How Noah Vonleh Can Become Charlotte Hornets' Next Star Player

Justin Hussong@@HeatChecksHussContributor IIIJune 29, 2014

Indiana's Noah Vonleh, right, poses for a photo with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver after being selected ninth overall by the Charlotte Hornets during the 2014 NBA draft, Thursday, June 26, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

One of the youngest players taken in the 2014 NBA draft has outlandish expectations, but Noah Vonleh has all the tools necessary to live up to them. The Charlotte Hornets had no reservations about pouncing on the lanky power forward once he surprisingly fell down to the No. 9 spot in the draft.

Just 18 years old, Hornets fans should be giddy at the prospect of Vonleh turning into this team's next superstar because it is very much possible. Charlotte didn't even work out the Indiana freshman because it was widely assumed he would not fall that far. Every team picking between third and eighth brought him in.

At no point during the Charlotte Bobcats' existence did they have a legitimate young star to build around. Emeka Okafor did not reach his lofty expectations. Kemba Walker started slow but is coming along nicely. Gerald Wallace and Jason Richardson were strong but not all that young. Don't even get started on Adam Morrison.

Vonleh and P.J. Hairston are two big pieces that now make Charlotte a profound threat in the Eastern Conference.
Vonleh and P.J. Hairston are two big pieces that now make Charlotte a profound threat in the Eastern Conference.Kent Smith/Getty Images

With the buzz coming back, this franchise needs a young star. Vonleh surely fits the bill with his jaw-dropping skill set and frame. He is a legitimate 6'10" and carries 247 pounds anchored by thick calves and a profound base. His legs do not look like they could disintegrate with one fell swoop like those of many other NBA big men.

Vonleh projects as a defensive stopper because of his 7'4" wingspan, good for second-longest at the combine. It helped him average a nice 1.4 blocks per game at Indiana.

Vonleh also measured out to have the second-biggest hands in the history of the combine. Package all that with a 37-inch vertical and Vonleh becomes one of the most complete athletic specimens at power forward this game has ever seen.

In one year at Indiana, Vonleh averaged 11.3 points and led the Big Ten in rebounding at 9.0 per contest. He canned 16 of his 33 three-point attempts and displayed a very diverse inside-out type of game that allows him to play in the low post, on the perimeter and take people off the dribble.

He did all his damage in just 26.5 minutes a night.

All the measurements and highlights get the fantasies flowing of a perfect world where Charlotte runs the Eastern Conference behind a well-balanced attack featuring Walker, Vonleh, Cody Zeller and Al Jefferson dismantling opponents from all over the court.

Just take a look at those hands. Don't act like you're not impressed.
Just take a look at those hands. Don't act like you're not impressed.Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

But, how can Vonleh become the first perennial All-Star in the era of Hornets 2.0?

On the court, the first thing that jumps out is the lack of a killer instinct. Indiana was not a very good team last season after losing Zeller and Victor Oladipo the year before, and although Vonleh's numbers were good, they could have been elite.

He is still growing into his body, but a reason why he fell to ninth could have something to do with that lack of a killer instinct. Vonleh is extremely soft-spoken by nature and has some people doubting whether he can eventually become a go-to scorer.

Vonleh is a good athlete but not an elite one. He still has a huge vertical and a freakish wingspan with hands the size of a bushel of bananas. What fans need to see more of that they didn't get at Indiana was the sight of him playing strong around the rim.

He fades away too often and needs to get above the rim and use his strong base and great touch more around the basket.

Right now, he seems to be relying much more on his length than he does on his natural athletic ability.

A lot of that could take care of itself as he gets more experience, but it is worth noting. Charlotte doesn't want him turning into a modern-day version of Chris Bosh and falling in love with threes. He can step out occasionally, but Vonleh will be at his best if he can hone his skills as a diverse stretch 4 by dissecting people with his face-up and post-up games.

Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe wrote an extensive predraft piece on all the pundits' thoughts and predictions regarding Vonleh, and corralled this notion from one NBA executive:

The thing that brings me pause a little bit is just his lack of experience, ... He’s young. And a lot of people love that. I love that. But if you’re going to draft him top-10 and you want him to help you today, he’s going to take his lumps.

Vonleh is also already 247 pounds, though none of that is fat. He will project to add more weight since he is just 18 and will have to learn to use it. A 260-pound player would be doing his team a disservice by spending too much time on the perimeter.

What the big man also needs to do is learn how to play defense without fouling and develop better low-post footwork. I wonder who could help him out with that?

Here is where we get to the realization that Vonleh might have fallen into the best possible situation for his career. Charlotte will have more resources available to him than any of the franchises in the first eight spots.

His frontcourt partner, Al Jefferson, is the guy every young big man should model his game after. There might not be a better one-on-one post scorer in basketball today.

Jefferson uses every move one could think of, including endless pump fakes, ball fakes, drop steps, jump hooks and an ever-improving jumper. The man has an endless bag of tricks in his arsenal, and there is no better player for Vonleh to soak up knowledge from than him.

A big reason Charlotte was so successful this season was because Jefferson finally turned into a noteworthy defensive anchor for the first time in his 10 seasons. How did he do that, you ask?

Jan 25, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA; Charlotte Bobcats assistant coach Patrick Ewing (left) talks with Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau (right) before the game at Time Warner Cable Arena. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

It just so happens that the then-Bobcats hired one of the best defensive coaches in the league in Steve Clifford. The whole team bought into his philosophies and schemes, resulting in some consistent winning in Charlotte for once. Vonleh has a nonstop motor, and you best believe Clifford will be figuring out ways to get the most out of him on that end.

It doesn't hurt that Charlotte also has Hall of Fame center Patrick Ewing on staff. He and some guy named Michael Jordan are very involved with the team, which should go a long way toward getting Vonleh the confidence to display that killer instinct. Even if he doesn't make an immediate impact, Vonleh will be soaking up everything he can from Jefferson and Ewing to make that footwork more polished.

If all of this becomes too overwhelming, he will also have friend and fellow IU alum Zeller right by his side trying to learn the same position.

Vonleh really hit the jackpot by landing in Charlotte.

People forget he was one of the truly elite recruits of the vaunted 2013 class, but he got very little publicity compared to guys like Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon despite posting very similar numbers.

Charlotte has to hope he doesn't slip between the cracks like he did on the NCAA landscape. This guy's talent is second to none, and it is important the franchise finally gets the most out of a top-10 pick for once.

Expectations for the team are now extremely high following the name change and last season's playoff appearance. Jordan has been mocked for a decade for drafting Kwame Brown and Morrison. We can't put all the pressure in the world on this 18-year-old, but for once Charlotte is actually in a position where it doesn't need to do that.

Vonleh will be eased into action and hopefully in a couple of seasons, the Hornets' next star will come to life.


Follow me on the Twitters @Hussington


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