Before the draft started, it was pretty much public knowledge that if Doug McDermott was at No. 9, the Hornets were going to select him. Except, about a few hours before the draft, Noah Vonleh started falling on a lot of mocks. Vonleh was originally a top 4 projected pick, and whether that projection was high or not, we don't know. But we can safely guess that the Hornets weren't expecting him to be there at 9. Charlotte could have over-thought the pick. They easily could have decided "No, we decided on McDermott and we're going to take him, even though this highly projected guy fell to us". Of course, that didn't happen. The Hornets took the luck they were given and drafted the guy that fell to them.
Now the question remains: How does the new addition fit into the team? For starters, he brings defensive rebounding and a still growing outside shot. Mix that in with his length, size, and build and you have yourself a quality stretch 4 big man. But what separates Vonleh from the average stretch 4's is an ability to bring the ball down low and create his own shot. Per Draft Express, 29.3 percent of Vonleh's shots at Indiana came from the post.
The problem with Vonleh's post game translating vs his other skills is that, of the skills he has, that will be the hardest for him to transfer. NBA defenders possess a size and speed that's much more difficult to post up against than it is in college. This isn't to say that Vonleh can't eventually post up at an NBA level. His footwork skills gained from being a post up player are already helping him. There is just no guarantee that the skill will translate over.
Vonleh's long term outlook with the Hornets looks bright. But what about his short term? Will he be able to help out the Hornets this year? I say, yes.
No matter what happens with Josh McRoberts this offseason, I highly doubt Vonleh will be starting Day 1. He would have to completely understand an offense that requires a lot of precision passing and screens, something that would be a struggle for even the best rookies. If McRoberts re-signs, expect him in that slot opening night. Should McRoberts choose to leave, most likely Cody Zeller will slide into the starting role, at least at the beginning of the year.
Vonleh at the beginning of the season will have a chance to play with the starting unit, off the bench, kind of the way Cody Zeller started off last year. When playing with the starters, Vonleh can put his stretch skills to work. He'll hang out on the perimeter, set screens, and mainly try to stretch the floor with his three-point shooting. This will open up space for players like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Al Jefferson, to get to the rim. This is crucial for the offense to be successful since Charlotte still lacks shooters in their starting lineup.
One of the ways the Hornets get to the rim is off ball cuts, a staple in last year's offense, though something that Vonleh wasn't too involved in when he was at Indiana. But the Hornets system should be able to get him used to that fairly quickly. When Vonleh isn't spotting up for jump shots or coming off cuts, he's going to need to be able to take the ball into his own hands and make quick decisions. If the offense is anything like last year, that decisiveness can be the difference between a layup at the rim or a contested Kemba Walker jump shot.
When playing with the backup unit, Vonleh will be allowed to spread out a little more. Depending on the backup point guard signed, Vonleh could the best frontcourt creator on the bench. The Hornets can give the ball to Vonleh and allow him to make his own decisions. At Indiana he showed the skill to take his man off the dribble, giving his offense some flexibility.
Vonleh's offense has a lot of question marks, but it looks like at worse he could be a poor man's Ryan Anderson thanks to his shooting and rebounding. His rebounding is one of the reasons scouts believe he has a high upside on defense. As with many rookies, he probably won't be very good this year. It's rare to come into the NBA and automatically be good on defense. But he has insane potential on defense thanks to his motor and work effort. Coaches and scouts raved about it when he was in college. Matching this up with Clifford can only be a good thing.
There's a reason Vonleh was originally a top-4 projection. The guy has an insane amount of potential, great physical tools and a solid skill set to start with coming into the NBA level. The Hornets got really lucky he fell to their laps at 9. Now to see how he pans out.