“Nik Stauskas, he’s not just a shooter.” That fact was proven again and again so many times that it became a running joke to anyone who watched more thana few Michigan games. Over and over, Michigan’s freshman guard from Mississauga, Ontario showed off his diverse skill set against the country’s best players. And every time an analyst saw it live, he acted as if he was the first person to realize that Stauskas was more than “just a shooter.”
That being said, it’s clear that Stauskas has a specialty: long range shooting. He can do other things, just none as well as he can shoot 3-pointers. The 6-foot-6 freshman found his way into the starting line up by the seventh game and made an immediate impact. He found his way quickly and proved to be a quick learner on offense – reaching double figures in 22 of Michigan’s first 24 games. On defense, however, his progress was more freshman-like. Stauskas routinely experienced difficulty playing sound team defense and appeared to struggle with some of the defensive principles, especially once the Big Ten season kicked in.
By the end of the season, Stauskas was a critical cog in Michigan’s lethal offensive machine, even if he finished the year on a bit of a streaky note. Michigan’s Canadian import appears to be the kind of dead-eye 3-point shooter Michigan is used to playing against, someone in the mold of a John Diebler or a Blake Hoffarber. But don’t forget — that’s not all he is.
- 3-point shooting: Duh. Nik Stauskas kicked off his college career by shooting a scorching 56 percent from beyond the arc for the non-conference slate. At that time, it seemed like the kid had been dropped from another planet — when he made less than half of his threes in any single game it felt as if something was wrong. At one point early on in the year, Stauskas was asked what his shooting percentage was in high school, and he said he liked to “keep it around 60 percent.” Inevitably, the freshman’s red-hot shooting numbers cooled when the conference season rolled around. Stauskas fell back to earth, and there were times when it was particularly painful — he simply became human. With the Big Ten season came better defenses, and some brought with them particular shooter-proof strategies (remember Ohio State’s and Indiana’s “lock the rails” technique?). Overall, though, it was a terrific shooting year for Stauskas, especially when you consider his age. In his first college season, he shot 44 percent from beyond the arc and 50 percent from inside for an effective field goal percentage of just under 60 — that’s good for 52nd in the nation, according to Ken Pomeroy.
- Ball screen offense: Stauskas was obviously a great jump shooter but his ability to create with the ball screen was unmatched in the Big Ten – except perhaps in his own backcourt.
Source: Synergy Sports (min. 50 poss.)
- Among players that used at least 50 ball screens, Stauskas led the Big Ten in derived ball offense. Michigan scored 1.14 points per shot when Stauskas shot the ball off the ball screen and 1.24 points per possession when he passed the ball off the ball screen. Those numbers are incredibly impressive and his combined 1.18 points per ball screen possession ranked 12th nationally. Michigan loses Trey Burke’s 487 ball screen possessions (and Tim Hardaway Jr.’s 126) so there will be opportunity for Stauskas in this regard.
- Efficiency: Shooters are usually the most efficient offensive players because their usage is a bit lower and the majority of their field goal attempts are open shots. Stauskas is no exception to this rule as his offensive rating of 122.8 placed him at 32nd in the country. Stauskas had an eFG% of 72% (1.44 PPP) on catch and shoot opportunities which accounted for 43% of his offense but he was proficient in all parts of the offense. Alongside great players like Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., Stauskas found his niche and didn’t play outside of himself. He rarely turned the ball over, generally made smart passes and made a respectable half of his two point attempts. There’s not much to complain about with Stauskas’s offensive performance as a freshman.
Room for improvement
- Defense: This was perhaps Stauskas’s most glaring weakness as a freshman. It seemed as though Stauskas had a difficult time learning some of the key defensive principles early on, but he also struggled with his one-on-one perimeter defense. His lack of aggressiveness on the defensive end stood out like a sore thumb. Stauskas committed just .87 fouls per 40 minutes, the 2nd lowest rate in the country. It’s not as though Stauskas was abysmal all season — there were just times when his defense was a liability. You could single out individual poor defensive performances for almost any player on the roster but conference games at Michigan State and Penn State were certainly learning experiences for the freshman. Stauskas is long and he isn’t amazingly slow — on offense he was able to consistently get by defenders — so this is an area where it’s possible for him to improve.
- Making shots against elite competition: There’s no denying Stauskas can shoot. But the fact is, there was a significant drop off between his long-range shooting numbers in the non-conference season and the Big Ten season. Stauskas’s 57 percent non-conference rate was never going to be sustainable in Big Ten play but 36% in conference play and 38% in the NCAA tournament (3-of-18 against teams other than Florida) are just average numbers for an elite shooter. This trend makes quite a bit of sense; good teams were able to limit Michigan’s primary playmakers without devoting their entire defenses and, in turn, negate Stauskas. There are fewer opportunities available against great defensive teams and he needs to work on getting his shot off against elite competition if he wants to be considered a truly lethal shooter.
- Rebounding: This critique is a little more contingent on what sort of player Stauskas hopes to be. Last year, Michigan got great production from Tim Hardaway Jr. on the defensive glass and it was a major factor in Michigan’s ability to push the ball. With Hardaway grabbing rebounds, he could start the fast break immediately. Michigan’s fast break attack will undoubtedly suffer next year without the virtuosity of Trey Burke, but it would surprise me if they went away from it too drastically. If Stauskas learns to crash the glass, it could make a big difference in the Wolverines’ ability to push the ball — and at 6-foot-6, it isn’t unreasonable to see this as a possibility. The Michigan coaching staff loves having guards who can rebound, and that seems to be a reasonable expectation for Stauskas.
Stauskas set Michigan’s freshman record for 3-pointers made in a season with 80, started almost every game, averaged double figures and ranked in the top-40 nationally in offensive efficiency. Given the leap that Michigan players have made between their freshman and sophomore years in Ann Arbor it’s exciting to think about where Stauskas can take his game from here.
Bottom Line: In Nik Stauskas, John Beilein finally has a player who could be developed into a knock-down 3-point shooter. He has all the tools, and his shot is already technically as sound as they come. When Stauskas can get that shot off against the Big Ten’s best and nail it on a consistent basis, he will be considered a great sharpshooter. The talent Michigan has returning and the freshmen coming in indicate the Wolverines will again be a very good offensive team, meaning Stauskas should find himself with plenty of opportunities offensively.
It remains to be seen what sort of role Stauskas takes over with an entirely new backcourt coming in next season. Michigan loses its two primary playmakers in the backcourt but has two talented freshmen to replace them. There’s also talk of Glenn Robinson III playing more minutes at the three position, where Stauskas played the majority of his minutes. But while there are obvious question marks, Stauskas is also the most experienced player on Michigan’s roster with meaningful minutes at the one, two or three spot. Stauskas has the ability to play a bigger role, but there will be heavy competition to be a go to player on the 2013-14 roster. If Stauskas becomes more consistent – especially defensively – and continues to expand his game there’s also a chance that he could emerge as one of the go to players in Michigan’s backcourt.