As the 2014 NBA draft draws nearer, Noah Vonleh's stock climbs ever higher.
The 18-year-old colossus barely spent any time at Indiana, but scouts and executives can't get enough of him. They're attracted to his size, intrigued by his skills and enamored with his future.
So enamored, in fact, that there's a chance he hears his name called in the top three on draft night.
That's not a knock on his upper-lottery competition. Rather, it signifies how valuable Vonleh is, even in a draft as stacked as this one. He passed the eye test during his lone college season, and he's crushing the eye test during pre-draft measurements and workouts.
Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker remain the front-runners for the top spot, but there's a chance someone else could crash the top-three party. And Vonleh's chances are as good, if not better, than any other outsider's.
Darius Soriano of ESPN TrueHoop network's Forum Blue & Gold pegs Vonleh as the fringe top-five pick who has a legitimate shot to vault into the elite fray:
I guess the bigger question is if anyone will leapfrog into the top 3 who was not slated to go that high a month ago.— Darius Soriano (@forumbluegold) June 5, 2014
For some reason, I see Vonleh being the guy who could make that leap. Seems like a guy who has all the tools that will excel in workouts.— Darius Soriano (@forumbluegold) June 5, 2014
And he has indeed excelled in recent workouts. He's put his 7'4" wingspan and 247-pound frame to good use with a 37" vertical and impressive inside-out skills.
Scouts already knew he could finish above the rim with ease, and his 13.6 rebounds per 40 minutes as a freshman speak for themselves. But during the workouts, he's proved that his 2013-14 three-point shooting was no fluke and, perhaps more impressively, that he's agile and can dribble-drive, too.
Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge could tell Vonleh handled the ball during high school. He explained to Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe: "One thing you can see from him in high school is he can handle the ball a lot. He played center this year in Indiana, but he played on the perimeter in high school. He can actually dribble pretty well."
These inside-out tools give him a bright future due to versatility, and they also make him a rare commodity as a true stretch-4 candidate.
"In a league that is hungry for stretch 4s who can provide critical spacing, Vonleh is a unique prospect," wrote ESPN's Chad Ford (subscription required).
Upside is a huge buzzword, but most players labelled as "upside" picks also have a great deal of risk attached to them. Early-to-mid lottery picks such as Dante Exum and Julius Randle fit that billing.
Vonleh is a notch safer. His sheer size and ability to deal with length on both ends of the floor give him a better chance to make a consistent impact. That blend of potential and dependable qualities gives him a shot to surprise people and crack the top three on draft night.
He's been widely projected to land with the Utah Jazz at No. 5, and some mocks even have him edging out Exum at the No. 4 slot. But as recently as June 4, Matt Moore of CBS Sports predicted him to land at No. 3 with the Philadelphia 76ers (mock has since been updated).
If Wiggins and Embiid go first and second, it's entirely possible that Philly could value Vonleh's upside more than Parker's. Parker is viewed as an ultra-safe pick who will be a great scorer, but he's not necessarily seen as a franchise savior.
Moore isn't the only one who believes Vonleh is a top-three-caliber pick. Several scouts think he should be in the mix right at the top:
Noah Vonleh drawing serious praise from NBA execs after a workout in NY on Wed.— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) May 30, 2014
Said another "Vonleh's got elite physical tools and is very skilled. He should be in the same group with Wiggins, Embiid, Parker & Exum"— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) May 30, 2014
In addition, ESPN's Jay Bilas (subscription required) is really high on Vonleh and even references the value of size and hands comparable to the freshly crowned 2014 NBA Finals MVP:
"Athletic, skilled, freakishly long (in a good way) and hands the size of Kawhi Leonard—Vonleh has it all," said Bilas. "He can step away and shoot it, and he is a high-volume rebounder. As he adds to his post game, Vonleh has the chance to be a complete player in the NBA...has the chance to be a special player."
If Vonleh's stock goes higher than it already is, it only increases the chance that the Sixers would consider him at No. 3, or that a team would entertain trading up for him. This would necessitate somewhat of a dent in Parker's stock, but it's nonetheless a possibility.
Again, Parker is a tremendous prospect, as are studs like Exum, Randle, Aaron Gordon and Marcus Smart. But Vonleh's low-post length and two-way versatility offer a unique treasure trove of assets.
He started the year as a sleeper to sneak into the lottery. Now, he's a sleeper to shake up the entire draft and land right near the very top.
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