Best-Case, Worst-Case NBA Projection for Indiana Star Noah Vonleh

Daniel O'BrienFeatured ColumnistMarch 17, 2014

Indiana's Noah Vonleh (1) moves the ball around Penn State's Donovon Jack in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Bloomington, Ind. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)
Doug McSchooler/Associated Press

News surfaced March 15 that Indiana freshman Noah Vonleh is reportedly "leaning strongly" toward entering the 2014 NBA draft.

Adrian Wojnarowski broke the story for Yahoo Sports, as sources told him of Vonleh's probable departure and the fact that the forward's inner circle has talked with some prominent NBA agents:

It's not too surprising that Vonleh is angling to make the jump. He stood out at Indiana from day one with his size and promising talent, and his draft stock climbed throughout the winter.

As his freshman season nears its end and the inevitable leap to the NBA approaches, we broke down his outlook for the next level. What are the big fella's best-case and worst-case scenarios in the Association?


Best Case

Vonleh is such a coveted draft pick because his best-case scenario in the NBA is a phenomenal scenario.

At just 18 years old, he already has an NBA-caliber body. His 7'4" wingspan and 240-pound frame could do a lot of damage at all three frontcourt positions someday.

Offensively, he doesn't have an advanced post game or exemplary footwork, so he won't be an immediate scoring machine. However, his application of simple low-block moves at Indiana indicates he's got the coordination and talent to develop into a real threat. His soft touch on the inside is accompanied by a great feel for rebounding.

Vonleh moves end to end gracefully for a big man, and his ball-handling skills are in the budding stage but could soon blossom. He also has a promising outside jumper, as he went 16-of-33 from beyond the arc in 2013-14.

His modest versatility in college doesn't automatically translate to him being an NBA Swiss army knife, but it does make him an enticing stretch 4 candidate and potential combo forward.

In an ideal environment, Vonleh could wind up fulfilling the duties of a 3, 4 and 5 throughout the course of a game. The small-ball nature of today's league suggests he won't play much small forward, but the fact that he could possess those skills would give his coach tremendous flexibility.

Defensively, Vonleh doesn't project to be quite as versatile, but his size, strength and mobility will enable him to cover any low-post player in the league. He needs to improve his discipline and footwork on that end, but it's likely that the hardworking teenager will vastly improve within the next two to three years.

Mid-lottery teams eyeing the young Hoosier know that his upside is in the All-Star vicinity.

Vonleh may not be a franchise-changing alpha dog, and he's not an upper-echelon athlete like Andrew Wiggins or Aaron Gordon. But he could reach stardom by being a double-double factory and a prolific stretch 4.

Realistic Best-Case Scenario: Second scoring option in his prime; star stretch 4; couple of All-Star appearances

Best-Case NBA Comparison: Bigger version of Chris Bosh/Harrison Barnes


Worst Case

LINCOLN, NE - JANUARY 30: Noah Vonleh #1 of the Indiana Hoosiers drives to the basket over Shavon Shields #31 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers during their game at Pinnacle Bank Arena on January 30, 2014 in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Image
Eric Francis/Getty Images

Thanks to his impressive physical tools and shooting touch, Vonleh's basement isn't too alarming. At worst, he's going to be a role player who can rebound and finish smoothly inside.

In January, Bleacher Report NBA Draft Lead Writer Jonathan Wasserman broke down why Vonleh offers much less risk than some of the other power forwards in the draft, including Julius Randle:

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. ... 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.

That being said, he's still pretty raw and frequently makes mental errors on both ends of the floor.

He's coughing up 3.2 turnovers per 40 minutes this season, as he sometimes loses the handle in traffic and forces ill-advised passes or shots. He'll undoubtedly clean most of that up, but shaky decision-making at the next level would limit his productivity and bring down his nightly value.

Vonleh's defensive discipline and positioning is also something he'll need to address, as he's foul prone in college.

I expect him to become smarter and a more alert defender in the NBA, but his lack of foot speed and explosiveness may cost him some fouls if he's not in perfect position.

In the event that he doesn't truly become an NBA-range jump-shooter and relies solely on physical tools defensively, he would fail to reach stardom. He would probably be a solid rotational player called upon to rebound and score eight to 10 points per game.

With this worst-case scenario outlook, we're admittedly nitpicking potential flaws, and that should tell you how attractive he is to NBA teams.

Realistic Worst-Case Scenario: Rotational player earning 15 to 20 minutes

Worst-Case NBA Comparison: Better shooting version of Ed Davis


Dan O'Brien covers the NBA draft for Bleacher Report.

Follow him on Twitter: @DanielO_BR.