The Nets two stashed picks have had a reversal of fortunes.
Juan Pablo Vaulet, the 6’7” wing man who hadn’t played since April because of recurring ankle woes, returned to his Bahia Blanca team last week and looked good. Aleksandar Vezenkov, the 6’9” forward who looked like he’d be a big part of F.C. Barcelona’s Spanish title hopes, is healthy but has been exiled to the team’s inactive list, part of a big shake-up after a five-game Barca losing streak.
Vaulet, taken in the 2015 NBA Draft with the Hornets second round pick, has been hammered by injuries —and resultant surgeries— to both ankles since shortly after he was drafted. His last surgery, which took place in Argentina in June, sidelined him until the end of October. In three games, Vaulet has played an average of 17 minutes , but shot well, hitting 73.3 percent of his two point shots while missing all four of his three-pointers.
The Nets had high hopes for JPV under Billy King. Even with his surgeries, the Nets have worked on development strategies for the long-armed Argentine. They had him come to Brooklyn last January during a break in the Argentine league play. The Nets checked on his ankle, worked with him on his shooting form (which did improve) and his strength. They even brought him on two road trips. He had also spent time with the organization in Las Vegas during the summer of 2015 but was confined to a walking boot.
There had been talk in Argentina of Vaulet joining the Long Island Nets this season, but his most recent ankle surgery put an end to that speculation. Vaulet is still only 21 years old, a month younger than D’Angelo Russell.
Vaulet is averaging 8.3 points and 4.3 rebounds since his return. His future with Bahia Blanca may be at an end, mainly because since he left the club, Maximo Fjellerup, a slick 6’5” 19-year-old, has taken his place in the team’s lineup. Ironically, his brother, Santiago, a 6’4” swingman, has also returned from surgery (knee) and taken up some of his minutes as well. Vaulet’s coach, Sebastian Ginobili (Manu’s brother), has said he continues to believe in JPV’s future.
While Vaulet has looked good, admittedly in the limited confines of Argentina’s basketball world, Vezenko, 22, has surprisingly struggled in both the Euroleague, and ACB, the Spanish League, basketball’s second best league after the NBA. He was taken at No. 57 with the Celtics swapped pick in the June 2017 Draft.
Last summer, Vezenkov led his Bulgarian national team to a place in the FIBA Europe qualifying tournament, where in the four games Bulgaria played, he averaged 16.8 points and 10.8 rebounds. And he appeared to be heading for a bigger role for Barca, but the organization has been in the throes of some bad basketball and worse management. It hasn’t helped that Barcelona, the city, has been the victim of a terrorist attack and in the midst of the Catalon independence movement, which has included a general strike.
Three games ago, following a five-game losing streak, Barcelona’s coach first benched, then deactivated Vezenkov. One issue was defense. Another was his three point shooting, which wasn’t up to par, particularly for a player who’s seen as an elite shooter. He had made only 6-of-23 three point attempts in 10 games. Before he was sent to the bench, Vezenkov was averaging nine points in the Spanish League but only 2.5 in the more competitive Euroleague.
Vezenkov has said that in meetings with the Nets, he was told the two sides will review his NBA status at the end of this season, his second on a three-year deal with Barcelona. There’s likely a buyout clause and considering that Vezenkov makes a little more than $300,000, it shouldn’t be an issue ... if the Nets want to bring him over.