Where Noah Vonleh’s been, and where he’s going

  • 06/26/2014 8:26 am in

When Noah Vonleh, all of 17 years, two months and 20 days old, signed his letter of intent to play for Tom Crean and the Hoosiers on Nov. 14, 2012, a visit to Bloomington the previous weekend sealed the deal.

“Cody Zeller, he was doing a lot of the guard drills,” Vonleh said at the time. “I want to do something similar like that. That just really stood out to me.”

Three months earlier at the adidas Nations championship game, a sixteen-year-old Vonleh was doing plenty of guard work on the court for USA Red 2014, but with mixed results:

It wasn’t until late in the game, when Vonleh stopped trying to dribble penetrate and went to the block for scores and rebounds, that he was able to force overtime, impose his will and bring his team a victory. He finished the game with 25 points and 16 rebounds.

This is the modern thought of talented teenagers at 6-8 or above with wingspans and size that once deemed them to the paint; they see Kevin Durant shining in the NBA, the positional revolution churning, and who can blame them for thinking: “I can do that … I want to do that, too?”


Between his adidas Nations play, seventeenth birthday and commitment to Indiana, Vonleh had reclassified from the 2014 to 2013 class, speeding up his basketball journey by a year; the groundwork of a fast track to the NBA had been laid. (The reclassification being a move du jour for recruits these days.)

After an 18-year-old Vonleh dominated in the preseason and saw mixed results as the Big Ten season went along for the Hoosiers (one that included an injury that questionably kept him out of two games late in the season) and no tourney appearance for the Hoosiers, Vonleh was reportedly leaning NBA after his draft stock continued to rise throughout the year. Another season in the candy stripes could have rounded out his game more and maybe even was expected when he came to Bloomington, but he would make an official declaration for the NBA draft on April 3.

It was the right choice.

Two months shy of his nineteenth birthday, with his former New Hampton School class of 2014 peers readying for college dorm life in the fall, Vonleh will be a high lottery pick in one the best NBA drafts in recent memory.

***

Vonleh wasn’t a good free throw shooter in high school and missed his first eight attempts from the line during two exhibition games for the Hoosiers. After that first exhibition game against Southern Indiana and an 0-of-5 performance, Tom Crean was steadfast Vonleh would figure it out. 

He was right. After the rough start, Vonleh would finish the season as an adequate free throw shooter (71.6 percent).

“If you noticed, I think most of them were long,” Crean said after the game. “He’s got such a long release because he’s so long and tall. His hands are so big that we went back and looked and there’s only one guy that’s gone through the NBA pre-draft camp in the last 12 years that’s got bigger hands all the way around and it’s Kawhi Leonard. It’s the only guy. We’re not ready for Noah to go run up to pre-draft camp, but when you look at the measurements, you got to work with that.”

But months later, there he was indeed measuring with the second-biggest hands on record, though that biggest hands distinction went to Greg Smith, not Leonard, according to Draft Express. Vonleh’s measured hands and length have had teams drooling

He also flashed range for his size. Vonleh made just one 3-pointer in the non-conference slate and didn’t shoot it consistently. But by the time conference season rolled around, he became a threat from distance when he had time and space to get it off, finishing the year as nearly a 50 percent shooter from 3-point range (48.5%, 16-of-33).

According to Synergy Sports, Vonleh was an excellent catch and shoot player, scoring 1.464 points per possession in such scenarios and was also strong in spot up situations (1.161 points per possession), though neither made up the bulk of Vonleh’s offensive work (just 13.9 percent of Vonleh’s jump shots came off a catch and shoot and nine percent of his overall play types were spot ups). 

He left Indiana as an improved shooter, though as Kirk Goldsberry at Grantland points out, his limited work as a shooter — and from an overall minutes perspective at just 26.5 minutes per game — still makes him a bit of an unknown commodity:

noahvonleh1152

Early in the year, Vonleh would take a rebound and look to go coast-to-coast. And he was sometimes featured in Indiana’s weave at the top of the key where he’d drive in the lane. But the bulk of Vonleh’s offensive load was on the block (29.3 percent) and via offensive putbacks (16.8 percent). He was a big for the Hoosiers, not a guard-oriented perimeter player.

Vonleh’s non-conference work around the basket was phenomenal. He showed a number of quick moves with ease over both shoulders and was flat out dominant, posting a double-double in his first four games and just a rebound shy of making it five straight out of the gate. Vonleh could also face up, make moves and score as well. He was best facing up off the left block for the season (1.188 PPP, according to Synergy).  

But as the competition improved and the conference slate arrived, Indiana’s offense continued to turn the ball over at a high rate and would be halted by zone defenses, often leaving a frustrated (and sometimes passive) Vonleh on the block, never to receive the ball. Against Michigan State at home in January, there was a concerted effort to get him the ball early, but it all faded as the game went along, and he’d end up with just four field goal attempts.

Foul trouble would crunch his time on the court in some Big Ten games as well, another factor in his overall minutes for the season.

***

So what exactly is Vonleh going to be at the next level? It’s a good question. Right now, the 18-year-old, who has leapfrogged Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon on draft boards since the end of the college season thanks to Randle’s injury and some strong workouts, is mostly potential. His offensive versatility and measurements make him a tantalizing prospect. It’s all there for him to blossom into a special player, but he’s so young and has so much to learn that it’s no sure thing.

Apparently he’s still got wing dreams:

It’s not inconceivable, and he’s certainly got the size and length for it, but I’m not sure if Vonleh has the lateral quickness or elite athleticism needed to coral the likes of LeBron James, Paul George and others on the wing night in and night out in the league. An early NBA comp for Vonleh was Chris Bosh and I think it still makes a lot of sense at this juncture with him still growing into his game. Bosh, before he turned into a corner 3 specialist this season in Miami’s pace and space offense, wasn’t the most athletic 4 in the game, but he was a strong rebounder and 20-10 type guy in Toronto, where he made his living on the block. Vonleh has the rebounding prowess (maybe his first skill that will immediately translate to the league, remember some of these?) and lower body for that kind of game.

But there’s no reason Vonleh couldn’t turn into a corner 3 threat like Bosh, either. As noted above, he showed some solid range in limited attempts from 3-point distance as a Hoosier. The shorter corner 3 has become increasingly valuable in the NBA, a league searching for offensive efficiency at the rim or from 3-point land and avoiding the mid-range jumper and long 2 like the plague. He could stretch the floor in that regard and be an option if his man cheats in off the corner to try and stop any pick-and-roll action that has found it’s way into the paint and to the rim.

What’s so interesting about Vonleh is that there’s no clear idea of exactly he’s going to be in the league quite yet. Is he destined for life as more of a stretch 4, a tweener, a pick-and-pop guy, a traditional power forward? Or will his ball skills, shooting and defensive skills improve enough where it can no longer be denied that a spot on the wing is his best NBA fit? Some combination of all this?

It’ll depend on a few factors: Team, system and coach, his work ethic and understanding of the game. Vonleh could be so much; we’ll have to wait and see where it goes.

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  • OhioHoosier

    Great article Ryan. I struggle to see Noah ever being a consistent three but maybe he could be a hybrid. However I cannot think of a great example of a true hybrid that has been overly successful in the league at the 3/4 that focused on the three and used to be primarily a 4.

  • No question Vonleh made the right move to go pro.

  • Hardwood83

    The right decision for HIM, what about the rest of us?
    Kidding, of course he did, but I Sure woulda loved to what he could do in second season with outside shooting threats.

  • SCHoosier

    Anybody else but me REALLY ready to have this draft over??

  • IUMIKE1

    Oh yea, there’s at least two of us !

  • CreamandCrimson

    Congratulations to Noah Vonleh on what will be a dream coming true for him.

    I wish him all the best and it’s time for him to move on to whatever NBA city chooses him and for us to move on and support the guys still wearing the Cream and Crimson.

  • Alford Bailey

    Yes, seems like its been talked about since this time last year.

  • Gregory Spera

    “…as the Big Ten season went along for the Hoosiers (one that included an injury that questionably kept him out of two games late in the season)…”

    I read this as a suggestion that his injury wasn’t legit. Which would, in turn, suggest that Vonleh may have dogged it during a crucial stretch of the B1G season. Is that your intent with the above sentence? Please clarify.

  • I didn’t read it that way at all. I think him missing the Ohio State game was a surprise and then the Nebraska game, if you remember, there was word he would play up until right before the game.

  • ForeverIU

    I think Gregory is referring to the questionable use of the word “questionably”. Obviously, it’s not the fact that he did not play that is questionable, leading the reader to question what is “questionable”, and therefore the conclusion that the decision to not play Noah might have been “questionable” in its intent, and thus giving fodder to the suspicious/skeptical imagination, lol.

  • Gregory Spera

    Thanks. Don’t remember seeing that before. Interesting.

  • Gregory Spera

    If the author had wanted to convey what you propose, may I suggest that he would have used a word like “unexpectedly” instead of “questionably.” I now understand that it was not the injury itself but Vonleh’s motive for missing the two game that was “questionable.”

  • CreamandCrimson

    Team executives believing that Vonleh sat out crucial games down the stretch because of concerns over his draft status plus the quote from the scout in Russillo’s article (wasn’t sure Vonleh wanted to leave IU) really makes you wonder about who was pulling the strings in February, March and April and what impact (if any) it had on the locker room.

    Last season was such a mess…glad there’s another one coming soon.

  • marcusgresham

    I tend to find the NBA draft for more entertaining than the NBA season.

  • ForeverIU

    Big Day: Algeria-Russia, USA-Germany, Ghana-Portugal, Belgium-South Korea, NBA Draft. Go Noah and the USA!

  • Alford Bailey

    Totally agree. Hey, anybody know when the NBA Finals start? Worthy on Bird, Chief on Kareem, can DJ contain Magic? Should be some great matchups.

  • Miamihoosier

    There is no MJ Kobe or Lebron lurking in this draft, and what’s sad, is I don’t think there is even a second tier super star like a Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Carmello. This makes the second year in a row, you could have the #1 pick, and get basically nothing out of it (especially if they went with Embiid or Wiggins)……boring. Gary Harris as a lottery pick? Yeah, he is going to do really well guarding Klay Thompson, Lance Stephenson, Brad Beal, Kobe, D-Wade, Eric Gordon, or pretty much any 2 guard in the league….even Oladipo will own him

  • Rie

    Yes, because then free agency gets even more interesting!!

  • Rie

    Every draft expert disagrees with you.

  • HoosierFanaticFromUSI

    Would love to see him go to the Magic and play with Dipo!!

  • Miamihoosier

    That was the story line all pre-season, but then Wiggins and Gordon had underwhelming freshman campaigns, Exum got dominated in international comp by the American kids, and Embiid started getting injured….the experts have cooled considerably. I’d say Parker is the best player, then Gordon, then Vonleh, maybe Marcus Smart has a Ben Gordon type career?

  • Rie

    Maybe read up on the draft a bit more; they have not cooled considerably. Your top guys are way off and the draft is still loaded. Also, how they play in college has no bearing on their projected NBA careers.

  • yimyames

    number 1 overall

  • Gregory Spera

    While the 2013-14 NBA season was considered the most “tankable” in years because of the supposed vast collection of talent in this draft, I also would not be at all surprised if, after all the media hype, it turned out, in the end, to underwhelm.

  • FinEndNow

    Wiggins was the highest scoring freshman in Kansas history. He developed really well and was constantly showing flashes of what could be. Wiggins is already an excellent defender and he has a good looking jumpshot. Once he gets the fierce alpha dog mentality then he can be an absolute star like a Paul George. If not then you’re getting a quite guy like Kawhi Leonard.

  • Miamihoosier

    “once he gets the fierce alpha dog mentality” what store do you buy mentalities at? Probably the same place you get those 6 inches of height that would have put me in the NBA……you have it or you don’t. He’s OJ Mayo.

  • Gregory Spera

    “He’s OJ Mayo.”

    Ouch. That’s just mean.

  • Miamihoosier

    How many of these guys are All Stars within their first 3 seasons?

  • Jersey Hoosier

    Careful what you wish for. Still Crean at the helm.

  • CreamandCrimson

    The day I’m not excited and glad for IU basketball to return and start a new season is the day I leave this Earth and meet my Father in Heaven. I don’t care how good or bad we are expected to be or who the coach is or isn’t, I’m always going to be excited for IU basketball.

  • CreamandCrimson

    6 more inches would have put you in the NBA? You must have been a heck of a player.