Underclassmen are expected to dominate the lottery of the upcoming 2014 NBA draft. On Monday, Indiana freshman Noah Vonleh officially announced his intention to be one of them. This will make Vonleh the first player under Tom Crean to leave Indiana for the NBA after his freshman season. The last Hoosier to be “one-and-done” was Eric Gordon back in 2007.
Vonleh’s decision to enter the draft was widely expected. The 2013 McDonalds All-American came to Bloomington with his eyes on joining the NBA, hoping to follow in the footsteps of Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo, two former Hoosiers who were selected in the top four of last year’s NBA draft. Only 18 years old and with the skills to play the three and four, Vonleh is expected to have plenty of teams interested in him leading up to the draft. In recent mock drafts, Draft Express has him being taken sixth, CBSSports.com has him fifth, HoopsHype has him going sixth, and he sits at #7 on Chad Ford of ESPN.com‘s “Big Board”.
Despite Indiana’s (17-15) struggles this season, Vonleh managed to shine, although he was never the focal point of the team’s offense. Vonleh was only utilized in 22% of his team’s offensive possessions. He averaged 11.3 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 0.6 APG, and 1.4 BPG in 26.5 minutes per game. His slash line was .523/.485/.716.
While being recruited, Vonleh was listed at 6’8” and only weighing anywhere from 210-215 pounds. At that point, most scouts were predicting that his most probable future position would either be at small or power forward, but after just one year at Indiana, he’s put on 30 pounds. and also grown two inches. Now, according to Draft Express, he’s 6’10” and weighs 242 pounds, and has a 7’3″ wingspan. He still projects as a power forward, but could play center for stretches against teams with smaller lineups.
One of Vonleh’s biggest strengths right now is rebounding. He averaged 9.0 RPG which led the Big 10. Thanks to his tremendous wingspan and athleticism, Vonleh is able to move out of his area to chase down a lot of balls, and he’s particularly good as an offensive rebounder. At this stage of his development many of his baskets come off of misses near the hoop. Another aspect of Vonleh’s game scouts are in love with is his hustle. He’s not afraid to hit the deck for a loose ball, and he’s a very unselfish and team-oriented player, which is sometimes rare for young, heralded prospects like him. He’s also known as a gym rat and responds well to coaching, both of which are required for young players to achieve their full-potential.
Vonleh also looks very promising on the defensive end. He’s not afraid to bang in the post, and he’s able to get a lot of blocks thanks to his size and hands. He also has a lot of potential as a perimeter defender because of his wingspan and quickness. Vonleh can defend about any frontcourt position effectively. His defensive win shares was 2.0, good for ninth in the Big Ten, and his defensive rating was 91.7, good for fourth in the conference.
Offensively, Vonleh is much more of a work in progress. He still needs to expand and improve his overall offensive arsenal if he wants to become an effective scorer in the NBA. Most of his baskets right now come down near the hoop on drive-and-dish plays or off of misses, which is where his offensive rebounding skills come into play. As of now, Vonleh doesn’t have a go-to post move, but this isn’t that unusual for a player of his youth. In high school, Vonleh spent a lot of time playing on the perimeter where he dominated on straight line-drives to the hoop. He has also shown some potential with his jump shot. His form and mechanics could use some refining, but with proper coaching and effort he could become a decent jump shooter in the near future. Vonleh has shown the ability to knock down three-pointers, converting on 16 of 33 attempts. It’s his inside-outside potential that could make him an offensive threat in the league.
Vonleh has the tools to play a significant role in the NBA for many years to come, but it will likely take a few years before he can accurately be gauged as to whether or not he has the skill-level, assertiveness and offensive upside needed to develop into a star. But his size, length, and rebounding prowess, coupled with the fact that he won’t turn 19 until late August, will almost certainly mean that a team with a lottery pick will be happy to select him and wait to see how he develops in the NBA. His ceiling has been said to be comparable to Chris Bosh or possibly Al Horford. If he can approach the production of either player, whichever team drafts him will consider it a pick well spent. My best estimate is that he is off the board before Julius Randle (profiled here), and is taken in the four to six range.