Why Noah Vonleh Is the Most Underappreciated Top Prospect in 2014 NBA Draft

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterMarch 28, 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

We know about the rock star names in this year's projected field: Kansas' Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, Duke's Jabari Parker—even Australia's Dante Exum.

These are the guys who are supposed to make the 2014 draft class worth tanking for. 

Occasionally, you'll hear Noah Vonleh's name come up in the draft conversation—but it just never seems to hold much weight.

Vonleh just announced he'll be entering the draft, per Gary Parrish of CBS Sports, after an efficient yet somewhat quiet season at Indiana. 

Having received limited minutes and a minimal role as a freshman on a mediocre team, Vonleh was never put in a position that would allow him to really take off. But he capitalized on the opportunities that came his way, while flashing eye-opening NBA potential in the process. 

When you consider where he's at in his development, the tools he has to work with and the room he has to grow, I'd say Vonleh might be the most underappreciated prospect in the class.


NBA Body

At 6'10", 240 pounds with a 7'4" wingspan, he's got the height and length of Kevin Durant with the frame and strength or Chris Bosh. Given his skill set and position as a power forward, I'm not sure he could have asked for a better set of physical tools. 

He's got a body that's built for the NBA paint. Despite playing less than 27 minutes a game, Vonleh still led the Big Ten in rebounding. He takes up a ton of space inside, and he's got the foot speed to match his size. 

Vonleh isn't overly explosive, but his level of athleticism supports the specific game he likes to play.

From a physical standpoint, there's really just nothing to question, and plenty to praise and admire. Only he's not just straight physical tools—Vonleh already has a legitimate offensive game to go with them. 


Where He's At

Though raw is the term typically used to describe Vonleh's current state, he's a lot more skilled than he's given credit for. 

He lacks polish, as do most kids his age, but the skill set he's flashed could carry him a long way in the pros if he's able to nail it down. 

Vonleh has a natural feel in the post with his back to the basket, where he can create high-percentage shots for himself with either hand. Vonleh's footwork isn't flawless, but he knows what he's doing out there. 

We've seen everything from drop-steps and hop-steps into fadeaways and jump hooks, to Vonleh facing up and attacking his man off the bounce. 

Arguably the most promising development with regard to Vonleh's game came later in the year. He started knocking down jumpers with comfort and consistency. Vonleh actually has a really good-looking outside stroke, and one he seems quite confident in.

He nailed 16-of-33 three-point attempts this season—a great sign for a big man at an early age. 

At this stage in Vonleh's development, he's proficient in the post, a threat from outside and an overwhelming presence on the glass. And he's got the physical tools—size, length, strength—that should allow him to play his signature game in the pros without having to make any major adjustments. 

And did I mention he won't be 19 years old until August?

Dec 10, 2013; Bloomington, IN, USA; Indiana Hoosiers forward Noah Vonleh (1) shoots over Oakland Golden Grizzlies forward/center Corey Petros (42) during the first half at Assembly Hall. Mandatory Credit: Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports
Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports


Room for Growth

Maybe the scariest note about Vonleh is that he's only 18 years old—almost a year younger than Kentucky's Julius Randle and a year-and-a-half younger than 20-year-old Joel Embiid. 

I'm just trying to picture what he'll look like with five more years of training and maturing. And at that time, he'll still only be 23.

Compared to some of his expected draft-day challengers, he might already be a step ahead in terms of his game being ready to translate. 

While Kentucky's Randle relies on strength to score inside, and Arizona forward Aaron Gordon leans on his high-flying athletic ability, Vonleh taps into calculated moves that the other guys don't quite have. 

These moves aren't fully refined, but the fact that he's got them in the arsenal is what counts at 18 years old. With a few years of fine-tuning and a little trial and error, Vonleh has the potential to pose as a go-to option in an offense, a stretch option on the perimeter and a team's leading rebounder. 

I really like Chris Bosh as a ceiling projection. Vonleh is currently our No. 5 prospect on our 2014 Big Board and our No. 1 power forward in the class. 

"I've heard the fourth pick to the 12th pick is wide open," Vonleh told CBSSports' Gary Parrish. "[I think I'll be selected] anywhere in that range."

Without any questions regarding his physical tools, position, talent or worth ethic, the only one to ask is how long it will take him to hit his stride.