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Rashad Vaughn Is the Best-Kept Secret in the 2015 NBA Draft

Jaime Oppenheim@JustOppFeatured ColumnistJune 24, 2015

UNLV guard Rashad Vaughn celebrates a 71-67 victory over Arizona after an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2014, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Eric Jamison)
Eric Jamison/Associated Press

In the Amateur Athletic Union age of basketball, one-and-done NBA draft entrants who are former McDonald’s All-Americans are not supposed to be on a list of best-kept secrets, but UNLV guard Rashad Vaughn has managed to accomplish just that.

As the draft rolls around Thursday night in Brooklyn, New York, don’t expect to hear Vaughn’s name called in the lottery.

Don’t expect to hear Vaughn’s name called in the late teens, either.

Don’t expect to hear Vaughn’s name called out until some team picking the 20s has had enough and decides to snap up the steal of the first round.

As a 6’5” scoring guard, Vaughn averaged 17.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game for the Rebels before suffering a meniscus injury in his left knee. Despite being blessed with talent, the Rebels floundered, finishing 8-10 in the Mountain West Conference.

Why has Vaughn hitherto slipped through the cracks?

Partly because of where he went to school, and partly because the beauty of his game goes underappreciated in today’s NBA.

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Let’s explore.

Comparisons with Devin Booker and R.J. Hunter

Vaughn is in a three-man race with Kentucky’s Booker and Georgia State’s Hunter for the first true shooting guard off the board—assuming D’Angelo Russell ends up at point guard and Mario Hezonja, at 6’8”, plays small forward.

Heading into the draft, ESPN’s Chad Ford ranks Booker as the 14th-best prospect, with Vaughn checking in at No. 18 and Hunter bringing up the rear at No. 21.

While Booker played on a Kentucky team that won 38 games and Hunter was providing one of the NCAA tournament’s most memorable moments, Vaughn was stuck in the desert, playing for a UNLV team that was so disappointing that head coach Dave Rice was campaigning to keep his job following the season.

On paper, not much separates the trio. They’re all within an inch of each other in terms of height, and while Hunter has a significant wingspan advantage, he gives it up with a slighter frame.

All three are scoring guards with polished offensive games but limited athleticism. Booker’s the purest shooter of the bunch, leading to his loftier draft projection, but he also has the most questions to answer about his ability to get clean looks at the NBA level.

Where Vaughn really stands out from his contemporaries is his versatility. While Booker and Hunter build their offensive plan around their jumpers, Vaughn distinguishes himself by scoring in a variety of ways.

Thanks to the utterly indispensable DraftExpress, we have these Synergy tracking numbers:

  • 1.16 points per possession on spot-up jumpers.
  • 1.02 points per possession coming off of screens.
  • .951 points per possession as a ball-handler in the pick-and-roll.
  • 1.33 points per possession in no-dribble isolation situations.

That last number is off the charts. No-dribble isolations are the most difficultand ill-advisedshots in the game, yet Vaughn buries them with frightening regularity. 

The ability to score in a variety of ways will serve Vaughn well as he develops into a complementary scorer at the next level. Defenses won't be able to key on any one aspect of his game, presenting a frustrating dilemma as they concentrate the majority of their efforts on Vaughn's more talented teammates.

Asking the Wrong Developmental Questions

LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 16:  Rashad Vaughn #1 of the UNLV Rebels is guarded by Jabari Peters #1 of the Sam Houston State Bearkats during their game at the Thomas & Mack Center on November 16, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. UNLV won 59-57.  (Photo by Ethan Mi
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The problem with Vaughn’s game is that it traps evaluators into playing the Skee-Lo game. They wish he were a little bit better of a shooter. They wish he were a more willing passer. They wish he were more engaged on defense.

It's easier for teams to justify drafting a player with one NBA-ready skill while they hope other areas of the prospect's game develops. 

When it comes to Vaughn, however, that sentiment may not apply. His game needs tweaks, but the thing that most needs improving isn’t his skill level, but his maturity.

It’s not that Vaughn can't pass or can't defend; it’s just that he doesn’t do those things often enough. That kind of progress comes with standard basketball development and playing within a structured system that demands accountability. Within a strong team environment, not only would Vaughn (or any player) be less inclined to chuck up shots early in the shot clock, he most likely wouldn't ever get the chance. 

Therefore, the question teams need to ask on Thursday night isn’t if Vaughn can develop better basketball abilities, but whether he’s going to develop a professional attitude toward his craft.

As it happens, there’s already good news on that front.

Acing His Workouts

Workouts are the best barometer to measure whether a prospect is taking the draft process seriously. Vaughn, it seems, did everything he could to impress teams.

Here’s a sample of reports, collected only from writers covering teams in cities that start with the letter “M”. In order, they are the Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson, Marcus Fuller of the Minneapolis/St. Paul Pioneer Press and Gery Woefel of the Racine Journal Times (Milwaukee Bucks).

Barry Jackson @flasportsbuzz

Feedback from Heat audition yesterday is that UNLV shooting guard Rashad Vaughn, who shot 38.3 percent on threes last season,was impressive

Marcus R. Fuller @Marcus_R_Fuller

Heard Rashad Vaughn was impressive enough in Golden St Warriors draft workout members of the team like Steph Curry watched some of it.

Gery Woelfel @GeryWoelfel

Two UNLV products with big upsides --SG Rashad Vaughn and F Christian Wood -- had strong workouts for the Bucks.

For variety’s sake, here’s what ESPN’s Ford had to say on June 18th:

Vaughn had the best workout I've seen the past few weeks on the road. Crammed into the Boys & Girls Club in Santa Monica along with 150 scouts lining the walls, he put on a shooting show, effortlessly knocking down shots from everywhere on the floor, outshooting two of the better shooters in the draft -- Notre Dame's Pat Connaughton and Stanford's Anthony Brown. 

That Vaughn is working to improve his game through the draft process should be an encouraging sign. Despite dominating in high school and putting up big numbers as a freshman, he’s acting like a player who knows he needs to get better to succeed at the next level.

The Final Verdict 

Vaughn is not a perfect prospect. He lacks the tools—size and athleticism—to favorably compare with the draft’s top talents.

Still, there’s no reason he can’t develop into a capable starter in the NBA, and if things really click for him, he might even turn into a third option on a good team. Vaughn’s skill set is a natural fit next to a dominant point guard. He can space the floor from the weak side, and he has enough handle and passing ability to take advantage of slow defensive rotations.

On Thursday, Vaughn will likely hear his name called between picks 20 and 25. At the absolute worst, it’s hard to see him falling past the Lakers at No. 27.

From there, it’s up to him.

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