Rashad Vaughn: A Basketball Journey


As Rashad Vaughn goes “supernova” in Summer League, I thought it would be fun to look at how we got here. Vaughn was a standout on the AAU Circuit from a fairly young age, playing on Minnesota’s Premier AAU Team (Howard Pulley) and playing for Robbinsdale Cooper High School just outside of Minneapolis. He was excelling a consensus top 25 recruit, his pick of D1 programs for college, and as a Junior he was the second leading scorer in Minnesota averaging 28.5 points per game.

This is where the Rashad Vaughn journey takes his first detour. After his Junior basketball season he decided to not play for Howard Pulley, instead playing for a Milwaukee based team 300+ miles from his hometown. He announced later that he would be transferring from his hometown school to play at Findlay Prep in Nevada. These moves were hyper-analyzed at the time, but the reality is that it was a 17 year old kid doing what he thought was best for his future. He likely thought he’d get more recognition not playing with Tyus Jones on the AAU Circuit, and had already dominated the Minnesota prep scene. His rebounds and points a game went down when he played for Findlay, but his assists were up. I think this shows that he was playing with better players and became a more willing passer. This move to Nevada also in most recruiting analysts’ eyes gave UNLV an advantage on the recruitment trail. Which was confirmed when Vaughn committed there in February, his commitment was a big deal for UNLV, he was ranked 12th by 247 sports and 19th by ESPN.

Vaughn had an electric start to his Runnin’ Rebel career scoring 27 points in a close game against Morehead State. He ended up having an up and down season, UNLV was 13-10 when he had a season ending injury that put the nail in their chances to make the big dance. This injury all but assured that Vaughn would declare while his stock was still clearly in the first round, instead of risking his stock by returning. It was a one year stint, that did little positive or negative for Rashad Vaughn, personally I think the coach gave Rashad too much freedom. I wish Rashad would’ve worked on the rest of his game, besides scoring at UNLV. When you watch his highlights from UNLV he is clearly using his size and athleticism to score on inferior Mountain West athletes. This is one of the reasons people were worried about his NBA potential, guys who are just using physical gifts rarely fair well in the NBA where everyone is physically gifted. Scouts look for skills that will still clearly be there when the athleticism and height is at an NBA level.

Rashad’s time at UNLV was short and inconsistent, but he was quite dynamic as a scorer in his time there. -Photo via NBA.com

When Milwaukee selected him at 17, there was a split reaction among dedicated Bucks fans, some loved the pick because he had that plus shooting profile. There was a separate group who hated the pick, because of how his game was in college it was tough to see the translation. As the second youngest player in the draft there was a lot of optimism that he could develop into something beyond what he was at UNLV. He had a really good pre-season scoring 20+ a couple of times, but the hype was not quite there. It was clear he was focused and the opponents were just rounding into shape.

His rookie year was poor, he had a PER of 4 and all advanced stats hated him. He had very little go right, but he logged 1000 minutes and appeared in 70 games for Milwaukee. So he gets an A for attendance, but unlike what Woody Allen said, showing up is not the main ingredient to success. He couldn’t get his shots to fall illustrated best by his 29.3% three point percentage. He was mess on defense and offered little on offense to make up for it. He scored double digits just four times scoring a career high of 12 points in a late season throwaway game that Bucks lost by double digits.

Many fans thought oh well our 19 year old rookie struggled, he can bounce back next year, but after a poor summer league showing and minimal preseason time. He got removed from the rotation with the acquisition of Tony Snell and ended up playing half as many minutes as his rookie season. Then people began to question whether or not picking up his 3rd year option was a mistake and if his 4th year one should be declined. While this may have seemed like a no brainer it is semi-rare for teams to decline options on rookie scale deals. These are cheap players and if they are even close to NBA quality you should pick it up. Any Bucks fan worth his salt would have told you a month ago that Vaughn was not that close to NBA quality.

I cannot begin to place my finger on where it all went wrong. Some of it seems to be mental, his free throw shooting is maddeningly inconsistent for a guy with his stroke and shooting ability. Part of me thinks he is struggling to transition from not being THE GUY still, and for some players that transition never comes. We can look at a guy like Beasley who was unable to make that switch out of Kansas State and had to go to China, before he realized what his NBA role would be. Even with Beasley some Bucks fans would tell you, he still wanted to be “the guy” even if it was the “the ‘second unit’ guy”. Based on Vaughn’s history in the AAU circuit we can guess that he enjoyed being the guy, but he never really profiled to be anything close to that in the NBA.

Can Rashad make the jump in his third year?
-Photo via hoopshabit.com

Which brings us to this Summer League where Vaughn has had two games where he was “the guy” and was the reason the Bucks won one and were close in the other. In the other two it was same old Rashad, capable of doing some nice things, but struggling to put a coherent game together. He is 12 for 24 from the line and only 31% from 3, but is averaging 19 points per game. Some Bucks fans have begun to become excited about his future again, but this is not Rashad’s role on an NBA team. I need to see him in the NBA making spot up 3s and playing good defense. I do not want to sound overly negative, because his handles look a little tighter and he looks to have his confidence back. None of this matters if that disappears in the fall when the NBA season begins to start back up.

I think a lot of fans miss some of Rashad’s strengths, he does move extremely well without the ball. He seems to know where he should be moving on offense and finds the windows for shots at a good level. He has an awareness on defense that if Jabari shared we’d talk about his future in a very different light. Defense is far from a strength, but he showed last year a bit of potential there, that moves the focus back to his ability to make shots. He does a good job of cutting when the opportunity presents itself, he actually shot 65% at the rim last season on an admittedly small sample size. He has always had good size for the 2-guard spot and athleticism to pair with it. Shot-maker is a phrase tossed around for guys who shoot difficult shots and make them consistently. On some levels that describes Vaughn, when he gets hot he can make just about any shot regardless of contest level (evidenced by his go ahead three point heave yesterday), but that is a difficult way to make a living in the NBA.

Rashad well geographically has not traveled a very long way from his hometown, but his journey has been very long and it has tested Rashad. This next season is going to be Rashad’s prove it year, the back-up two guard spot is open, but Sterling Brown might have proven himself to be a worthy adversary for it. If Rashad loses that his option will likely be declined and he will find himself an unrestricted free agent with suitors offering very little in terms of years and guaranteed money. He could find himself out of the NBA by 23. Conversely he could have a nice final two years and the Bucks could find themselves in a complicated spot with his restricted free agency. Rashad Vaughn needs to prove something this year and I hope for our sake it is somewhere closer to the latter scenario.



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