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Behind the winning ways of Jacque Vaughn

Milwaukee Bucks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

As Kyrie Irving said the other night, there is “no cap” in Jacque Vaughn. It’s all authentic and it is also predictable: you don’t know what he wants, aren’t accountable, he will make sure you know it ... and not the next day, the next hour, the next minute. Now, right now.

It shows in a lot of the way he has coached the Nets, as Kristian Winfield writes Sunday, whether it’s calling a quick timeout, even when winning; letting players know how they’re doing in the most basic of basketball duties like boxing out, or making full use of coaching analytics, “eye in the sky” video on the team’s iPad.

As a result, the Nets are on a roll: eight straight wins, tying the record for franchise’s longest winning streak in Brooklyn, winning 12 of the last 13 overall and posting a 19-7 record in Vaughn’s tenure. In each of those stretches, the Nets record is best in the NBA.

Truth be told, Vaughn had been passed over twice during his six-year Nets career, once when Kenny Atkinson was canned and despite his job in the “Bubble,” Sean Marks went with Steve Nash, then after Nash was let go, Marks — and Kevin Durant — wanted Ime Udoka, then and now the suspended head coach of the Celtics, his tenure interrupted by allegations of inappropriate relations with female staffers. Wise heads ultimately prevailed and the self-described “write-in candidate” surprisingly won the election eight days after Nash departed. Call it a recount.

Winfield spoke with Mike Budenholzer, the Bucks coach who worked with Vaughn (and Marks) back in their San Antonio days.

“As a player, his work ethic and his attention to detail was just off the charts,” he said on Friday. “He’s about as sharp as anybody I’ve ever been around as a player, and his thirst for game plans and little moments where he can make a difference and impact winning, it was high-level.

“And as a coach, it’s kind of the same thing.”

No one ever doubted the Pasadena, California native’s smarts. Vaughn earned a 3.72 GPA at Kansas, was named Academic All-American and the GTE 1997 Academic All-American of the Year. And not his enthusiasm either. That was a given during his playing days too, but just as he was a back-up to Hall of Famers John Stockton and Jason Kidd as well as future Hall of Famer Tony Parker as a player, he was relegated to the perennial role of assistant coach following a disastrous turn as the Magic head coach during Orlando’s fitful rebuild a decade ago.

His humility, perhaps honed in secondary roles, has helped. Talking about how he understood he wasn’t the organization’s first choice, he recounted a conversation he had with his wife.

“But I’m OK with that,” Vaughn said. “I said to my wife, I might have not been her first choice and we’ve been together 20 years, so you know, it could all work out. So off we go.”

That theme came through recently in Meghan Triplett’s interview with him on YES when he talked about his commitment to Brooklyn.

“I wanted to continue to add value to the organization,” he told Triplett recently. “with the relationship I had within the organization. So my mind was wrapped around, ‘Can I help and aid in bringing a championship to this organization.”

Putting aside the most obvious difference with Nash — the propensity to use the quick timeout — the most telling thing that’s changed has been in basic analytics and accountability. Winfield writes about the most recent example: box-out data. With a small team that often goes even smaller, that most basic basketball move becomes critical. And what Vaughn found and shared with his players was not pretty. To some, it was shocking.

“Who’s making these stats?” he jokingly recalled in an initial reaction. “You want to talk about holding people accountable?”

It worked. Irving is averaging 6.6 rebounds in December.

“When I’m able to hold myself accountable and Jacque’s able to hold me accountable and my teammates are able to hold me accountable, then it makes it easier for us to hold each other accountable by doing the little things,” he said. “These are things that we have to do every night to win.”

Ben Simmons had a similar reaction, as Winfield notes.

“It wasn’t great,” admitted Simmons with a smile, noting, “It’s right in front of your eyes, it’s not a made-up thing. It’s a real stat.”

“A lot of guys didn’t like where they were,” Durant said. “I think since then we’ve been making a conscious effort.”

Vaughn is all about “real stats,” taking advantage of the team’s coaching analytics team, lead by Logan McPhail and Rohan Jaitley who often sit with arm’s length from Vaughn, armed with the iPad that’s filled with real-time data and up-to-date video the coach uses to show his players what’s going on ... and what’s not.

“We didn’t have that previously,” said Vaughn. “So that communication part, whether it was a clip guys wanted to see at halftime that we talked through, I think that’s where the trust is growing: to be able to communicate, to be able to ask questions, have a little psychological safety where you can ask and not be reprimanded and we try to figure this thing out together.”

Kevin Durant who had an odd relationship with Nash defending him in April, asking that he be fired in August has been most supportive of Vaughn.

“He’s (Jacque Vaughn) been huge. Just keeping it simple. We have high expectations for our team, but the process is more important than the end result. Each day matters and Jacque has been preaching that since he got the job,” said KD a month back.

“As a player, you like to simplify the game and what you’re doing and that’s what he’s been doing this whole time. Guys have been learning on the fly, but also picking up things quick and applying it quickly so Jacque has been doing a great job for us.”

Contrast that with what Durant had said about his last year under Nash and what he told Joe Tsai, per an interview with Chris Haynes.

“I went to them and was like, ‘Yo, I don’t like how we are preparing. I don’t like shootarounds. I like practices. I need more. I want to work on more s–t. Hold me accountable. Get on my ass in film if that’s going to help you get on everybody else’s head. I want to do more closeouts. I want to work on more shell drills at practice.’”

Monday night will be the Nets next challenge, in Cleveland vs. the surging Cavaliers. Expect a playoff atmosphere and if things don’t go right, some accountability. It’s the Vaughn Way.