hooks from both hands already in the bag and a patience well beyond his years:

His footwork is average, though a little NBA coaching could easily push him up a level or two.  But perhaps most important of all Vonleh’s strengths is his rebounding – he averaged over 13 boards per-40-minutes in a tough Big 10 and is one of the elite rebounders in this year’s class.  His freakishly long 7’4.25 wingspan certainly helps4, as does an excellent nose for the ball and great box-outs.  His lack of vertical explosiveness will hurt him a bit here at the next level (more on this in a moment), but his ridiculously long arms and good rebounding instincts should signal an above-average NBA glass-eater, if not an elite one.

Vonleh has strong foot speed up and down the court, and his motor shows again here as he’ll frequently out-race his man down court for good post position.  He projects as a strong defender in the post given his strength and length combo, and these same assets have allowed him to produce above average steal and block numbers at his position.

But he may struggle as an overall NBA defender, and this touches on his largest potential red flag: his surprisingly low feel and basketball IQ.  One would never know it from the instincts he shows on the glass, but Vonleh, even for one of the youngest players in the draft5, lacks the sort of awareness that’s becoming more and more important in today’s game.  He’s sometimes a black hole, one of the worst passers in the class both by the numbers and the eye test, frequently missing wide open teammates to pursue difficult looks6:

Further, his general “feel” is often just off – he’ll shoot the ball at a strange time, inexplicably short-circuit a working play for his own tangents, and seem confused in simple situations.  This sort of thing translates over to his off-ball defense as well, where Vonleh will need some serious work to be a productive part of an NBA unit.  These situations are hard to predict; there are a number of reasons he might be behind here, some of which are fixable7 and some of which aren’t8.  The Jazz, and any other team looking closely at Vonleh, will surely do their best in the pre-draft process to determine the source of these issues and their potential ability to be repaired.

And as far as the Jazz go, of course, their interest level in someone like Vonleh will likely be tied to other personnel decisions, in particular that of Enes Kanter.  After a lukewarm year, Utah has until opening week in October to either extend the young Turk or risk opening him up to restricted free-agency in summer 2015.  A decision not to extend him this summer doesn’t mean he’s gone, of course, but this coupled with the selection of someone like Vonleh (or Julius Randle or Aaron Gordon) in June could signal that the Jazz have moved on from Kanter as their center of the future.  On the other hand, if Utah sees Kanter as a long-term piece, they’d likely go in another direction, though a three-big situation going forward is not out of the question if Dennis Lindsey and crew view Vonleh as far and away the best remaining prospect at the five slot and no beneficial trades arise.  Much of this hinges on whether or not they believe Vonleh can play center in the NBA or only power forward, a difficult question to answer at this point given his eclectic mix of strengths and weaknesses.

It won’t be an easy choice for the Jazz, and the one-spot drop to five has certainly made the picture many fans had envisioned a bit muddier.  But again, there’s no call for despair – Utah still has an advantageous position and many options at its disposal, and expect Lindsey to exhaust all of these before draft night June 26th.  Summer is coming, my friends9.

Ben Dowsett

Ben Dowsett

Ben Dowsett is a life-long Jazz fan and general sports fanatic based in Salt Lake City. He also writes for Nylon Calculus (Hardwood Paroxysm/Fansided Network), and can be heard on the airwaves for the SCH podcast and appearances with ESPN AM 700. With a strong background in both statistics and on-court fundemantals, he writes primarily as an in-depth strategic analyst. He can be found on Twitter at @Ben_Dowsett.
Ben Dowsett
Ben Dowsett

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18 Comments

  1. Thunderbear says:

    His vertical leaves something to be desired? That has to be the stupidest thing I have ever read on here. Having a 37″ Vertical weighing 250 lbs is almost unheard of. It puts him in an elite jumping category. You need to do a tiny bit of research before printing garbage like this.

    • Spencer says:

      Agreed, not problem with athleticism. I have not seen him play, so his inability to pass and have a natal feel for the game is a real concern. Everything else, though, screams elite prospect.

    • Ben Dowsett says:

      My apologies, you are correct that I made an error – while viewing Vonleh’s DX page, I accidentally read his No-Step Vert result (31.0) as his Max Vert result (you’re correct, it was 37.0). I’ve edited the piece to reflect this, but a couple things of note: first off, the fact that Vonleh is not, in fact, a below-average vertical leaper does not change the points I made using this info – Vonleh will still have serious issues as a help defender given his extremely low IQ, and finishing over NBA length is always a problem for big men under 7-feet tall regardless of their arm length or leaping ability.

      Secondly, while you’re correct that a 37.0 is indeed above average for his size and position, it’s not some kind of game-changing figure and honestly says very little about the points I was making using the info. You’re correct that I was remiss to cite it as evidence for my points, and I apologize again for this error, but others at his position in recent years who have registered a Max Vert within an inch of his figure include Cody Zeller, Kris Humphries, Carl Landry (with just a one-pound weight difference to Vonleh in his pre-draft measurements), and Marcin Gortat – I don’t see any of those guys on DPOY ballots or anywhere close, and once again, my point that Vonleh will struggle as a help defender isn’t changed by my failure to recognize whether a player’s combine measurement was above average or below it. Many well-informed folks (including Zach Lowe in a recent piece) have argued for the removal of combine measurements altogether, as they tell us basically nothing definitive about an on-court product (and again, I was remiss to cite them as evidence for a point in the first place).

      Finally, I think this just has to be said: You should consider your tone and the way you come across to people, man. I made a simple comprehension error that changed the overall point of my article in no way whatsoever. I write anywhere from 2,000-6,000 words per week for three different sites, almost completely without any sort of compensation other than my work being read by a larger audience, so my sincerest apologies if my singular error made your reading experience that awful. A simple “this bit of info is incorrect, you should consider editing it” would do just fine, as this sort of thing happens on the Internet every single day. Myself and other SCH staffers work hard to bring Jazz fans an honest look at things, and we frequently do so at the expense of our own free time – a little less violent arrogance and rudeness would certainly be appreciated next time. Thanks.

      • Thunderbear says:

        I’m sorry that I offended you with my tone. I felt that you are misleading Jazz fans with this article. It’s apparent that you dislike him as prospect and made many misleading statements. Chris Bosh Weight 225, lane agility 11.80, sprint time 3.30, Vertical 30.5″, Max Vertical 33″. Noah Vonleh Weight 247, lane agility 11.45, sprint time 3.28, Vertical 31″ Max Vertical 37″. Vonleh weighs 20 lbs more than Bosh and still showed better athleticism (explosiveness). There are many other misleading points you made also. I’m not trying to be a jerk but you should not be writing misleading information.

        • Ben Dowsett says:

          There seem to be some serious issues taking place with reading comprehension here, so let me spell everything out very simply. In no way do I dislike Vonleh as an overall prospect – I volunteered to Andy to write about him for my piece this week because I’m particularly intrigued by his prospects. You’re taking issue with two of the least relevant points I made in the entire piece, and you’re not even correct. As I stated above, very little stock is placed in combine measurements, and I stated my own error in quoting one originally (and error that has been removed). Read Zach Lowe’s piece on the lottery on Grantland – one of the most respected media members in the game saying there is “something like unanimity that the league needs to scratch the drills”. Further, even if you put huge stock in them (which no one respected does), Vonleh has 59 power forwards of 413 on DraftExpress’s archive with a listed Max Vert who either equalled or bettered his own Max Vert. This puts him just inside the top 15% – the top 15% of a category is elite to you, for a college prospect going to the significantly smaller talent pool in the NBA? Hmmmm. Further, guess how many of this top 60 in Max Vert were EVEN DRAFTED? 28, or less than half. You’re putting huge stock in that, enough to rudely accuse me of some bias I have no reason to maintain?

          When I made the Bosh comparison, not only did I very specifically note my disdain for these sort of 1-on-1 comparisons between NBA players and prospects, but I went on to quite clearly say that their OFFENSIVE STYLES are similar, which they clearly are. Beyond the “explosiveness” comment you seem to have so much issue with (I’ll get there momentarily, don’t fret), I was only complimentary of Vonleh within this comparison otherwise – I said he was stronger and projected as a better rebounder and post player than Bosh, if you care to read it above.

          As to the explosiveness comment, you should both go watch his prospect video on DraftExpress – in particular the section at the 14:00 mark titled “Explosiveness” listed under “Weaknesses”. They cite several video examples of his below-the-rim play due to not getting off the ground very quickly. Further, they note how this specifically affects his RIM PROTECTION and FINISHING AT THE HOOP (I made those big to make sure you read them, based on the comprehension issues earlier), the two issues I cited that you took issue with. Do combine measurements track these sort of things? Also within the video, they note his subpar lateral movement, another area that hurts his help D. I think I’ve put this issue to rest, specifically when we consider that coming out of college, Bosh was considered an excellent and speedy athlete. His DX profile describes him as possessing “elite quickness and leaping ability”. I, like most normal NBA writers, don’t have time to watch every college game for every prospect during the season, and my Synergy subscription doesn’t include college, so I utilize outlets like DX and other select sites for assistance to my own research. If you can find a better outlet that shows the above info to be incorrect, then more power to you. Somehow I doubt it. Think that one is put to bed.

          No, JT, there isn’t a PF at 6’10 who wouldn’t have trouble finishing over NBA length. This is a consideration for a team like the Jazz who might draft him to play center given his length, so I listed it. It’s unfortunate I have to explain every little detail of my thought process behind each item I list within pieces, but that appears to be where we are. I’d love to know which other “misleading facts” appear in my piece, from either of you. My piece which, by the way, is exceedingly complimentary of Vonleh and lists only a few downsides at the end. I worry about the things I listed, particularly the IQ item I listed as “his largest potential red flag”, but if he can make solid development on them, as I said in a comment below to the significantly more mild-mannered Spencer, I think he has the tools to be a big upgrade on Kanter. Both within the piece and the comments, I listed scenarios I felt plausible where the Jazz would select Vonleh as a long-term replacement for the guy they selected two spots higher three years ago. All of this, to you, somehow screams that I’m “misleading Jazz fans” in a negative manner about Vonleh? I beg to differ, as would anyone with good reading comprehension. I won’t be speaking anymore on this nonsense, I think I’ve cleared everything up well enough here on more than one occasion.

          • Thunderbear says:

            I’m going to explain to you why his athleticism is elite. Noah Vonleh weighs 247 and jumped 37″ in the history of the combine there have been 3 others within 10 lbs of that range that have done that. Two of them barely weighed over 240 and the other Miles Plumlee who is a center did the best in history. If it means nothing to do that at combine, how come so few in recorded history have done it? I go to many draft websites including Draftexpress as I am interested in the draft process and have been for years. Draftexpress is good at compiling databases and bad at everything else when it comes to the draft. I have read at least ten different scouting reports on him and have watched him play 7 times this season. Literally every scout says something different about him because scouts have different perspectives and bias. One thing that doesn’t lie or have bias is combine numbers. I feel like you did no research on your own but just copied the first scouting report you could find and attempted to pass it off as an informed piece.

        • casey says:

          THUNDERBEAR SMAAASSSHHHHH

          • Ben Dowsett says:

            Mr. Thunderbear, do you even read what the other person writes, or just wait for them to post words so you can repeat yourself? I’m done having my journalistic integrity questioned over a single error that was deleted over 24 hours ago, and which, for like the 4th time seriously, means SO little in the grand scheme of the piece I wrote. You are attacking me over nothing, with irrelevant info that no one cares about (yet AGAIN, NO ONE CARES ABOUT COMBINE INFO AT THE NBA LEVEL. If you were such a draft expert, you’d know this. Do some reading. I know this is asking a lot, clearly). I sourced video from 3 different sites and stats from 5, and I’m a broke 25-year-old so I apologize that I didn’t have the means to watch an Indiana freshman play in person multiple times this year. Seriously man, I feel sorry for you that this is something you choose to spend your time doing. It’s really sad. I’ll repeat, I do this job basically for free, asking no compensation beyond folks reading my work and perhaps being polite if they disagree with me, just like everyone else besides yourself seems to manage to do. If my work is that unsatisfactory to you, it sounds like you’ve got other places you can go, and in your case it certainly won’t be any skin off my back. Broke my own promise once already, but this time I really won’t be entertaining any more of this pointless, angry, unable-to-comprehend-simple-English garbage coming from you.

      • JT McKenna says:

        I agree with Thunderbear. It feels like you are trying to talk us out of Vonleh instead of staying neutral. A 37″ max vert is an ELITE number for a power forward. He also has ELITE length for his height. 6’9″ barefoot usually translates to 6’10 1/2″ in shoes, but he combine numbers only have him listed at 6’9″ 1/2 in shoes. weird.

        After Thunderbear overly bluntly points out your error, you decide to say that your point stands and that this long explosive power forward will have trouble finishing over length in the NBA. If there is a PF in this draft that WOULDN’T have trouble finishing over length, it’s Vonleh. You say that EVERYONE under 7 foot has trouble finishing over length, so if everyone has that problem, why even try to play it off as a negative?

        Vonleh is the only top PF in this draft that projects as a stretch 4, and that is no small thing when pairing someone to play with Favors, or even Kanter or Gobert.

        • Ben Dowsett says:

          Thought my response would end up below both of yours, my mistake. Pretend that’s where it is, it’s for both of you.

  2. Spencer says:

    Ben,

    While I like Kanter, I am not convinced that the and Favors are a good fit. (Plus Kanter is one of the worst passers I have ever seen as well).

    I really like the idea of Picking Vonleh at 5 and then trading Kanter for one of the many lottery picks apparently available and getting a wing scorer or combo guard, there are a ton of great options there.

    Smart, Payton, Lavine, Harris are all great potential combo guards; McDermot, Young, Stauskas, are all sweet shooting wings. Gordon is also a unique defensive talent.

    What do you think Ben?

    • Ben Dowsett says:

      Spencer, thanks for the considerate comment that felt no need to insult the author over a simple mistake, I appreciate it.

      My feelings here are mixed, but I do think that if the Jazz determine in their pre-draft process that Vonleh’s IQ issues are easily fixable, this would be an avenue I wouldn’t mind exploring. Vonleh has the tools to be a big defensive upgrade on Kanter and a similar player offensively, perhaps even slightly more valuable. I’m not too confident Kanter alone would fetch a first-round pick this year, but the Jazz have many assets in the chest (check out my colleague Dan Clayton’s recent piece if you haven’t, he does an excellent job listing and explaining them all) and could certainly attempt this sort of play. This kind of move, at least in my opinion, would likely be in an attempt to move into the mid-to-late teens, and someone like Payton, McDaniels, or Lavine all might be good options there.

      I have to admit, I’m low on McDermott and will not be particularly pleased if the Jazz end up drafting him. Comparisons to Kyle Korver are, in my opinion, badly off, despite the two certainly sharing some characteristics on the surface. I’m also unsure on Smart, though again I don’t think he would be an option for the Jazz if they went with Vonleh because I don’t think they have the assets to then trade for another pick high enough to also take Smart. I’d be just as happy to see them take Vonleh, then attempt to turn Kanter/the other two picks/another young asset (not Burks) into a pick in the teens, as I think a few of the names you mentioned will be both available and roughly similar options to Smart, at least in my personal evaluation.

  3. LKA says:

    First of all I would agree with the lets play nice comment
    A article from NBA.com says the Magic want a point guard and a big man. They feel if they take Exum first they may lose out on the big man. The reporter said they will take Vonley at the # 4 pick. Jazz take Exum (but the pick will be for another team.) Trade for Boston 6, 17 ?? They could get Smart/ Gordon, Anderson/Payton.. Bulls have pick 16, 19.. Could get both Anderson, Payton.. Suns have picks 14, 18, 27.. ONly if the plan to let Bledsoe go which I think they won’t . Bulls do this to get a great backup for Rose.. Celtics the same for Rhondo (SP??) Maybe another pick to be thrown in from another year also.. Myself I would try to move up instead of down. And let’s give Kanter a chance .. Corbin really gave him the short straw..

    • Ben Dowsett says:

      These are all certainly scenarios I think the Jazz would give at least a look to if they became available. The particulars would be important, of course, but I wouldn’t be opposed to a trade in either direction if they provided a more expeditious route to the team’s overall goals.

  4. Alexander Buck says:

    Vonleh is not a good leaper. I trust how players play in games over combine results and Vonleh struggled to get into the air in games. Vonleh is pretty close to the worst finisher at the rim in the draft and “elite” athletes with 9’0″ standing reaches would not have that happen.

  5. Alexander Buck says:

    By the way:

    Max vert:

    DWade: 34.5″
    Evan Turner: 34.5″

    Wade is one of the best athletes in NBA history, Turner has no athleticism.

  6. Jordan says:

    Ben, thanks for the article it was a fun read.

  7. Hey Ben! You did a great job here. I share the same concerns about Vonleh, while being hopeful that he succeeds in the NBA if he finds good coaching. I am incredulous that so many people tend to revere these prospects every year as the second coming of Wilt Chamberlin or Michael Jordan. I guess it can’t be helped.

    Anyway, I also enjoyed reading your comments in response to the criticism. Reading your thought process was instructive. Thank you! :-)

    Here’s hoping you get the respect you deserve in the future! I just followed you on Twitter. Looking forward to more.

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