The Nets' second round pick last June, Juan Pablo Vaulet, has like his first round counterparts spent a lot of time in street clothes. Like Rondae-Hollis Jefferson he suffered an ankle injury, in his case a stress fracture and like RHJ, he missed significant time, 19 games. Both he and Hollis-Jefferson had the same surgeon, Dr. Martin O'Malley, the NBA's go-to foot and ankle specialist.
And like RHJ, he was frustrated. Now, finally, after some minutes restrictions and rest, he seems to be hitting his stride for Bahia Blanca in the LNB. In last two games, he scored a total of 31 points in 43 minutes, shot 11-of-14 from the floor, hitting the only three pointer he took. In those games, he also grabbed 14 rebounds, an improving part of his game.
He's likely to play for the Argentine national team in Rio this August. Still, just how good is he? It's hard to tell from watching him in the LNB, which is about on the same level of NCAA Division II. The original plan, under Billy King, was to get him some summer league minutes last July, let him play out his deal in Argentina and bring him up next season, no doubt to a minimal deal.
Then, he was diagnosed with a stress fracture to his ankle while playing for Team Argentina in the FIBA U19 tournament right after the Draft. He joined the Nets summer league entries in Orlando and Las Vegas, but had to watch in a walking boot while getting some shooting instructions from Paul Westphal. After that, it was on to New York for surgery and a four-month recovery.
Now, of course, Billy King is gone and Vaulet's other big advocate, Frank Zanin -- King's No. 2, faces an uncertain future himself.
What will Sean Marks do? He is not unfamiliar with JPV. There were reports around last June that his roomsSpurs might take Vaulet at the bottom of the first round or alternately hope he'd go undrafted so they could ultimately make a deal with him as a free agent. Both Marks and his new No. 2, Trajan Langdon, were in the Spurs front office during last year's draft. Do they believe, like some in the Nets front office, that the 19-year-old is "the next Manu?"
He has some, mostly physical, attributes that can't be ignored. He is very athletic and that vertical leap combined with long arms --an estimated 7-foot wingspan-- has made him a favorite among Argentine fans ... and that includes Ginobili whose brother, Sebastian, is Vaulet's coach. Remember this tweet before the draft?
Manu Ginobili (@manuginobili) April 7, 2015
And this one after...
El argentino Juan Pablo Vaulet elegido número 39 en el draft de la NBA! FELICITACIONES @juampiiivaulet!— Manu Ginobili (@manuginobili) June 26, 2015
Vaulet does have what Draft Express called an "extremely quick first step, and is not afraid to take hits around the basket." DX also wrote about his speed in the open court, noting he has "big hands, long arms and strong athleticism." Still, there were enough other issues to warrant him being ranked No. 97 in Draft Express rankings last June.
He does not shoot well and sometimes even seems reluctant to shoot. His three point percentage this year, after he worked on his mechanics, is only 26.3 percent. That's up from 10 percent (not a typo) last season. His free throw shooting has gotten better, but he only shoots 72 percent from the line. Not great for an NBA shooting guard. He does not speak good English.
He is also injury prone. Prior to suffering a stress fracture of his right ankle, Vaulet suffered an even worse injury to his left ankle. In all fairness, it doesn't seem to have hurt his hurdling style of play. He could also use some strength training.
Francisco Padernera, an Argentine hoops blogger, tweeted Monday that Vaulet may not yet have the necessary physicality for the NBA, but writes that he is unsurpassed in his "intensity and verticality" in Argentina and, Padernera believes, no one in the Argentine league, the LNB, can match him one-on-one. Padernera also tells NetsDaily that his shooting mechanics have improved over last season, but still needs work.
But as his ankle heals, he has shown more confidence on court, as he did last week in this 18-point performance.
Ginobili talked about Vaulet in a wide ranging interview with Argentina's top paper, La Nacion, last August, after he was drafted. He called the Nets trade for him, which cost two second rounders and $880,000, a "surprise for everyone." He says he exchanges texts with Vaulet and offers advice. He admitted he didn't know enough about him to make a judgment about his NBA prospects.
"I see and hear a lot about him, but first hand, I've see him. I can not say I saw much of him. And many times if you see a player on the court playing, but you don't see him train, you do not see him live, see their body language, how he resolve situations, how him play, it is difficult to draw conclusions," Ginobili told La Nacion.
Vaulet's need for greater strength "does not mean anything," said Ginobili. "Because at age 19, if the saw me, they would not have chosen me in the Draft. So he has a lot of room to grow." Bottom line, Ginobili said, the Nets "saw potential in Vaulet and secured him. They see that has a lot to improve and believe that he can play in one or two years."
So what are the Nets options? They can't bring him up for summer league because he'll likely be training for the Olympics. They could sign him to an NBA deal in July. They could sign him, as a second rounder, to a D-League contract and have him play with the Long Island Nets ... at a much lower salary. Under new D-League rules, the Nets would retain his rights. They could arrange for him to play in Europe or simply watch him develop in Argentina, hoping his injuries are behind him.
And not everyone believes he will ultimately make it. He needs a lot of work.
Vaulet in an interview earlier last November said he believes he will make it, and whether it takes one year or longer, it doesn't matter. "I need to develop and don't want to speed it up. It may be next year, may be in five years or may be in 10 years. But at least now I have a chance."
And it should be noted, Ginobili didn't get to the NBA until he was 25.