What’s the first thing you think of when you hear Nik Stauskas’ name? Vivek Ranadive getting the Kings’ war room to chant, “Nik Rocks!” on Draft Night 2014? The way that Ranadive said Stauskas “shoots like Steph and he's big like Klay”? The closed captioning mishap that led to the Sauce Castillo phenomenon? The way that he, Pik Swapkas, came to the Sixers after the team’s infamous trade with Sacramento back in 2015?
It’s probably one of those things, but the fact that none of those have to do with Stauskas’ actual on-court play is telling. Playing for the dumpster fire that is the Ranadive-run Kings, as well living in fear of DeMarcus Cousins’ constant threats, marred his rookie campaign. A change of scenery was certainly welcoming for Stauskas when he came to Philadelphia for the 2016 season, but he struggled to find the swagger that made him a lottery pick out of Michigan. A shooter without confidence isn’t much of a shooter at all, as Stauskas shot just 38.5 percent from the field and 32.6 percent from three in his first year in Philly.
“Nik Sucks!” was a more apt phrase at that point.
During his third season this past year, it may be going a little too far to say things began to click for Stauskas, but the idea of “Nik Stauskas, NBA Role Player” became more crystalized. He led all qualified Sixers with a three-point percentage of 36.8 percent on 4.5 attempts per game in 80 contests. On a team bereft of offensive threats, that’s certainly a useful skill. Looking a little deeper into his three-point shooting might give a better idea of just how useful of a player Stauskas can be in the Sixers’ future.
35.1 percent of Stauskas’ overall shots came on catch-and-shoot three-pointers, sinking 41.0 percent of those on 2.8 attempts per game, per SportsVU tracking. That’s compared to the 27.8 percent Stauskas shot on pull-up threes (1.7 attempts per game). While he may not “shoot like Steph” as Vivek once claimed, being able to nail catch-and-shoot threes could leave Stauskas filling an integral role in a modern NBA offense.
On a team that has pass-first players like Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, T.J. McConnell and possibly another guard from this summer’s draft, there’s room for Stauskas to act as a floor-spacer next season, pulling defenders into his gravity and allowing more room for Simmons to drive to the hoop or for Joel Embiid to operate in the paint. He won’t live up to the standards and expectations of a top-10 pick, but he can carve out a nice career as a plus bench player for himself.
One wrinkle that can decide Stauskas’ fate in his Philly is his fit with Simmons specifically. Whether you want to call him a point guard or not, Simmons will be the player bringing the ball up for the Sixers and their main distributor. This presents a unique opportunity for Brett Brown to surround their 6’10” ball-handler with an unconventional lineup. Stauskas could be valuable as the lone combo guard for the Sixers for those type of units.
Malik Monk is frequently discussed as an ideal fit with Simmons, which I’d agree with. Stauskas isn’t too far off stylistically from him. Monk is 6’3” with a 6’3.5” wingspan. Stauskas is 6’6” with a 6’7.5” wingspan.
Sauce has been disappointing as a secondary ball-handler so far during his pro career, posting an assist rate of only 12.9 percent this season and scoring just 0.69 points per possession as the pick-and-roll ball-handler, which places him in the 27th percentile in the league. This is after having an assist rate of 18.8 percent at Michigan and producing 594 of total offense, per sports-reference. Monk’s assist rate was 13.3 percent as a freshman while producing 661 points of total offense. Monk obviously presents more upside after three uninspiring NBA seasons from Stauskas, but if Monk doesn’t end up a Sixer in June, they have a version of that archetype ready to test drive in Simmons-centric lineups with Sauce.
Stauskas is a favorite of Brown’s on top of all of that, likely ensuring that he’ll still be a Sixer during the last year of his rookie contract. Here’s what Brown had to say about the guard earlier this month, per The Philadelphia Daily News’ Bob Cooney:
With Nik, my reaction always is to grind him, to really harden him up. When I feel like I'm going overboard, I'll back off. But that is rare with him. He's not a rookie. If I'm him, I would want that from me. I'm giving him everything I've got to toughen him up, to harden him up. Because we can see he is skilled. Gosh, he's got game - with the ball, straight-line drives, rocker step, make a three. It's going to be if he can get tougher, get bigger, guard his man. I stand by that we're going to look at him at 27 or 28 and I think you're going to see a hell of a player, and he's pretty damn good right now. But with Nik, I don't look at him like I look at [Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot].
Brown also included him on his list of eight “keepers” currently on the Sixers’ roster:
Here are the players Brown acknowledged as the #Sixers' keepers: Simmons, Embiid, TLC, Holmes, Covington, Saric, Stauskas, McConnell.— Keith Pompey (@PompeyOnSixers) April 14, 2017
If Stauskas improves his handle and really solidifies that catch-and-shoot three-pointer from the corner, he could leave a mark on Sixers fans in the future that goes beyond memes and hot sauce.
What would you do with Nik Stauskas?
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