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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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Mock Drafts

NBA Daily: A New 2018 NBA Mock Draft – 2/13/18

With the NBA Trade Deadline passed, Basketball Insiders Publisher Steve Kyler turns focus toward the 2018 NBA Draft.

Steve Kyler

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Time To Focus On The Draft

With the NBA Trade Deadline out of the way, the next transactional window to watch becomes the 2018 NBA Draft; we’ll start dropping more Mock Drafts as we get closer, including our annual weekly Consensus Mock Draft.

There is something of a consensus starting to take shape in NBA circles on who the top 100 players truly are, although the range on players remains somewhat wide depending on who you talk to.

With all of that in mind, here is the latest Mock Draft:

Here are some of the pick swaps and how they landed where they are currently projected:

The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets’ first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer. The Brooklyn Nets traded several unprotected picks to Boston as part of the Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trades in 2015.

The Philadelphia 76ers are owed the LA Lakers’ 2018 Draft pick, unprotected, as a result of the 2012 Steve Nash trade with the Suns. The Suns traded that pick to the 76ers as part of the Michael Carter-Williams three-team trade with the Milwaukee in 2015. The 76ers traded that pick to the Boston Celtics as part of the draft pick trade that became Markelle Fultz before the draft; it has 2 through 5 protections and based on the standings today would convey to Philadelphia.

The LA Clippers are owed the Detroit Pistons first-round pick in 2018 as a result of the Blake Griffin trade. The pick is top four protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEAT’s first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the current standings.

The Chicago Bulls are owed the New Orleans Pelicans first-round pick as a result of the Nikola Mirotic trade. The pick is top-five protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Jazz/Wolves Ricky Rubio trade this past summer. The Jazz acquired the pick as part of the Thunder’s deal to obtain Enes Kanter in 2015. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Milwaukee Bucks’ first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick only conveys if the Bucks pick lands between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the standings today would not convey.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves’ first-round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The LA Lakers are owed the Cleveland Cavaliers first-round pick as a result of Jordan Clarkson/Larry Nance Jr trade. The pick is top-three protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors’ first-round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets’ first-round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick is top-three protected and based on the current standings would convey.

Check out the Basketball Insiders’ Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects – http://www.basketballinsiders.com/top-100-nba-draft-prospects/

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_, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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Mock Drafts

NBA Daily: The Top of The 2018 Draft Is Getting Crowded

The top of the projected 2018 NBA Draft is starting to get interesting, mainly because so many potential draft prospects are having incredibly dominant seasons.

Steve Kyler

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Things Are Getting Interesting

While the projected 2018 NBA Draft class doesn’t seem to have a future superstar sitting at the top of the board, there are potentially four players that are really looking the part of future NBA All-Stars and it’s making the top of the class very interesting.

Say what you want about stats, but there is little doubt that the numbers some of the top prospects are posting so far this season are pretty compelling.

Duke’s Marvin Bagley III is averaging 21.1 points per game to go with 10.9 rebounds. His 61.7 percent field goal average is impressive, especially when you consider he’s knocking in 34.6% of his three (9-26 on the season). Bagley has a 32.2 PER with a 64.6 True Shooting percentage and a 26.7 usage rate. In short, highly productive almost everywhere without having to own the basketball.

Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton is posting similarly ridiculous numbers, 19.5 points per game with 11.4 rebounds. His 61.7 percent from the field also comes with an impressive 30.4 percent three-point average (7-23 on the season). Ayton’s 32.3 PER is a nose higher than Bagley. He is also posting a whopping 65.6 True Shooting percentage with a 26.7 percentage usage rate. Again, highly productive in every way without being so ball-dominant to skew the numbers. Ayton hit the ground running at Arizona and really hasn’t had a bad game yet.

Oklahoma’s Trae Young has burst into the top-five discussion in a huge way. His 6’2 180-pound frame looks small on the court, but his game has been tremendous. Young is posting 28.7 points per game with a monster 10.4 assists per contest. He is grabbing 3.5 rebounds while shooting 48.5 percent from the field, 57.1 percent from two-point range and a scorching 41.1 percent from three (44 of 107 on the season). Young’s 38 PER is tops in all of college basketball. He has a 65.2 True Shooting percentage and a 36.1 usage rate. Unlike Bagley and Ayton, Young does control the ball, but that’s typical for an impact scoring point guard. He offsets the ball dominance with incredible assist numbers. He is also pretty spectacular to watch.

International phenom Luka Dončić is having a solid season in his own right, although his averages are lower because he doesn’t play the same volume of minutes as the NCAA collegiate prospects. In 26 games in both the Euroleague and the ACB, Dončić is posting 16.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists per contest. He is shooting 48.4 percent from the field and 35.6 percent from international three (48 of 135 on the season). Dončić is posting a 28.2 PER in Euroleague play and a 23.7 PER in ACB play. Dončić’s True Shooting numbers in Euroleague play are impressive at 66.2 percent. In ACB play his number drop a bit to 58.1 percent. His usage numbers illustrate the same slip. In Euroleague play, he posts a 30 percent usage rate while posting a 26.6 percent usage rate in ACB. Dončić typically plays more minutes and a larger role in Euroleague play. Hence the stat shift. If you haven’t seen him play, he’s so instinctual and gifted it easy to see why many see him as the top pick.

There are some compelling storylines to watch towards the top of the NBA draft board, which is likely why so many NBA executives seem split on who they would peg as the top talent in the projected 2018 Draft class.

So, with that out the way, lets jump into the latest first-round 2018 NBA Mock Draft:

Here are some of the pick swaps and how they landed where they are currently projected:

The Philadelphia 76ers are owed the LA Lakers’ 2018 Draft pick, unprotected, as a result of the 2012 Steve Nash trade with the Suns. The Suns traded that pick to the 76ers as part of the Michael Carter-Williams three-team trade with the Milwaukee in 2015. The 76ers traded that pick to the Boston Celtics as part of the draft pick trade that became Markelle Fultz before the draft; it has 2 through 5 protections and based on the standings today would convey to Boston.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets’ first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer. The Brooklyn Nets traded several unprotected picks to Boston as part of the Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trades in 2015.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEAT’s first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the current standings.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Milwaukee Bucks’ first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick only conveys if the Bucks pick lands between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the standings today would not convey.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Jazz/Wolves Ricky Rubio trade this past summer. The Jazz acquired the pick as part of the Thunder’s deal to obtain Enes Kanter in 2015. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves’ first round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors’ first round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets’ first round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick is top-three protected and based on the current standings would convey.

Check out the Basketball Insiders’ Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects http://www.basketballinsiders.com/top-100-nba-draft-prospects/

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, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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NBA Daily: Another 2018 NBA Mock Draft – 12/13/17

Basketball Insiders’ publisher Steve Kyler drops his latest 2018 first-round NBA Mock Draft.

Steve Kyler

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A little less than a month ago we dropped the first 2018 NBA Mock Draft, which was met with a lot of disdain. Which is often a good thing because it sparks the discussion in NBA circles.

Since that Mock dropped, we’ve seen a bit more play out of some of the top prospects and many of the assumptions made almost a month ago are starting to settle into place a little more clearly.

The prevailing thought from NBA scouts and executives is that the possible 2018 NBA Draft class has a lot more questions than answers. The common view is that outside of the top 3 or 4 players there could be a very wide range on who the next 10-12 players will be; so expect for the second tier to evolve a lot over the course of the college basketball season.

A couple of things have started to surface among NBA scouts and executives, there seem to be three camps emerging around the top overall player – Duke’s Marvin Bagley III and international phenom Luka Dončić, seem to be the leading names mentioned most, with Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton making a strong push into the discussion. We can safely call this a three-horse race at this point.

The prevailing belief is that none of the three is far and away better than the other as a professional prospect, making it more likely than not that the top player selected will have a lot more to do with which team ultimately lands the pick, more so than the player themselves.

This class also seems to be brimming with promising athletic point guards, which unlike last year’s draft, could provide a lot of options for teams still trying to find that impact point guard.

There also looks to be 27 players in the projected top 100 that are 6’10 or bigger, eight of which project in the top 30. To put that into perspective, there were 11 players 6’10 or bigger drafted in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, and 17 total in the 60 2017 NBA Draft selections.

As we get into the 2018 calendar year, we’ll start to do deeper dives into the tiers of players and their possible NBA strengths and weakness.

So, with all of that in mind, here is the second 2018 first-round NBA Mock Draft.

Here are some of the pick swaps and how they landed where they are currently projected:

The Philadelphia 76ers are owed the LA Lakers 2018 Draft pick, unprotected, as a result of the 2012 Steve Nash trade with the Suns. The Suns traded that pick to the 76ers as part of the Michael Carter-Williams three-team trade with the Milwaukee in 2015.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Ricky Rubio trade this summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would not convey.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEAT’s first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the current standings.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves first round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick only conveys if the Bucks pick lands between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the standings today would not convey.

The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors first round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets first round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick is top-three protected and based on the current standings would convey.

Check out the Basketball Insiders’ Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects http://www.basketballinsiders.com/top-100-nba-draft-prospects/

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