Noah Vonleh’s physical tools intrigue NBA teams
The hands. The arms. The legs.
Haverhill native Noah Vonleh is thought of for more than just those appendages, but they’re usually how every conversation about the 6-foot-10-inch forward begins.
And they also are a key factor why Vonleh is projected as a top-10 pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft after one season at Indiana University.
First, the hands — they measured 11.75 inches at the Chicago draft combine, second all-time in combine history to Greg Smith (12 inches).
At one point during the combine, NBA Hall of Fame big man and former Celtic Wayne Embry, who also has a rather large set of mitts, came up to Vonleh.
He wanted to compare hands.
“Oh my God,’’ Embry said of Vonleh’s fingers. “They’re longer.”
The soft-spoken Vonleh blushed.
“We’re about the same size,’’ he said.
“Dr. J and Connie [Hawkins] used them well,’’ Embry said, referencing two NBA greats known for their huge hands. “So you use them well, son. OK?’’
Vonleh also boasts an impressive 7-4 wingspan — and a strong base to boot.
As an Eastern Conference scout said, “Big trunk, huge legs. Big calves.”
Said an Eastern Conference executive, “He’s got the prerequisite size and length. His legs are enormous. They’re like tree trunks. His arms and hands, they kind of look fake for how big and long he is.”
In all, Vonleh’s physical tools are tantalizing, as is his age: 18.
He won’t turn 19 until late August.
“For someone that young with the skill set and size and how hard he plays, I don’t think you miss with him, unless he’s absolutely, totally messed up inside in the head, which it doesn’t seem like he is,” the scout said.
“Again, with his youth, you have a piece of clay. You have an unfinished product, and you’re going to be able to mold him any way that you want, and I think there’s a ton of value in that.”
Youth isn’t always viewed as a positive, though.
“The thing that brings me pause a little bit is just his lack of experience,” said one Eastern Conference executive. “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 averaged 11.3 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks at Indiana. But he also made 16 of 33 from 3-point range (48.5 percent), proving that he’s more than just a back-to-the-basket big man.
“I think what you’re going to see from him, even though you didn’t see it in college during games, is when you saw him warming up — he’s got a face-up game,” said a Western Conference scout.
“I think you’re going to see a true [power forward] and I think a guy who’s probably going to be able to step out and knock down a corner three in his first couple years in the league.”
The scout added, “He’s got to learn position defense and how to play in space and play through contact, but I just think his upside is tremendous.”
Vonleh played for Pete Hutchins at New Hampton School, a prep school in New Hampshire, and before that for Haverhill High, where by his sophomore season he was averaging 18.4 points, 17 rebounds, 7 assists, and 5 blocks.
He also opened some eyes at a national prep championship tournament by hitting a game-winning shot over Tilton star Nerlens Noel, a 6-10 center who went to Kentucky and is now with the Philadelphia 76ers.
At New Hampton, Vonleh was a McDonald’s All-American and ranked as the No. 7 high school recruit nationally in the 2013 class by scout.com, but there’s a strong belief he didn’t show what he was capable of during his short time at Indiana.
“I think he’s a lot more talented than he showed,” said a Western Conference executive. “How talented? That’s the question. But he’s showed in other venues that he’s played in outside of Indiana that he’s got a lot more skill than he was able to display in Indiana. He’s someone that could really shoot up [draft boards].”
Said one Eastern Conference executive, “He’s the type of kid, like a lot of freshman, they show a lot of glimpses but they didn’t piece it together. I think that’s the way he was at Indiana. I think if you’re a scout and you happened to pick the right game, you saw him at his best and you were like, ‘Oh, man.’ And you come back raving about him.
“And if you pick a different game, you might have seen a 4-point, two-rebound night and five fouls in 20 minutes. And you’re like, ‘What is that guy talking about?’ It’s really kind of hit or miss with him. But there’s something definitely there.”
Vonleh has drawn comparisons with Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh — both are tall, mobile, and can shoot from distance.
“I don’t see Chris Bosh and him being the same on every level, but I do think he has some similarities to [Indiana forward] David West in that he’s already got that big strong body,” said an Eastern Conference scout.
“He’s a good athlete, but he’s probably not a great athlete. He just has a knack for rebounding. He plays physical, he plays tough, and he can step out and shoot it a little bit.”
One Western Conference scout said Vonleh reminded him more of Atlanta forward Al Horford, a bruising low-post presence who can step outside and hit a short jumper.
“He just reminds me of a rugged, tough, power forward/center that will be able to step out and do some things as a [power forward] . . . just a glue guy, starter in the NBA at some point,” the scout said. “I think he’s got a chance to be really good.”
The stretch power forward is all the rage in the NBA these days, as teams prefer having a big man who can stretch the floor with his ability to shoot, especially from distance.
“My only question was, he’s not a traditional NBA [power forward] in terms of size and strength, but he’s not really fluid and smooth enough with the ball to be a [small forward],” said one Western Conference scout.
“He’s good. It’s just, what do you think he is? Is he a stretch [power forward]? A hybrid [power forward]? A Danny Granger? Somebody like that, where it’s hard to define what his position is?”
Vonleh’s hustle has also received plenty of praise.
“What I love about him is he has a big-time motor,” said one Eastern Conference executive. “He’s non-stop.”
But another Eastern Conference executive raised a question about Vonleh’s athleticism.
“The big thing negative-wise is he doesn’t play off the ground a ton,” the executive said. “He’s not a super-high athlete.’’
“Around the rim, he does a lot of fading away. Because of that lack of athleticism, he’s not going to go into somebody and try to dunk on them. He’s going to try to control his body and switch stuff up.’’
“As a power forward, that’s something that I’m not crazy about, because you want a guy who will go through him. If you can get around the lack of athleticism . . . because when he catches it in the post, he always pump fakes. He knows he can’t get up over guys, so he tries to catch them off-guard, off-balance.
“If he can learn to maybe get some crafty finishing moves and work around the lack of explosion, I think he’ll be just fine.”