The NBA rookie wall is a daunting concept for any first year player, and for many it becomes a rather exhausting reality.
It's when the physical and mental stress of playing under an immense amount of pressure hits, and when they realize that the demands of an 82-game season is (surprise, surprise) above and beyond anything they've ever experienced before. Last week at Milwaukee Bucks exit interviews, 19-year-old rookie Rashad Vaughn mentioned the wall hit him numerous times this season, with one instance in particular pushing him to the brink.
"It was a couple of times." Vaughn said. "I remember one (time) I thought I hit it, but I was still pushing through it and playing, but then one day it hit. It hit like no other, and that's when I really felt it.
"It was here in practice and I thought I was going to die."
Vaughn might now be an NBA player, but as a teenager his experience is largely to be expected. Making matters difficult for Vaughn was that the wall wasn't a single game or practice, but a longer time frame.
"It was just tiring." Vaughn said. "It wasn't just a whole practice, but a whole period where I had to keep pushing," he explained.
After missing the final third of his freshman season due to a knee injury, Vaughn's transition from college star to NBA role player was a major learning experience, both in terms of competition as well as the broader demands of the NBA lifestyle, including the importance of eating right and treating your body properly.
"I didn't know what to think, so I just came in taking stuff off the fly and on the go. It's definitely a big difference — the schedule, the games. You're playing against the best players in the world every single night, so it's definitely a big difference from college.
"Growing up as a kid, you're always running around as a kid and not worrying about stretching. But now, I've been here and I've seen the older guys take care of their body everyday.
"You've got to work hard, but it's working smart."
After scoring in bunches in the first two weeks of the preseason, Vaughn earned early praise from Jason Kidd and entered the fall hopeful of making an impact despite his status as the NBA's second youngest player.
Jason Kidd on Rashad Vaughn: He plays with a great demeanor. He's shown he deserves time to play, and he'll get it. #Bucks— Aron Yohannes (@AronYohannes) October 11, 2015
However, all of that went out the window once the regular season started and Adam Silver let the real games begin (I'm getting in as many Game of Thrones references as I can this week). His inexperience quickly showed: not knowing where to be on offense, struggling to develop any sort of consistency with his jumper, and often finding himself physically outmatched on defense. Vaughn ended the year logging the worst shooting marks on the Bucks (not counting 10-day Jared Cunningham) in effective and regular field-goal percentage at 38.5% and 30.5% as he struggled to find any sort of rhythm. In fact, no rookie in NBA history has played at least 1,000 minutes while compiling a lower player efficiency rating than Vaughn's mark of 4.2 -- hardly the kind of history Vaughn had in mind after an encouraging exhibition season.
A rookie season is a rookie season, though, and at the tender age of 19, Vaughn still has plenty of time to get stronger, hone his perimeter stroke and refine his all-around game. As much as he struggled to show it with consistency, Vaughn's prior pedigree as a scorer speaks for itself, and his quick feet on defense suggest he has real potential on the other end as well. Moreover, the Bucks still lack shooting, and with three of their bench shooters set to become free agents (O.J. Mayo, Jerryd Bayless and Greivis Vasquez), Vaughn has a chance to earn a bigger role with the team next season. He showed flashes of that at times last October, and hopes to confidently rebuild that form and display it through his second year.
"I feel like I can definitely contribute to the team with the 3-point (shot)." Vaughn said. "Coming in, it (the issue with consistency) was mostly confidence, it was so up and down for me. I think coming into next season, the work I'm going to put in this offseason, I should definitely be able to come in and knock a lot of shots down."