If the Utah Jazz are still the team on the clock at No. 5 in the 2014 NBA Draft, they could find themselves faced with a curious predicament. Aside from Oklahoma State point-man Marcus Smart and Aussie Dante Exum (who will likely be off the board), the prospects who make sense with that selection are mostly big men. This becomes cumbersome when your roster already features a trio of promising young frontcourt players in Enes Kanter, Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors.
Their current make-up notwithstanding, the pick that makes the most sense for them could be the 18-year-old PF from Indiana, Noah Vonleh.
Favors is locked up with a reasonably-priced, long-term contract and the club is probably still high on Kanter and Gobert, but there is reason to believe that Vonleh, with his combination of size, mobility and a versatile two-way game, could eclipse the lot of them with time and development.
Vonleh’s ability to score in a variety of ways, from putting the ball on the floor and attacking the basket to shooting from deep, is intriguing. He seems to have better shooting touch than Favors did at this juncture in his career (and also infinitely better than fellow freshman phenom Aaron Gordon), and although Enes Kanter has proven capable in the post and from mid-range, Vonleh has better handles and should be able to play above the rim at a higher level.
Also worth mentioning is his ability to grab a rebound and initiate the break, which could be an asset in what figures to be a faster-paced Jazz offense next season.
Some have compared Vonleh to Chris Bosh, which seems apt in many ways, albeit with slightly different body types. At the combine, Vonleh measured close to 6-foot-10 with shoes while boasting a 7-foot-4 and one-quarter wingspan; and at such a young age, he could continue to grow. So long as continued growth doesn’t affect his ability to maneuver on the court, his increasing measurables could be what allows him to have a Bosh-like career.
Wingspan and offensive skill-set aside, perhaps the most tantalizing aspect of Vonleh’s game and a bi-product of his superior athleticism is his potential ability to defend at the next level, particularly in the pick and roll.
Many Jazz fans had great hope for Favors’ ability to take on that challenge when he came to Utah, and there have been times that he’s been quite capable in reading and defending it. The results, however, have been inconsistent and his struggles when attempting to chase down the stretch-fours who pop out cannot be exaggerated.
In his year of college ball, Vonleh was consistently able to stick with his man off the pick and even switch off and hang with the smaller ball-handlers, something Favors lacks the foot speed and lateral movement to be able to do. Really, few players of Vonleh’s size have ever been able to do it consistently at the NBA level.
He may not be able to defend at the rim on the same level as Favors, but with his size, length and a motor that should allow him to expand his game as he develops, it could be only a matter of time before he starts swatting shots out of the box.
There’s also the chance that the two could mesh well together, something Kanter and Favors struggled to do this past season.
So while Favors has been Utah’s defensive anchor and Kanter has provided a steady post presence, the drafting of Noah Vonleh with the fifth pick could be a step in the right direction for the Jazz.