There were more than a few eyebrows raised when the Milwaukee Bucks made Rashad Vaughn their top pick in the 2015 NBA draft.
The Bucks chose him with the 17th overall selection, even though the vast majority of teams regarded him as a late-to-early second-round draft prospect.
At the time, the scuttlebutt was that Bucks coach Jason Kidd, despite the objections of several Bucks officials, made the call on choosing Vaughn, who had played only one season at Nevada-Las Vegas and who was represented by Jeff Schwartz, who was Kidd’s agent as well.
Now, just two-plus seasons later, the Bucks brass publicly acknowledged their roll-of-the-dice pick of Vaughn failed. They decided not to pick up the option year on his contract, meaning he will become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
The Bucks made the decision even though Vaughn is a mere 21 years old and had been touted as being a part of the team’s “Own the Future’’ campaign. And they decided to decline his option year despite the fact it would have cost them little to retain him, a mere $2.9 million.
Vaughn said he met with new Bucks general manager Jon Horst earlier this week and was informed that his contract wouldn’t be extended.
“Was I surprised? No, not really,’’ Vaughn said. “They just want to go in a different direction. It’s out of my control. There’s nothing I can do.’’
As one might have expected for a player so young and inexperienced, the 6-foot-6 Vaughn struggled in adjusting to the pro games during his first two seasons with the Bucks, averaging 3.1 points in 70 games as rookie and 3.2 points in 40 games last season.
But there were indications recently that Vaughn’s game was coming around. Just prior to being notified he wouldn’t be part of the Bucks’ future and following three games in which he was inactive, Vaughn fashioned two nice games. He scored 12 points off the bench against Atlanta and had nine points against Oklahoma City. In those two games, he went a combined 8 of 15 from the field and was 5 of 9 from 3-point range.
Vaughn felt the work he had invested in his game since joining the Bucks was finally starting to pay off.
“I’ve improved since my rookie year, for sure,’’ Vaughn said. “I think that’s been my main focus, trying to get better every year and I think I did that.’’
Interestingly, the six players who were drafted immediately after Vaughn – Sam Dekker, Jerian Grant, Delon Wright, Justin Anderson, Bobby Portis and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson – all had their options picked up. Those aforementioned players have flashed signs of being at least solid players and almost of them are currently either starting for their respective teams or are in the rotation. To wit:
* Dekker, the former University of Wisconsin standout, played in 77 of 82 regular-season games for Houston last season before being dealt to the Los Angeles Clippers. As a reserve, Dekker has played in every game for the Clippers this season.
* Grant played in 76 games as a rookie for New York before being traded to Chicago as part of the Derrick Rose Robin Lopez deal in the summer of 2016. Last season, Grant played in 63 games for the Bulls, 28 as a starter. This season, he has moved into the Bulls’ starting lineup, averaging 8.7 points and 6.8 assists (more than any Bucks player) in 29 minutes a game.
* Wright has steadily improved after being chosen by Toronto and is now emerging as a nice contributor for the Raptors, averaging 24 minutes a game off the bench.
* Anderson, who started his pro career with Dallas before being dealt to Philadelphia, has appeared in 119 NBA games, mostly as a reserve.
* Portis played in 62 games as a rookie for Chicago and 64 last season, 13 as a starter. He was projected to be a starter this season but, after punching his teammate Nikola Mirotic in practice during preseason, is currently serving an eight-game suspension.
* Hollis-Jefferson, after being a part-time starter in his first two seasons with Brooklyn, has blossomed into a full-time starter for the Nets and is playing well. He is averaging 15 points and 5.3 rebounds while shooting 51 percent from the field.
While Vaughn now realizes he isn’t going to be a part of the Bucks’ future and that his playing time the rest of the season –especially if he remains on the Bucks’ roster — will likely be minimal, he vows not to be a problematic player. He intends on staying focused and honing his game.
“It’s a business,’’ Vaughn said. “You just have to respect their decision and move on. I’m not going to let this stop me. I’m going to keep striving. That’s all I can do.’’
And that’s precisely the approach Vaughn needs to take, according to his teammate Jason Terry, who is in his 19th NBA season.
“He’s got to keep working hard, keep playing hard, which he’s done every day, and wait for his opportunity,’’ Terry said. “He’s still young. He’s still full of potential, still learning.
“He should be motivated every time he steps on the floor because this opportunity doesn’t come around often. Just realize how fortunate he is. There are a ton of people who would kill to be in his position.
“He’s got to stay positive and continue to work. If he does that, it’ll pay off for him.’’
Photo by Bill Tennessen