The draft is upon us and as I was skimming through the list of early-entry international players for an article I'm working on, a name caught my eye: Juan Pablo Vaulet, from Argentina.
Vaulet is a 6'6" small forward from Bahia Basket of the Argentinian league, who at just 19 years of age is the youngest international player who has kept his name in the draft. This despite decision-makers in the U.S. not being particularly familiar with him and sites like DraftExpress, NBADraft.net, CBS Sports and Basketball Insiders having him barely cracking the list of top 100 prospects. Vaulet declaring before the U-19 World Cup makes sense if he wanted to draw some attention from scouts but him staying in the list of eligible players is shocking.
So shocking in fact that DX's Johnathan Givony reported that some NBA teams were wondering whether Vaulet had a promise from a team to select him in the second round.
Some NBA teams are wondering if Juan Vaulet either has a promise from a team, or is hoping to sneak through the cracks and go undrafted.— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) junio 15, 2015
Like Givony says, there's a chance Vaulet wants to go undrafted and in the event of becoming a viable NBA player later in his career, be able to negotiate a deal with anyone he wants. But before going with that obviously valid explanation, let's dig a little deeper and indulge in some rampant, unsubstantiated speculation.
Vaulet is coached by a certain Sebastian Ginobili. Yes, that would be the brother of Manu Ginobili, and yes, Bahia Basket would be the team in which Manu Ginobili played for in Argentina before making his jump to Europe. The team is owned by Manu's friend and former teammate Pepe Sanchez. Ginobili himself knows Vaulet or at least his game, since he tweeted a Vine of one of his dunks.
Volcadón de @juampiiivaulet hoy en Bahía! Un tren! https://t.co/dp02lhleuf— Manu Ginobili (@manuginobili) abril 7, 2015
Vaulet is a bit of an unknown -- or as much as any international prospect can be in this day and age. If a team made a promise to select him, it has to be a team that knows about him and his potential. Because of his connection to Manu Ginobili, if there's a franchise that has an inside connection to Vaulet, it's the Spurs.
Before going any further, let's talk a little about what kind of player Vaulet it.
Tracking down information is not so easy, but we do have some nuggets. Vaulet was the starting small forward for the Argentinian U-19 FIBA Tournament in the Czech Republic in 2013, and was by far the youngest player on that team. The team didn't win very many games, only 1 of 8, but did beat the host nation. Vaulet averaged 8.5 points per game, 4.0 rebounds, and 0.5 assists. He shot 46.9% from two-point range, and only 44.4% from the free-throw line. He does not have 3-point range.
This season with Bahia Basket, he appeared on the bench January 22nd, but did not play. His debut appears to be on January 26th 2015, and went 0-3 in less than a minute. Over the remaining part of the season, his minutes increased as did his scoring. He averaged 7.2 points per game, 4.1 rebounds and 0.8 assists in the Argentinian League. He is now headed to the U-19 FIBA Tournament as the star of the Argentinian team with none other than Sebastian Ginobili as the head coach.
Based upon his statistics, he is a slashing type player who is a willing rebounder, but is not a particularly good shooter. He clearly lacks 3-point range, and some of his free-throw performances leave a great deal to be desired, suggesting poor or at least inconsistent shooting mechanics. His highlights show decent athleticism, however, and he's regarded as a good, physical defender. Because of his youth he could still become a passable outside shooter and if that happens, he could become a viable NBA prospect.
Once again, this is all wild speculation based on how strange it is that Vaulet didn't withdraw his name from the early-entry list and his obvious connection with Ginobili and by extension the Spurs. There's no reliable information out there tying Vaulet to the Spurs, I can't repeat that enough. It's all based on a Givony tweet and a Brazilian reporter discussing the possibility of the Spurs making a promise and Vaulet being this year's Bruno Caboclo. That's all. In all likelihood he goes undrafted.
That said, the idea of the Spurs finding the next Manu by going deeper and scouting the Argentine league instead of Europe is too poetic to ignore.
The draft is in a couple of days and we'll know whether or not all this conjecture becomes reality.