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Get to know Nik Stauskas: a Q&A with Maize N Brew

Zach Travis of Maize N Brew, SB Nation's Michigan Wolverines blog, answers some questions about Kings rookie Nik Stauskas.
By | 0 Comments | Feb 28, 2019

A: Statistically, Nik improved a bunch from his freshman year to sophomore year. What to you was his biggest improvement?

A: The one nickname I've heard of Nik's from Michigan is "Tube" for all his YouTube videos. Any others we should be aware of?

Z: That is actually a new one to me. I don't think Stauskas developed many nicknames during his time at Michigan that went very far. He was always well known for flashing the three goggles after a big shot or playfully getting into it with opposing crowds, but no nicknames ever came out of it.

If I had to guess why, I'd imagine it has something to do with the pervasiveness of the "Not Just A Shooter" meme, which became something an announcer would say at least once a game in response to something Nik did. This became a pretty big joke on Michigan's twitter-sphere and was probably as close to a nickname as Nik ever got.

A: It's well documented that Nik's greatest weakness lies on the defensive end. In your opinion, do you think he can ever become a good defender?

Z: Just work at it. Nik has good athleticism and length, so the physical tools are there for him to become at least a good defender. One issue he had while at Michigan was that – at least in his sophomore year – he was shouldering such a big part of the offense that Michigan was content to let him take weaker assignments on D to keep him fresh for the other end. In the end, defense is just something he needs to focus on in the same way he spent time improving his offensive game. I don't see a physical reason why he can't be a good defender, or even a great one. It just depends on how bad he wants to improve in that area.

A: We all know Nik can shoot. What other part of his game stands out to you?

Z: His ability to shoot is impressive, but I think that ignores just how impressive it is that he is able to get his shot off in some instances. Nik's ability to shoot the three off the bounce is nearly as good as his catch and shoot abilities. Last year he had the lowest percentage of assisted three point makes on the team (just 71.7%), but shot the most attempts (208) and made those shots at the highest percentage on the team (44%). As I mentioned above, Nik is a brutal player to guard in the pick and roll because he forces guards to go over top of the screen to contest shots, and teams that hedge soft open themselves up to a blizzard of open looks off the dribble. But Nik was also very good at simply breaking a defender down and getting an open look in isolation (check out his big shot against Wisconsin in Madison for a prime example). So yeah, Nik can shoot, but his ability to find his own shot from so many places on the court is what makes him such an impressive scorer and not just a shooter. It also opens up so much else on offense to him, because a defender and any help defenders in the area have to be worried first and foremost about Nik's shot, leading to openings elsewhere.

A: How did Nik handle the jump in responsibility his second year from being a role player to being the go-to guy?

Z: Nik handled the increase in responsibility as well as anyone could have expected. The jump in his role in the offense (an eight point increase in usage rate) is rarely ever coupled with an increase in offensive efficiency, but NIk's increased passing and ability to get both shots at the rim and shots on the perimeter on his own made guarding him a very tough job.

The really impressive thing was how well he dealt with the pressure in season. At one point Indiana exposed what was then the blueprint for stopping Stauskas. The Hoosiers matched Yogi Ferrell on him, played a lot of denial defense, and kept Ferrell right up in Stauskas to make it hard for him to get the ball and get into the offense. Iowa and Wisconsin appropriated this strategy with similar results, and it looked like Stauskas had finally been cracked. However, Michigan was able to tweak its approach. Stauskas used more backdoor cuts to punish over-playing guards, and he became more comfortable simply overpowering and shooting over these smaller guards. His second half against Michigan State was a clinic in how to take advantage of a smaller defender. Teams tried different things to limit Nik's effectiveness, but Nik and John Beilein were able to come up with an answer for almost everything.

A: Aside from defense, in what other areas do you think Nik might struggle with in the NBA?

Z: I don't think Nik is as good a rebounder as he could be given his size and athleticism, although that could be a function of his being such a perimeter oriented player. However, it would be nice to see him provide a bit more help on the boards. I'm also not sure if he will have as much success in isolation on offense in the NBA. He should still be deadly in the pick and roll, but until I see him break down a wing defender and consistently get good shots at the rim against talented rim protectors, I will question whether he has quite enough athleticism to do that at a high level in the NBA.

Thankfully, I don't think any of this matters much. Nik should be a great asset at the next level. He has an elite skill (shooting) that isn't entirely dependent on being part of the offense (he can get his own shot), and he brings enough skill in ball handling and passing to give his team options when he is on the floor. If he deals with his defensive issues, he could be an NBA player for a long time and have a very productive career.

A big thanks to Zach for answering our questions. For more of his Michigan insights, you can follow Zach on Twitter.

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