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Rashad Vaughn and the Anatomy of Upside

Upside! It's what everyone, including John Hammond, is looking for in the NBA Draft. Does Rashad Vaughn have any?

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Upside is a funny thing.  It seems like something any prospect could possess, but as we talk about it in the NBA draft, there seems to be a very particular set of criteria that a prospect must fulfill before being endowed as a high upside prospect.  With very minimal thinking, you can probably think of some of the words used to describe such a prospect.  Below you will find, "The Eric Nehm Guide to Upside".

Upside Guide

While the above graph may seem to oversimplify what upside might look like, it seems to present a relatively accurate picture of how upside is perceived. High upside players should be tall relative to position and have the possibility to potentially grow larger. They should play multiple positions. They should be able to make plays off the dribble. They should possibly be able to shoot threes. Each of those attributes adds even more potential value to them as a player.

This chart seems to make one thing abundantly clear: Being a shooting guard is not good for your upside.  How are you going to become a special player if all you do is shoot and score?  Why can't you play multiple positions?  Why aren't you a good enough ballhandler and passer to play point guard?  If you're already a great shooter, where can you even improve?

Through seemingly no fault of their own, shooting guards are not given the same chance to improve as other players with greater upside.  When a 6'9" player brings it up the floor, we wonder if he could do that more often.  We start to dream of a fastbreak led by a positionless forward that can do it all. When a 6'5" shooting guard brings it up the floor, we deride his ballhandling because there must be a reason he doesn't do that every time. He just must not be good enough to play point guard.

So, does that mean John Hammond went away from his normal draft strategy of targeting the best player available and instead targeted a need by selecting Vaughn?


As an 18-year-old, Vaughn already has a staggering amount of scoring talent.  He filled it up offensively in his only season at UNLV, shooting 38 percent from the three point line on over six attempts per game. He finished the season in the Top 15th percentile in college basketball in scoring from spot up, isolation, and pick-and-roll ball handling situations. The dude can really score, but there are certainly some concerns.

He really doesn't like to drive to his right despite being right-handed. He struggles getting all the way to the basket and instead settles for floaters. He might not be a great finisher at the rim. He doesn't draw fouls. He doesn't create well for his teammates. Despite shooting the three well, he only shot 70 percent from the free throw line. The list can go on if you would like, but those tell most of the story of why Vaughn projected as a second-round prospect by most advanced analytical models despite his young age.

Clearly, after watching Vaughn in Summer League action, there are plenty of aspects of Vaughn's game that can improve as an NBA player, but rather than discussing the possibility of those things improving many will label his game as "limited" at the next level. This is rarely the way we discuss a tall, lanky player though. Normally, they show some "promise" as a shooter or possess good ball skills for a player their size and we allow our imaginations to run wild with all the wonderful things they could do at the next level.

There is no denying tall, lanky power forwards can grow into skills easier than a shooting guard can develop some of the more nuanced skills they'll need at the next level.  And it's 100% true that their development can lead to them playing multiple positions and doing a wide array of things on the court, but that doesn't mean shooting guards can't get better. Especially ones that are just 18 years old and supremely talented at putting the ball in the basket.

And you know who makes those tall, lanky do-it-all kind of players really valuable? Shooting guards who can help spread the floor and allow those high upside guys to truly unleash their potential.

So, while there likely won't be a day where Rashad Vaughn defends three positions while bringing the ball up the floor to initiate the offense, that doesn't mean he has nothing left to develop. Far from it. There's still plenty of potential for him to grow and more than enough upside to go around for both him and the Bucks.