NBA Draft

Why Noah Vonleh Is Safer 2014 NBA Draft Prospect Than Julius Randle

Indiana's Noah Vonleh, center, dunks the ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Washington Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013, in New York. Indiana beat Washington 102-84. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Seth Wenig/Associated Press
Jonathan WassermanNBA Lead WriterJanuary 28, 2014

Kentucky's Julius Randle versus Indiana's Noah Vonleh—it's a heads-up debate that will be going on in every NBA draft room. 

These are the big dogs of the freshmen and projected 2014 draft class—two strong, physical forwards with bodies of grown men.

As college athletes, one is more dominant than the other. Randle is the better pound-for-pound basketball player as of today, while Vonleh is the more raw, underdeveloped talent.

And because of that, their roles are vastly different for their respective teams. 

According to Kenpom's advanced stats (subscription required), Randle is used in 29 percent of his team's possessions, compared to Vonleh, who's used just 22 percent of the time. It's not to take anything away from Randle's game—he can flat-out dominate—but he's also getting a whole lot more touches in the offense. 

They're actually putting up very similar numbers per 40 minutes. Randle is the superior offensive player at the moment; however, Vonleh cleans the glass at a slightly better rate.

Per 40 minutes
Field-goal percentagePointsO-ReboundsD-Rebounds
Noah Vonleh.53619.24.411
Julius Randle.54322.65.39
Draftexpress

While Randle might be producing results in bigger bulk, Vonleh is right there with him in terms of per-minute production.

Still, I'll admit that Randle is the better one-on-one scorer at the college level. But there is definitely concern regarding how well his style of play will translate, given his one physical flaw that sticks out in NBA scouts' minds.  

Randle's arms are short. You often hear length or wingspan listed as a strength for many prospects. For Randle, it's a potential red flag. 

Take a look at how Randle's measurements stack up against Vonleh's:

Measurements
HeightWingspanWeight (lbs)
Noah Vonleh6'10''7'4''240
Julius Randle6'9''6'11''250
Draftexpress

Vonleh is an inch taller and five inches longer than Randle, whose wingspan is shorter than most 6'9'' power forwards. 

And the concern over his length gets enhanced when you blend it with his minimal upward explosiveness from a stand-still position. He plays below the rim in the half court. 

And short arms and underwhelming lift doesn't seem like the best combination to bring to the NBA interior. 

He lacks that trampoline-like bounce that springs players up and over traffic for easy finishes. 


ESPN


ESPN

We've also seen Randle become over-reliant on strength. He operates in bully mode full time, which works against certain teams, but it can also lead to forced shots and turnovers. Randle is actually coughing it up 3.2 times a game, an awfully high number for a big man. 

He tends to recklessly attack traffic by trying to plow his way through it.  

Randle is going to have to work on his finesse game to complement the power approach he operates with possession after possession. 

On the other hand, while Vonleh doesn't have as many go-to or counter moves, he's almost always able to cleanly release when given some space to work. Despite lacking polish, something he'll add, Vonleh still scores one-on-one in the paint thanks to unteachable instincts, quick feet and a great feel for the rim.

And with that 7'4'' wingspan and high release point, Vonleh can play over the defense, as opposed to having to fight through it like Randle. 

Vonleh uses about half the energy Randle uses to get his shots in the post. That's a 7-footer he's scoring against below:


ESPN

Once Vonleh improves his footwork and refines his post moves, he's actually got better tools to deliver them than Randle.

And based on what we've seen at Indiana, he's got a good idea of what he's doing out there. It's only a matter of time before he develops into an option you can consistently feed in the post. 

Offensively, he's also shown some touch on the perimeter as a stretch option, something we haven't quite seen from Randle, who's made just two three-pointers on 11 attempts. 

Vonleh has already hit 10 threes on 18 tries, and he sports a confident, compact stroke off the catch. There's no question his jumper is going to be a weapon for him in the pros as an inside-outside threat, the way it's been for Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh, a player with similar size and skills. 

And whether the questions surrounding Randle's offensive game bother you or not, there's no debating who's got the better defensive tools. 

Randle hasn't made much of an impact on the defensive end, which you can probably attribute to a combination of short arms and below-average awareness. 

Look at how few plays he's made on the defensive side of the ball so far: 

Defensive Impact
MinutesStealsBlocks
Noah Vonleh5002025
Julius Randle557515
ESPN

Those numbers seem strangely low for any big man getting significant minutes, never mind a projected top-five pick.

Kevin Pelton of ESPN highlighted (subscription required) the troubled history of players with poor steal rates, and the names aren't pretty. 

Whether Randle ever evolves into a hard 4 or a combo forward like Lamar Odom, defense does not project as one of his strengths at the next level. 

At the end of the day, when we're talking about top-10 picks, the less questions the better. And Vonleh checks out across the board. 

He has the ideal size, strength and length to seamlessly transition to the NBA's interior, along with a promising inside-outside skill set that's improving before our eyes. He's also earned the reputation for being a coachable, hard-working kid who lives in the gym. 

“Some guys are great workers, some are great athletes, some are high, high-character kids," said Vin Pastore, Vonleh's AAU coach, per Zach Osterman of Indystar. Some are very intelligent. Noah is the one guy I’ve had in my career that had everything. Noah has it all.”

Both Randle and Vonleh are terrific prospects destined for the NBA lottery. Randle might ultimately offer more reward if he's able to hit his ceiling. His athleticism and ability to put it on the floor and attack gives him a dimension of versatility that Vonleh doesn't offer.

But it's Randle who'll likely have more bullets to dodge on his journey to reaching his ceiling.

At this point, I'm taking Vonleh, whose ceiling might sit a story lower, but the ride to get there could be a whole lot smoother. 

I'm not even sure their difference in upside is all that much, especially if Vonleh's perimeter game continues to expand. I just have less questions to ask about Vonleh's transition, which to me, makes him the safer pick on draft night.

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