Nik Stauskas was selected by the Sacramento Kings with the No. 8 overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, and it was clear the former Michigan Wolverine never stood a chance.
Stauskas, who was crowned Big Ten Player of the Year in his sophomore season, would be joining a franchise marred by disfunction, and if that wasn’t clear to him before, the three coaches he played for during his rookie season surely made it evident.
During his first season in the Association, Stauskas struggled to find his footing. An uneven amount of playing time and a chaotic environment in which no rookie should have to be nurtured in contributed to his woes, but it’s also important to latch some of the blame on to him.
Poor shooting from a player regarded as one of the most accurate long-range snipers from his respective draft class prevented Stauskas from seeing an extension in his minutes, as he averaged 4.4 points per game, shooting 36% from the field and 32% from downtown.
After realizing that their experiment had failed, the Kings pulled the underwhelming Stauskas Show from their stage and sent it packing to Philadelphia, with a protected future first-round pick as a sweetener. Sacramento made the deal to shed cap in hopes of inking a deal with a big-named free agent, and that came in the form of Rajon Rondo.
Stauskas’ first year in Philly unfolded in almost the same fashion his rookie year in Sacramento did, and although he basically doubled his scoring average (8.5 PPG), his shooting percentages remained atrocious as he only connected on 38% of field goals and again on 32% of three-point attempts.
Stauskas’ struggles sent a steady stream of critique his way, including the father of former 76ers guard Kendall Marshall, who blasted both Philadelphia and Stauskas via his Twitter account.
Too often the Canadian’s confidence wavered. Despite having the backing of his coach Brett Brown, Stauskas couldn’t burst through the mental basketball blockage that hindered his confidence and prevented him from blossoming into the prospect many anticipated he would be.
So far this season that narrative has become passé, as Stauskas is playing the best basketball of his young career, flourishing in his crisply tailored bench role. Through 14 games played Stauskas is averaging 10 points per game, and shooting with the touch fans have been awaiting for him to rediscover since his days in Ann Arbor.
Currently Stauskas is shooting 53.8% from the floor and 46% from downtown. His jump in points per game hasn’t been substantial, but his impact on the Sixers’ bench, which is third league-wide in points per game at 45.2 behind only the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets’ revered second units, has been profound. He’s served as a stabilizer, and is being aggressive as ever.
So far this season 30% of Stauskas’ field goals have come within 0-3 feet of the basket, an immense surge from the 18% in his rookie season and 25% last year. Most of Stauskas’ attempts have been of the catch-and-shoot variety, but he’s also providing Philadelphia with his underrated ball-handling and playmaking abilities that he showed flashes of while manning floor general duties while at Michigan.
Last year Stauskas took 3-6 dribbles 16% of the time after catching the ball. In the beginning portions of this season that number has jumped to 26.4%, showing the early emphasis Stauskas has put on being aggressive, which has only fortified his confidence and has made him one of the more valuable wing assets the Sixers horde.
His 4.1 drives per game is third on the Sixers behind Sergio Rodriguez and TJ McConnell, and Stauskas shoots the highest field goal percentage on attacks of the basket out of the trio at 65.2%. He has sneaky bounce, and if you’re a skeptic this young fans reaction after Stauskas skied to slam down an alley-oop will convert you into a believer.
That’s the type of face someone makes when they aced a test they thought they bombed.
The Stauskas situation is one that Sixers fans will continue to monitor throughout the year. Can he sustain this type of output, and continue to spark their bench with strong shooting performances? Will he dial back his aggression, or continue to ratchet it up with each productive outing? The answers to these questions will all be revealed, but for now my man Lil’ Uzi Vert and I know one thing: the Sixers and Stauskas got TOO MUCH SAUCE.
Stats via NBA.com/stats and BasketballReference.com.