Milwaukee Bucks: There Is Still Hope For Rashad Vaughn

Apr 5, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks guard Rashad Vaughn (20) catches a pass during the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 5, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks guard Rashad Vaughn (20) catches a pass during the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

Rashad Vaughn is coming off one of the worst rookie seasons in recent memory, but past examples show that Milwaukee Bucks fans have reason to hope for his future.

Coming into last season as the second youngest player in the league, the expectation regarding Rashad Vaughn was that he would need ample time to adjust to the rigors of the NBA.

Even keeping in mind the low standard set out for him, both the numbers and the eye test show that by all accounts, Vaughn’s performance did not measure up to what management or fans may have anticipated after selecting him with the 17th pick in the 2015 NBA draft.

Due to injuries striking the Bucks backcourt, Vaughn played in 14.3 minutes per game, in that time contributing just 3.1 points, 1.3 rebounds, and 0.6 assists per game. Vaughn was also characteristically inefficient, shooting a woeful 30.5 percent from the field, including just 29.3 percent from three-point range.

More from Bucks News

Rashad’s play at the recent Las Vegas Summer League showed an NBA skillset, but did little to quell fans’ worries, as even though the sophomore put up 14.4 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game, he displayed very little, if any improvement from his rookie campaign in Sin City and suffered again from inefficiency.

From what has been displayed on the court thus far, it may be tempting to give up on the youngster, even after just one season, but Bucks fans should stay vigilant in their hope for Vaughn for a number of reasons.

For inspiration, one needn’t look farther than Denver, where shooting guard and second-year player Gary Harris recently posted a much-improved season following a disappointing, ineffective, and inefficient rookie season, the latter a narrative that Bucks fans should find familiar.

The comparison between the young two-guards has been brought forth before, as in this Reddit post, and the similarities between both players are numerous.

To start, both players were taken in similar draft slots, Harris 19th in 2014 and Vaughn 17th in 2015; Harris after two years at Michigan State and Vaughn after just his freshman season at UNLV.

Both posted rookie seasons that were, by all accounts, awful, and the per-game averages for the two are extremely similar.

Gary Harris2014-152055613.13.9.3041.9.204.395.3530.9.7450.
Rashad Vaughn2015-161970614.33.8.3052.1.293.319.3850.2.8000.

Provided by View Original Table
Generated 7/17/2016.

From the minutes played to the point totals, both players had very similar and equally putrid statistics during their rookie campaigns. For all that I’ve mentioned Vaughn’s inefficiency, even he still has posted better shooting percentages than Harris did, particularly from behind the arc.

However, as we know, the outlook got a lot brighter for Harris in the following year, as 2016 saw a definite and immense uptick in the quality of his play, starting every one of the 76 games he appeared in and putting up much-improved averages of 12.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game on a 47 percent field goal percentage, up nearly 17 percentage points from the year prior.

Harris’ improved efficiency was also evidenced in his shot selection, as nearly 75 percent of his shots came from either within three feet of the basket or behind the three-point line, ideal in a league now predicated upon ball penetration and floor spacing.

In addition to a burgeoning offensive game, the former Michigan State Spartan has also impressed on the other side of the floor, producing lockdown defense on opposing two-guards. This came as less of a surprise, as Harris was billed pre-draft as a three-and-D wing, an increasingly valuable commodity in today’s NBA.

Harris averaged 1.9 steals per game, good for 33rd in the league, and Nuggets publications such as the Denver Post have nothing but good things to say regarding his performance on the point-prevention front. As Chris Dempsey describes:

"“He was good at digging at the ball without fouling and many times getting a deflection or steal. His hands were always active, and he was good at coming off his own man to swipe at the ball and then jump back to his man.”"

Vaughn was not anticipated to be and has not been the prolific defender Harris is, but his quickness and long, 6’6″ frame shows that the foundation is there to improve on that end. For what it’s worth, Vaughn actually posted a slightly positive (0.4) defensive win share rating last season, although that number was good for only 11th on the team.

The Bucks’ rising sophomore also is not nearly as effective going to the rim as Harris, as even during his putrid rookie season the Nuggets guard bested Vaughn in both volume and efficiency on drives to the basket, shooting 44.1 percent to Vaughn’s paltry 19.4 percent.

While the template is there, Vaughn will not simply transform into the starting-caliber player that Harris is overnight. It will take focus and dedication to improve specific aspects of his game, and the tools Vaughn brings to the proverbial table differ from Harris or others.

What can Rashad do to improve?

First and foremost, it’s important to remember the Bucks’ youngster is still just 19 years old, and improvement in his play should come about as a result of increased physical and mental maturity alone.

For another, even though Vaughn probably saw more game action last year than he deserved, he should be in line to play even more next season. Veteran guards O.J. Mayo, Jerryd Bayless, and Greivis Vasquez are gone, with only Matthew Dellavedova and rookie Malcolm Brogdon brought in as replacements.

Speaking of Brogdon, the former Virginia guard has played in tandem with Rashad during last week’s summer league, functioning well as a distributor next to Vaughn’s spot-up talents.

Although advanced stats aren’t available for Summer League, it seems from the eye test that Vaughn has committed to improving with the ball in his hands, penetrating the lane more often for layups and open passes to teammates such as Thon Maker.

While Vaughn’s improved play and confidence in Summer League may be due to a lack of NBA experience and talent surrounding him, increased role and responsibility were major factors in Harris’ rise, and although the Bucks don’t have a starting spot to offer Vaughn, the incentive of additional playing time may be enough to spur growth in his game.

Beyond simply improving his ball-handling and slashing game, Vaughn would do well to increase his appetite for contact, as he shot an absurdly-low 15 free throws last season.

Physicality has not recently become a weakness of Vaughn’s, as in college he relied mostly on difficult mid-range jumpers to score. It’s not hard to imagine another year in the weight room (a la Giannis Antetokounmpo) will result in a more powerful and explosive Vaughn.

Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

All numbers aside, Vaughn also needs to eliminate those instances when he simply disappears from the action during games, falling into the trap of irrelevance and simply taking up space on the court.

Playing alongside better defenders like Dellavedova and Brogdon should strengthen Vaughn’s own defense, as he won’t often have to stray far from his man to bail out a teammate beaten off the dribble.

Whether it’s in Summer League or in the pre-season, where he impressed in stretches last season, Vaughn has certainly shown flashes of being a valuable piece of one of the most talent-rich young cores in the league.

Next: Five Key Takeaways From Summer League

Clearly, there is ample room to improve in virtually all facets of Vaughn’s game, but the degree to which he will seize the opportunity is up to him. For Rashad Vaughn, the quest to prove himself is now on.