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Does Noah Vonleh Actually Have Star Potential?

Nate Duncan breaks down Noah Vonleh’s game, and explains why the league needs to stop body fat testing at the combine.

Nate Duncan

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Noah Vonleh has recently gained momentum as a possible top-five pick, presumably on the strength of his strong pre-draft “performance.” He was a star of the NBA’s combine measurements, measuring 6’9.5 in shoes with a 7’4 wingspan and 9’0 standing reach. More surprisingly, he recorded a 37-inch approach vertical with a 31-inch standing leap, both outstanding numbers for a big man of his size and length. Vonleh is also a cut 247 lbs. and was measured at 7.3 percent body fat.*

*These body fat measurements mean very little (as will be explained below) but are quoted because it may affect Vonleh’s “momentum” if someone makes the mistake of thinking it is important.

The Indiana product is not just a paper tiger either. He was a great rebounder his freshman year and most importantly can shoot the ball from outside. Although he averaged only 1.1 attempts per game, he drained 48.5 percent of his threes on the year. He also has a nice stroke from the line, shooting at a solid 71.6 percent clip. And Vonleh is not hesitant to put the ball on the floor, while exhibiting solid jump hooks with either hand in the post. Many have compared Vonleh to Chris Bosh, and on the surface those comparisons are reasonable. A long, athletic, three-point shooting power forward who is a great rebounder sounds like a great pick for the top-five, right? Au contraire.

The problem with taking Vonleh in that lofty strata is his limited star potential. Let’s start with the physical tools first. He may indeed have jumped 37 inches at the combine, but let this be the annual reminder that watching a prospect is a much better way to judge basketball leaping ability than measuring maximum vertical.* Derrick Rose and O.J. Mayo were measured with the same vertical leap before the 2008 draft. Cody Zeller had a higher vertical than Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin. It just isn’t a reliable measure of how well a player jumps on the court compared to simply watching him play.

*That said, if I were running a workout, I would test standing, maximum approach one-foot, maximum approach two-foot, and second jump verticals. The way it is done now, players have the choice of approach vertical off one or two feet. Those really are totally different things especially for big guys who do most of their jumping off two feet to rebound, block shots and finish dumpoffs and post plays.

After watching almost all of Vonleh’s interior finishes this year, he clearly does not have any more than average applied leaping ability. He didn’t really dunk on anyone all year, and his interior finishing was actually pretty bad. At the rim* he shot only 59.3 percent, slightly below the 60.9 percent average for all college players. He just got stopped at the rim time and again, far more than a player of his stature should. It seems clear that he has below-average feel for finishing inside unless it is a hook shot.

*This metric is determined by shooting percentage on shots marked as dunks or layups by play-by-play, per Hoop-Math.com. This data should be taken with a grain of salt since it is likely that there are not universal standards from scorer to scorer across Division I of what constitutes a “lay-up.” Indiana as a whole did not have great interior finishers, but it is worth nothing that they shot only 56.2 percent in Hoop-Math’s “at the rim” metric, so there is at least some small amount of evidence that their official scorers might have been more expansive in classifying certain shots as layups. Nevertheless, Vonleh did not rate well.

Vonleh’s post game is seductive due to his pretty hook shots, but ultimately not particularly efficient. He struggled to create both horizontal and vertical separation, and does not really have any moves aside from those hooks. The same lack of separation was evident on his drives. Despite his shooting ability he almost never is able to beat his man on a straight line drive, usually having to resort to a spin move after he has been cut off. He does not project to be able to get to the basket off the bounce against most NBA power forwards.

Another concern big concern for Vonleh is his awful hands. While he admirably runs the floor hard, he ranked in only the 15th percentile among college players in transition points per possession because he reliably fumbled passes going to the rim. Even those low numbers were goosed by transition threes, it really was shocking how bad he was catching the ball on the move going to the basket. The same issue afflicts his pick and roll finishing, as does the fact that it takes him forever to load up to jump. Unless he can really improve in this area, his usefulness in the pick and roll will be largely limited to popping for jumpers.

The problems with his feel for the game are also borne out by his poor passing numbers. He had only 18 assists all season against 64 turnovers. When he received the ball he was largely a black hole, and his over reliance on spin moves resulted in frequent turnovers.

Many have commented that Vonleh was criminally underutilized at Indiana, and indeed he only had a below-average 18.9 percent usage rate in conference play. But while he was the victim of some gunning by the guards, he deserves at least some of the blame for his inability to find shots. This is another indicator that his feel is not the greatest.

Of perhaps the greatest importance for his future, his defensive instincts are poor. Vonleh does move well laterally and is solid on ball against the pick and roll and postups. In the latter situation he uses his chest to bump the offensive player without fouling and does well to avoid getting backed down. But you would expect a player with his wingspan, vertical and lateral quickness to be a terror protecting the rim. Vonleh is not. He often gets caught out of position to help, especially when his man drifts to the perimeter. Seeing his man and the ball is not his strong suit, and drivers can reach the rim before Vonleh is even aware of them if he is weakside. And when he is in position, he lacks the timing and bounce to block many shots. To these eyes, he does not project as a good rim-protector.

Ultimately, Vonleh has many basketball skills, but he is not a great basketball player. Those skills do make him worth drafting starting in the late lottery, and there is a chance as one of the younger players in the draft (he only turns 19 in August) that he develops the necessary feel to be a star. But right now, his likely outcome seems closer to a three-point shooting version of Jason Thompson. That could be a valuable player, but to me he lacks the high-probability upside to merit a pick in the top-half of the lottery.

Body Fat Testing Is Wildly Inaccurate

It is time for the NBA to stop doing body fat testing at the combine. The league uses the skinfold method to measure body fat, which involves a human physically pinching skin with calipers and measuring how thick it is at a number of points around the body. While there is a specific method to doing this that is supposed to be accurate, as you might imagine the pinching of skin is not particularly precise. Then a formula is supposed to estimate body fat based on how much skin is in the fold. Consider the potential variance of different people doing the testing, and you get a margin of error of five percent. That means plus or minus five percent, meaning a player could have as much as 10 percent variance between two tests. Nik Stauskas got dinged on the testing this year, measuring a relatively high 12.1 percent, spawning “concerns” about how fat he was. Stauskas looks plenty cut and athletic—the concerns should be with the testing itself.

In reality, body fat testing to differentiate between the low body fat percentages of elite athletes is fairly worthless because almost every feasible testing method lacks the necessary precision. Even ostensibly more accurate measure have a very high variance. The Bod Pod (air displacement) and hydrostatic weighing (water displacement) purport to measure body fat by determining how much matter is displaced by the body to determine its volume, then determining the body’s density by dividing that volume by the subject’s weight. The calculated density can vary quite a bit based on how much air is in the lungs, the person’s level of hydration and just simple measurement error by the machine.

After the density is determined, an equation is used to estimate body fat based on the density of the average person’s fat and non-fat mass.* Even by these methods, readings taken back to back on the same person can vary by five percent or more.

*Sometimes a different equation is used for African-Americans, on the basis that they typically have lower body fat percentages than other races and the result should be adjusted downward simply on the basis of race. This too seems another possible source of inaccuracy. I do not know whether such an adjustment is used with the skinfold method the NBA uses at the combine.

Labeling certain players as more in shape than others based solely on this testing is rather asinine unless a guy has an absolutely astronomical number in the mid-to-high teens. Just subjectively looking at how cut a player is does a much better job determining whether he could improve his performance by losing fat. Hopefully GMs do not put any stock in this testing, but if I were an agent I would not let my player be tested just to avoid potentially getting Stauskased. Responsible journalists should stop quoting these figures like they actually mean anything.

Nate Duncan is an NBA analyst and attorney. He writes regular features for Basketball Insiders and chats weekly at 11 Eastern on Tuesdays.

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NBA Daily: Looking At The 2018 Draft Class By Tiers

The NBA Draft is a hard thing to predict, especially when it comes to draft order and individual team needs, Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler takes a look at how this draft looks in tiers.

Steve Kyler

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Looking At The 2018 Draft In Tiers

While Mock Drafts are an easy way to look at how the NBA Draft might play out, what they do no do is give a sense of what a specific player might be as a player at the next level. With that in mind, we’re going to take a look at how some of the notable NBA draft prospects project.

It’s important to point out that situation and circumstance often impact how a player develops, even more so than almost any other variable.

So while the goal here is to give a sense of how some NBA teams and insiders see a draft prospect’s likely potential, it is by no means meant to suggest that a player can’t break out of his projection and become more or sometimes less than his he was thought to be.

Every draft class has examples of players projected to be one thing that turns out to be something else entirely, so these projections are not meant to be some kind of final empirical judgment or to imply a specific draft position, as each team may value prospects differently.

So, with that in mind, let’s look at the 2018 NBA Draft in Tiers.

The Potential Future All-Stars

DeAndre Ayton – Arizona – C – 7’0″ – 245 lbs – 20 yrs
Luka Doncic – Real Madrid – SG – 6’7″ – 218 lbs – 19 yrs
Michael Porter Jr – Missouri – SF/PF – 6’10” – 216 lbs – 20 yrs

Maybe Stars, But Likely High-Level Starters

Jaren Jackson Jr. – Michigan State – PF – 6’10” – 225 lbs – 19 yrs
Marvin Bagley III – Duke – PF – 6’11” – 220 lbs – 19 yrs
Wendell Carter – Duke – PF – 6’10” – 257 lbs – 19 yrs
Mohamed Bamba – Texas – C – 7’0″ – 216 lbs – 20 yrs
Collin Sexton – Alabama – PG – 6’2″ – 184 lbs – 19 yrs
Mikal Bridges – Villanova – SG/SF – 6’7″ – 210 lbs – 22 yrs
Robert Williams – Texas A&M – C – 6’9″ – 235 lbs – 21 yrs
Miles Bridges – Michigan State – SF/PF – 6’7″ – 230 lbs – 20 yrs
Dzanan Musa – Cedevita – SF – 6′ 9″ – 195 lbs – 19 yrs
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Kentucky – SG – 6′ 6″ – 181 lbs – 20 yrs
Trae Young – Oklahoma – PG – 6’2″ – 180 lbs – 20 yrs

Maybe Starters, But Surely Rotation Players

Kevin Knox – Kentucky – SF – 6’9″ – 206 lbs – 19 yrs
Troy Brown – Oregon – SG – 6’6″ – 210 lbs – 19 yrs
Khyri Thomas – Creighton – SG – 6′ 3″ – 210 lbs – 22 yrs
Zhaire Smith – Texas Tech – SG – 6′ 5″ – 195 lbs – 19 yrs
Rodions Kurucs – FC Barcelona B – SF – 6′ 9″ – 220 lbs – 20 yrs
Aaron Holiday – UCLA – PG – 6′ 1″ – 185 lbs – 22 yrs
Jacob Evans – Cincinnati – SF – 6′ 6″ – 210 lbs – 21 yrs
De’Anthony Melton – USC – PG – 6’4″ – 190 lbs – 20 yrs

The Swing For The Fence Prospects – AKA Boom-Or-Bust

Lonnie Walker – Miami – SG – 6’4″ – 206 lbs – 20 yrs
Mitchell Robinson – Chalmette HS – C – 7′ 0″ – 223 lbs – 20 yrs
Anfernee Simons – IMG Academy – SG – 6′ 5″ – 177 lbs – 19 yrs
Jontay Porter – Missouri – C – 6′ 11″ – 240 lbs – 19 yrs
Lindell Wigginton – Iowa State – PG – 6′ 2″ – 185 lbs – 20 yrs
Bruce Brown – Miami – SG – 6’5″ – 191 lbs – 22 yrs
Isaac Bonga – Skyliners (Germany) – SF/SG – 6’9″ – 203 lbs – 19 yrs
Hamidou Diallo – Kentucky – SG – 6’5″ – 197 lbs – 20 yrs

Players not listed are simply draft prospects that could be drafted, but don’t project clearly into any of these tiers.

If you are looking for a specific player, check out the Basketball Insiders Top 100 Prospects list, this listing is updated weekly.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, @mike_yaffe, @MattJohnNBA, and @Ben__Nadeau.

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Top Ten NCAA Basketball Juniors: 2017-18

While the NCAA junior class typically provides a limited number of NBA-ready options, this could be the most talented group in quite some time.

Mike Yaffe

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NCAA juniors might appear to yield limited options for NBA draft purposes. But while the “one and done” athletes receive the most hype, there can also be worthy candidates from the third-year ranks due to factors like attrition, injuries, suspensions or transferring to another school.

Although the majority of last season’s top prospects either stayed for their senior year (Grayson Allen, Trevon Bluiett) or went undrafted (Melo Trimble), there was still NBA-ready talent to be had in both Justin Jackson (Sacramento Kings) and Dillon Brooks (Memphis Grizzlies).

This year’s crop should be more fruitful, as many of the athletes listed below were able to showcase their talents in the March Madness tournament; in fact, three of them played in the national championship game itself.

With honorable mention due to Shake Milton (SMU), Jalen Hudson (Florida) and Melvin Frazier (Tulane), here are the top ten NCAA basketball juniors from the 2017-18 season:

10. Allonzo Trier, SG, Arizona

Tale of the tape: 6 ft. 4 in., 205 lb.

Despite being overshadowed by top overall prospect DeAndre Ayton, Trier had an impressive campaign of his own that featured personal highs in both scoring (18.1 PPG) and free-throw percentage (.865). He was named the MVP of the PAC-12 tournament, but failed to deliver (10 points, zero three-pointers) in the team’s upset loss to Buffalo to derail the Wildcats’ post-season aspirations.

Trier’s college-level career was extended by a pair of PED-related suspensions, but perhaps his season-high 32 points in his first game back served notice that the infractions are firmly in the past. If nothing else, he should at least be able to represent his team in the NBA dunk contest.

Draft-day projection: mid-to-late second round

9. Moritz Wagner, F/C, Michigan

Tale of the tape: 6 ft. 11 in., 235 lb.

Wagner raised eyebrows with his timely three-point shooting in the NCAA tournament, but the reality is that he averaged just over 39 percent from beyond the arc in both his sophomore and junior years. In addition, he set collegiate highs in both rebounds (7.1) and points per game (14.6) in what was a successful, if not breakthrough, campaign.

Although bigs who can shoot from outside are more commonplace than ever, there is surely room in the league for the German who is likely to follow in the footsteps of fellow countrymen Dirk Nowitzki and Maxi Kleber, with the latter being the more apt comparison.

Draft-day projection: mid second round

8. Jalen Brunson, PG, Villanova

Tale of the tape: 6 ft. 2 in., 190 lb.

Brunson blossomed into the Big East player of the year while staying put at Villanova for three seasons. His 18.9 points and 4.6 assists per game as a junior are nearly double what he averaged as a freshman, and his ascension to running the point for the defending national champs has been impressive.

No one can question Brunson’s passion for the game, but he lacks the scoring ability of comparably-sized point guards Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard, both of whom averaged over 24 PPG at the collegiate level. He will also need to improve on the defensive end, but a sustainable NBA career similar to that of Jeff Teague is within reach.

Draft-day projection: early-to-mid second round

7. Chimezie Metu, F/C, USC

Tale of the tape: 6 ft. 10 in., 225 lb.

A Lawndale, CA native who stayed local, Metu has averaged nearly the same points (14.8 then 15.7), rebounds (7.6 then 7.4) and blocks (1.4 then 1.6) per contest between his sophomore and junior years. Yet this apparent level of consistency belies a great deal of variation in his contributions on a game-by-game basis, and don’t think the scouts haven’t noticed.

As a case in point, Metu’s final Pac-12 tournament ended with a thud, as he managed a mere seven points and four boards against Arizona, and the Trojans were subsequently left out of the big dance. Much like Texas’ Mo Bamba, he possesses the size and tools to be effective in the NBA, as long as he is willing to put forth the effort.

Draft-day projection: late first-to-early second round

6. Keita Bates-Diop, F, Ohio State

Tale of the tape: 6 ft. 7 in., 235 lb.

Bates-Diop responded to his medical redshirt in 2016-17 by becoming the Big Ten’s player of the year, during which he produced 19.8 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. He averaged 26.0 PPG in the NCAA tourney, although he was nearly kept off the glass (three rebounds) in the Buckeyes’ elimination loss to Gonzaga.

While Bates-Diop has drawn comparisons to the Dallas Mavericks’ Harrison Barnes, his burly stature seems more reminiscent of former Mavericks forward Justin Anderson, who has been a bench fixture since his trade to the Philadelphia Sixers. Despite Bates-Diop’s impressive college resume, it will be incumbent upon him to cause matchup problems as a stretch-four at the next level, a stipulation that most likely will eliminate him from lottery pick consideration for now.

Draft-day projection: late first round

5. Jacob Evans, SF, Cincinnati

Tale of the tape: 6 ft. 6 in., 210 lb.

Evans brings Swiss Army knife potential at the small forward position that NBA teams covet. His surface-level stats (13.0 PPG, 3.1 APG) aren’t eye-popping, but when you consider that he led the NCAA’s second-ranked defensive team in both categories, it seems feasible that he was limited more by style of play than by personal ability.

Despite his deflated offensive stats, Evans converted 37 percent of his three-point attempts, so comparing him to the Houston Rockets’ Trevor Ariza seems appropriate for his skill set. In the Bearcats’ loss to Nevada in the NCAA tournament, Evans had 19 points and seven rebounds, which coaches would gladly take from him on a regular basis.

Draft-day projection: late first round

4. Khyri Thomas, SG, Creighton

Tale of the tape: 6 ft. 3 in., 210 lb.

With a 6 ft. 10 in. wingspan (showcased on this block) and the ability to connect at a 41.1 percent clip from outside, Thomas may best exemplify a prototypical “three and D” player in the league. His 15.1 PPG and 1.7 SPG are both indicative of year-over-year improvement, and he possesses the physical dimensions that can make him effective as a pro.

Playing on a Blue Jays squad that got eliminated in their first game of both the conference and the NCAA tournaments afforded Thomas little opportunity to perform in the spotlight, but the level of consistency with which he produced before those early exits cannot be ignored.

Draft-day projection: mid-to-late first round

3. Jerome Robinson, SG, Boston College

Tale of the tape: 6 ft. 6 in., 191 lb.

A tall shooter with a slight frame, Robinson brings to mind former NBAer Kerry Kittles, who was a productive member of the New Jersey Nets (before they moved to Brooklyn) for several years. Playing for an average Eagles squad, Robinson provided double-digit scoring in all but three games during his junior season, including a whopping 46 points at Notre Dame.

Although his Boston College team didn’t participate in March Madness, Robinson still averaged 21.7 PPG in three conference tournament games, which included two opponents (Clemson, NC State) that were invited to the big dance. He probably won’t be drafted in the top 15, but he makes for a safe choice among the better NBA teams, which would allow time for him to develop his upper body strength.

Draft-day projection: mid-to-late first round

2. Aaron Holiday, PG, UCLA

Tale of the tape: 6 ft. 1 in., 185 lb.

After starting his freshman year, Holiday was relegated to the bench as a sophomore before reclaiming the starting gig after incumbent Lonzo Ball departed for the NBA. His junior campaign was remarkable, as he averaged 20.3 PPG and connected on 42.9 percent of his three-point attempts. Over the course of the season, he scored in single digits once while cracking the 30-point barrier on three occasions (including the Pac-12 quarterfinals).

As the youngest brother of current NBA players Jrue and Justin, Aaron Holiday brings a pedigree that should enhance his draft-day value. While he is smallish by league standards, both Yogi Ferrell (as a key reserve) and Kemba Walker (as an All-Star) have proven that so-called limitation is far from being a show-stopper.

Draft-day projection: mid-to-late first round

1. Mikal Bridges, G/F, Villanova

Tale of the tape: 6 ft. 7 in., 210 lb.

A swingman by NBA standards, Bridges nearly doubled his production as a sophomore by averaging 17.7 PPG, which was buoyed by his ability to make three-pointers at a 43.5 percent clip. Although super-sub Donte DiVincenzo dominated the national title game, it was Bridges who led the Wildcat starters with 19 points of his own after being named MVP of the preceding Big East tournament. Much like the aforementioned Jacob Evans, he is capable of stuffing the stat sheet, but Bridges is the better offensive threat of the two.

With his 7 ft. 2 in. wingspan and long-distance accuracy, perhaps Bridges himself said it best when he listed Paul George and Kawhi Leonard as players that “intrigued” him. While mock drafts have varied wildly in terms of projecting the other names on this list, Bridges appears to be a consensus top-ten pick, albeit towards the tail end of that continuum.

Draft-day projection: early-to-mid first round

 

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Mock Drafts

NBA Daily: 2018 NBA 60-Pick Mock Draft – 4/10/18

With the floodgates open and college players entering the draft class left and right, Steve Kyler offers up another 60-pick NBA Mock Draft.

Steve Kyler

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With the NBA regular season coming to a close, there are some draft ramifications to watch.

Should the Milwaukee Bucks stay where they are today, they would not convey their pick to the Phoenix Suns as that pick is protected in such a way that it only conveys if it lands between the 11 and 16th pick.

Equally, the dead heat that exists in the Western Conference playoff race, could shift several teams around the draft board based on how the season actually finishes.

There are also some key dates to keep in mind this draft season:

College players can request information from the NBA Draft Advisory panel on where they might fall in the draft; they must request this information by April 13. The Advisory panel is comprised of well-respected draft talent evaluators that offer would-be draft prospects a draft range valuation based on a survey of NBA executives. Historically their range projections have been pretty accurate, and it’s a way for a college player to understand how the NBA views them as a draft prospect. It’s not a guarantee by any means, simply an informed survey of how NBA teams value them in terms of where they might get drafted, if at all.

The NBA’s Early Entry deadline is April 22. All underclassmen that wish to be included for draft consideration must declare in writing to the NBA, by that date.

The NBA Draft Lottery will be held in Chicago on May 15. The annual NBA Draft Combine will get underway on May 16, also in Chicago. In any given draft year, roughly 70 percent of players invited to the Combine end up being drafted into the NBA, so a Combine invite is a significant milestone.

The NCAA requires all players wishing to maintain their college eligibility, without penalty, to withdraw from the NBA Draft by 11:59 pm on May 30. That is an NCAA mandated date, not related to anything involving the NBA, and that notice must be delivered in writing.

The NBA’s draft withdrawal date is June 11 by 5:00 pm ET. The NBA’s date allows a prospect to remain NBA draft eligible for future NBA drafts and is not related to any NCAA rule or date. There are ways for college players that did not accept benefits to return to college, however, they may be subject to NCAA penalties.

Here is this week’s 2018 NBA Mock Draft, based on the standings of games played through 4/09/18:

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