There were very few bright spots in the Philadelphia 76ers 110-86 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday night, but Nik Stauskas was certainly one of them.
He quietly finished with 13 points on 4-8 shooting (including 3-6 from three point range), the latest performance in a recent streak of efficient, double-digit scoring games. Over Stauskas’s past five appearances, he’s averaging 13.2 points while shooting a gaudy 60.5 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from three-point range.
After shooting less than 20 percent in both of those categories during four preseason games, any sort of notable offensive production from him this season felt far fetched. Yet through 12 games, he’s showing wrinkles in his offensive game that give you the impression they may last longterm.
For starters, Stauskas is regaining the three-point shooting stroke that abandoned him after college. He currently sits at 40 percent through the early portion of the 2016-17 season, and his ability to knock down shots from beyond the arc is opening up other facets of his game.
Stauskas is averaging 4.3 drives per game, and shooting 14-21 (66.7 percent) on those attempts so far. The 23-year-old was a really adept ball handler in college, yet his inability to finish through contact was an Achilles’ heel that followed him to the NBA.
In his fourth year as a pro, that’s all beginning to change. Instead of throwing the ball at the rim and hoping for a foul call, the Mississauga native is learning how to absorb the hit and adjust his shot in mid-air.
In the above clips, watch how Stauskas catches Pacers guard Monta Ellis and Thunder guard Semaj Christon with the head fake en route to two finishes at the rim. That’s a big step forward in progressing from someone who used to look comfortable only in catch-and-shoot situations.
Maybe the most impressive facet of his newfound driving prowess is how he’s creating separation from on-ball defenders. A staple of his shot creation has been to catch the defender leaning one direction off the dribble, only to reverse hands and burst downhill with no wasted motion. Displaying quick footwork and a tight handle, it’s a pretty hard move for most defenders to stay in front of.
The beauty of this move is that he’s capable of baiting defenders going to his left as well, making it hard for them to force him in a certain direction.
Previously considered an afterthought on this Sixers team, Stauskas now looks like a key contributor on a bench unit that has desperately sought some offensive infusion over the past three seasons.
Stauskas has admittedly struggled with his confidence over the past three years, even employing a sports psychologist to help him keep his mind “sharp”. So far, he’s playing with a certain self-assuredness previously unknown to Sixers fans. Provided that Stauskas continues to knock down threes at a relatively high clip, he’ll continue to have more opportunities to drive the lane as the season goes on.
Look for “Sauce” to stay hot as the season continues.