Leading up to the NBA Draft on June 26, we’ll take a look at some of the prospects the Celtics are believed to be targeting with picks No. 6 and 17.
Today, we’ll continue our Celtics Prospect Report series with Indiana star and consensus Top-10 selection Noah Vonleh.
The debate rages on over which power forward the Celtics should select with the sixth overall pick at next week’s NBA Draft, unless of course Danny Ainge trades the choice or opts for point guard Marcus Smart from Oklahoma State.
Each big man offers a unique skill-set between Kentucky double-double machine Julius Randle (previously profiled here), the freakishly athletic and defensive stalwart Aaron Gordon from Arizona (read more about him here), and the versatile Noah Vonleh of Indiana, who is bigger but less explosive than both and has rapidly ascended on draft boards since his college season ended.
Vonleh, a native of Haverhill, Mass. and a product of the Mass Rivals AAU team, Haverhill High School, and New Hampton Prep in New Hampshire, enjoyed an up-and-down season as a freshman with the Hoosiers. The power forward and Big Ten Freshman of the Year averaged 11.3 points, 9 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks in about 27 minutes a night spanning 30 games. He missed two games late in the season for a minor foot injury, but still managed to lead his conference in rebounds. Indiana finished with 17-15 record, not nearly good enough to challenge in the NCAA tournament or even the NIT.
Though projected as a four at the next level, Vonleh played center at the collegiate ranks. While there, he was an outstanding rebounder and shot-blocker, and he possessed a solid inside-outside game offensively. In the paint, he’s displayed an accurate hook shot with both hands. Overall, the 6-foot-10, 240-pounder – who could still stand to add some muscle mass to his already physically mature frame – shot 52.3 percent from the field, but he shined from three-point range as he converted 48.5 percent of his limited opportunities (16-for-33). He also proved to be a capable free throw shooter at 71.6 percent after a rocky start when he arrived on campus.
But, with his shooting prowess well known and the stretch-four en vogue in the NBA, most executives and scouts have recently flocked to Vonleh for his size and length. The 18-year-old (he’ll turn 19 in August) has a 7-foot-5 wingspan, a 9-foot reach, a massive 37-inch vertical, and laughably large hands (11.25 inches wide). His mitts measured the second largest in Combine history.
So, what’s the problem? Vonleh is still very raw and probably could have benefited from a second year in Bloomington.
Someone like Randle is expected to enter the league as an almost immediate offensive contributor, while Gordon could be a defensive specialist and his energy is off the charts. Vonleh is both good on offense and defense, but elite at neither. He has the potential to achieve success on both ends of the floor, though it will take time.
“As a pick-and-roll defender, he has a long way to go,” according to Dustin Dopirak, who covers the Hoosiers for the Bloomington Herald-Times. He joined me on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s “Celtics at 7” program following Vonleh’s freshman year.
“He turned the ball over a lot (2.1 turnovers a game in 2013-14),” Dopirak continued of Vonleh’s flaws. “He’s got a really good handle for somebody that big – he brought the ball up for Mass Rivals, his AAU team – but he didn’t always make great decisions. Sometimes he’d put the ball on the floor when he wasn’t supposed to.
“He was very capable of carving out space on the low block, but it seemed like he didn’t always do it when he had the opportunity; just a little less forceful than he needed to be both at demanding the ball and in getting the space he could get. He didn’t necessarily move from block to block as well as he needed to, so those are some things, but they really are important for a player his size.”
Some scouts have suggested Vonleh had a habit of drifting through games at Indiana, though Dopirak didn’t see it that way.
“I wouldn’t go that far,” he said. “He’s not a space cadet type kid who’s not involved, but you could see sometimes he’d move from block to block slower than he needs to. When he needs to sprint from one side to the other and establish position really fast to get an opportunity and clear a lane for his teammates to pass it to him, you’d see some of that. Or when he’s setting screens at the top of the key, it sometimes looks like he’s just sort of out there. But he is an engaged kid and a really, really smart player; a really obsessed basketball guy. His basketball IQ could be better for a kid who’s put as much time into it as he has and learning the game as he has. He sometimes doesn’t look as engaged as he needs to.”
Looks, it seems, can be deceiving.
One area there’s no mystery – he’d love to play in Boston in front of family and friends.
“I watched the Boston Celtics growing up, I was just talking to [assistant coach] Walter [McCarty] down there,” Vonleh told reporters last Thursday when he was in town for his Celtics workout. “We were talking about where I’d be living and things like that if I were to get drafted. I think it would be a great opportunity.”
Vonleh, who has drawn comparisons to the Heat's Chris Bosh for his size and style of play, has also worked out for the Lakers, Kings, Magic, and Jazz.
Like any draft pick, let alone one expected to be selected near the middle of the lottery, Vonleh isn’t perfect. His low-post game, defense, and perhaps even his confidence on the floor need some work. His size, ability to shoot from distance, skills on the glass, and gift for blocking shots, however, make him very appealing. But, as noted, it may take longer for him to reach his ceiling than it will for his positional counterparts. Fortunately, that ceiling projects to be higher.
If Ainge elects to use the No. 6 pick, Vonleh has the brightest overall future of those expected to be available. For that reason, it’s a wonder if the forward won’t already be off the board. If he's not, the Celtics shouldn't hesitate.
Below, check out a video scouting breakdown of Vonleh’s game from DraftExpress.
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