After an up-and-down one-season stop at Indiana, Noah Vonleh is headed to the Charlotte Hornets. As some had predicted prior to Thursday night, the Hornets selected the Hoosiers forward with the No. 9 pick in Thursday night's 2014 NBA draft:
Vonleh had been linked to numerous teams near the top of the lottery throughout the process, with his stock largely dependent on how the top of the draft played out. The Magic, Jazz, Celtics and Lakers were among the teams most often mentioned with the Indiana product.
Doug McDermott, who was still on the board when the Hornets found themselves on the clock, was a popular selection for Charlotte in many experts' mock drafts.
A 6'9" power forward, Vonleh averaged 11.3 points and nine rebounds during his only season in Bloomington. Considered among the nation's best players out of high school, he went largely unheralded during the college regular season as Indiana scuffled through a disappointing campaign. Some wondered whether Vonleh might return for his sophomore season to put up better counting stats and enter the 2015 class—where he would have been a favorite for the No. 1 pick.
It turns out Vonleh made the right call. He impressed everyone at the scouting combine in Chicago last month, measuring with a freakish 7'4.25" wingspan, second-best behind Baylor's Isaiah Austin. Vonleh's 11.75-inch hands were a more than an inch bigger than any other participant and left quite an impression on social media.
While seemingly arbitrary, the hand and wingspan measurements allow teams to project how a player can affect the game with his length. Vonleh should not have any trouble getting shots up over bigger opponents, and the NBA's verticality rule will make him an interesting chess piece near the rim. He was a fine defender in college, but he should be far better deployed under a more regimented rotation system.
Oft-compared to fellow lottery forwards Aaron Gordon and Julius Randle, Vonleh is not at the athletic level of the former, nor is he as productive as the latter. He might be the perfect in-between combination of the two, though. Teams left the combine impressed with his 37-inch vertical leap, and while not the fastest or the most agile player, he can make up for his average lateral quickness with his length.
ESPN's Chad Ford ranked Vonleh fifth overall, a couple of spots ahead of Gordon and Randle. Separating that tier has been among the most difficult aspects of sorting out the draft as an evaluator, but my final board agreed with Ford's ranking.
Named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Vonleh brings a traditional stretch 4 skill set to Charlotte. Tom Crean rarely allowed him to step beyond the three-point line, but he hit at a 48.5 percent clip on a limited 33-shot sample. Vonleh took only 41 jumpers the entire 2013-14 season, though he ranked in the 98th percentile in points per possession, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required).
"Some people say Chris Bosh because he can step out and shoot the three," Vonleh told reporters of his NBA comparisons at the combine. "Paul Millsap. I’ve heard a little bit of LaMarcus Aldridge too because he can play inside and out. But I’m just trying to be my own player."
Vonleh may not like the comparisons. But the Hornets are going to hope those players become his NBA contemporaries. His usage on mid-range and three-point shots should see a marked uptick as soon as next season, with the Hornets looking to get Vonleh involved in pick-and-pop plays. Only 17 times last season did Vonleh attempt a field goal as a pick-and-roll man, per Synergy Sports.
It's unclear how much Vonleh's reliance on post-ups—nearly 30 percent of his possessions were logged as post plays by Synergy—was schematic versus his own preference. NBA teams are utilizing the post less than ever as a scoring mechanism. Expect Vonleh to concentrate on improving his jumper and to utilize it far more often.
Like an overwhelming majority of prospects, team defense concepts are a work in progress. Vonleh is a hard worker and rebounded well in college, though, so it might not be as steep of a climb for him as other underclassmen.
Watching film, you can get a very clear picture of what Vonleh could become at the next level. Even if it's not a Bosh-level superstar, Charlotte got someone who should start for a very long time.
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