Nik Stauskas was the Big Ten Player of the Year. On a team with many different offensive weapons, he was the most used player on the roster and Michigan’s leading scorer. But more than that, Stauskas was the Wolverine with the spotlight always on him. When Michigan needed a basket late in the clock, it turned to Stauskas; when Stauskas didn’t have a good game, Michigan typically lost.
Before this season began, the offense was full of question marks. The most pressing question had to do with the departure of Michigan’s two great guards, Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. With those two gone, who was going to be “the man” in Michigan’s offense — the go-to guy? Stauskas didn’t let that question linger for long. By Michigan’s third game, it was obvious he was Michigan’s first option on offense — and the player it turned to in clutch situations down the stretch. Other than a stretch of so-so performances during a five-game period in the Big Ten season, Stauskas did a great job coming through when the Wolverines needed him to. He scored 19 points on 12 shots at Michigan State, blowing kisses to the hostile Izzone as he did so; he hit a game-winning step-back 3-pointer to net Michigan its first win at Wisconsin since 1999; he gave Michigan everything he could in Michigan’s Elite Eight loss to Kentucky, scoring 24 points and hitting four threes in the loss.
Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. guided the Michigan offense to the number one ranking in efficiency last season. After Mitch McGary went down, the Michigan offense wasn’t supposed to be as good as it was with the two first-round NBA draft picks at the helm — but Stauskas took the reins and made the Wolverine offense even better. It was an incredible year for the Canuck, and it’s why he’s a projected as a potential lottery pick — something no one would have imagined a year ago.
2014 Stats: 17.5 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 3.3 APG, 124.1 ORtg, 23.9% Usage, 58.6 eFG%
- Shooting: This is obvious. Nik Stauskas is one of the best spot-up shooters in the country from nearly anywhere on the court. The sophomore shot just over 44 percent from beyond the arc, and as you can see from his shot chart, he was good from pretty much anywhere but the top of the key. In catch-and-shoot situations, Stauskas was close to automatic, scoring over 1.45 points per play, per Synergy — and it didn’t matter much whether he was unguarded or guarded, either. But where Stauskas improved from last year was in his shooting off the dribble. He had a 47.5 eFG% shooting off the dribble, good for the 80th percentile nationally, and attempted more shots off the dribble than anyone in the Big Ten other than Yogi Ferrell.
- The young Canuck put on a clinic in shooting threes off the dribble against Michigan State at home with the smaller Keith Appling on him, scoring 21 points in the second half of that game.
- Ball-screen offense: Stauskas was extremely efficient as the ballhandler in the pick-and-roll last year, and while he was a bit less efficient in Michigan’s most common offensive set this season, he was still very good. Synergy Sports recorded 277 ball screens that Nik Stauskas executed in his sophomore season (passes, shots and turnovers) and the Wolverines scored 1.101 points per possession. That’s only a little more than half as many as Trey Burke ran a season ago (509 points on 487 possessions), but Stauskas was actually more effective. Stauskas especially shined when he saw the defense committing and got the ball to an open man — whether that was the roll man or a spot-up shooter on the wing. Stauskas did fine creating his own offense off the high screen-and-roll, but he was even better at creating offense for others. When Stauskas passed the ball out of a ball screen set, Michigan scored 1.32 points per play.
- Getting to the free throw line: This was the area of Nik Stauskas’ game that saw the most improvement from last season. Last year, the sophomore notched a free throw rate of only 29 percent; this year, that number climbed to almost 52 percent. Stauskas was clearly more comfortable driving the ball to the hoop this season, and it paid dividends for him at the charity stripe. This was something John Beilein mentioned on numerous occasions when asked about the biggest differences between last year and this year offensively for Stauskas, and it was clearly something that was emphasized. Even against much bigger players, Stauskas never shied from going to the rim — against Florida State, the third-tallest team in the country, Stauskas shot 12 free throws.
Room for improvement
- Defense: Let’s face it: Stauskas struggled with his defense all season. This has been illustrated in a number of defensive score sheets. One of the sophomore’s worst defensive performances came against Minnesota in the midst of a good team defensive game for Michigan. Stauskas simply couldn’t stay in front of either Hollins for the Gophers, and this was a problem that repeated itself throughout the season. It happened against Tennessee most recently, when he couldn’t stop either Jordan McRae or Josh Richardson — both got to the rim at will. It seemed as though Stauskas’ slow foot speed was compounded by the discouragement of getting scored on — a few bad defensive possessions could often snowball into a bad defensive game.
- Defensive rebounding: This goes hand-in-hand with defense, but it is especially pertinent for Michigan’s purposes. As a team, the Wolverines prefer that their guards grab plenty of rebounds. This is due partly to the fact that without Mitch McGary on the court, Michigan doesn’t have a dominant rebounding big man. Jordan Morgan may disagree with this statement, but the fact is Michigan doesn’t have a pure glass-cleaner. It would also prefer its guards rebound so that they can start the fast break. So we see players like Derrick Walton and Caris LeVert with defensive rebounding percentages hovering in 12-14 percent range. Stauskas, unfortunately, rebounded at a mere eight percent rate — which was actually worse than his rate last season.
““He’s looking for a perfect play all the time, and shooters gotta shoot it. I mean, he’s a tremendous shooter. Whether he’s turning down ones off the dribble lately because he’s maybe looking for something else, we want him to shoot the ball. (Matt) Costello and (Adreian) Payne are long, when they hedge out they’re still there but you can still shoot over them because you have space. We just encourage him to be more aggressive. Aggressive usually means drive the ball. But shooters shoot when they’re open. Sometimes what’s a bad shot for others is a really good shot for him.” — John Beilein after Michigan defeated Michigan State at home
Grade: A. Stauskas was among the very best offensive talents in the country and he managed to rack up monster scoring totals without excessively high possession usage. In a year where Michigan lost McGary, Burke and Hardaway, it was Stauskas that was ready to step up and carry the team.