The signing of Nik Stauskas by the Trail Blazers this offseason flew a bit under the radar. On the surface, Portland signed him for a seemingly meaningless one-year minimum deal worth a total of 1.6 million dollars. Not quite the move Portland fans were expecting from General Manager Neil Olshey, especially after how much he talked about the need for veteran players who can help contribute in the postseason. However, when we dig a little bit deeper, we begin to discover the untapped potential behind this young player despite having just four years under his belt.
New Blazers Seth Curry and Nik Stauskas
Photo by Sam Forencich via Getty Images Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images
Bad contracts aside, Olshey has shown a knack for finding players with potential who, for whatever reason, did not have a great opportunity to showcase their abilities. Players along the lines of Shabazz Napier, Al-Farouq Aminu, Maurice Harkless, and even the trade for Jusuf Nurkić fit this description perfectly. From the outside looking in, none of these moves have really grabbed anyone’s attention, aside from a little taste of Nurk Fever. What all those players had in common upon joining the Rip City ranks was their lack of opportunities. Despite the fact that none of those players have blossomed into the much needed third star in Portland, they were all picked up for relatively low prices and they fit right in with the roster. Olshey has done his job by finding the “diamond in the rough” in the past. Add Nik Stauskas to that list.
Despite Stauskas being in the league for only four years, Portland will be his fourth destination. When a player bounces around as much as Stauskas has, one might think he is either a bad locker room fit, or just not very serviceable. Stauskas doesn’t fit into either of those categories. Although his career averages of 7 points and 2.1 rebounds per game might not stand out, Stauskas has shown that he is more than capable of producing in the NBA.
Stauskas played two years at the University of Michigan, where he helped the team make a run to the National Championship game as a freshman. In his sophomore year, he averaged 17.5 points, 3.3 assists, and 2.9 rebounds while shooting 47% from the floor, including 44% from beyond the arc. For that stellar performance he was named the Big Ten Conference Men’s Basketball Player of the Year.
Nik Stauskas displaying his athleticism
Photo via Big Ten Network
After two years at Michigan, Stauskas declared for the NBA draft and was drafted by the Sacramento Kings with the 8th pick in the 2014 draft. His rookie season didn’t go quite as planned, averaging only 4.4 points per game on 36% shooting. The complete dysfunction and chemistry issues within the Kings organization no doubt played a role in his struggles, not to mention the allegations of DeMarcus Cousins threatening to fight Stauskas on a team flight. The atmosphere in Sacramento was not one where he, or anyone for that matter, could grow comfortably. Other than picking up the nickname “Sauce Castillo” due to a closed captioning issue on live television, his year in Sacramento was largely forgettable.
He was subsequently traded to Philadelphia in the off-season of 2015 in the infamous cap clearing deal that now has led to the Kings giving up their unprotected pick in the 2019 Draft. This was a 76ers team right in the middle of “The Process”. After a preseason injury, Stauskas appeared to regain his confidence, scoring 12 or more points in each of his first five games in Philly. However, a combination of injuries and a shooting slump caused his 2015-16 season to end disappointingly. In 2016-17, Philadelphia opted to pick up his fourth-year team option. Having some certainty for possibly the first time in his career, Stauskas showed some confidence in his game. He finished that season with an average of 9.4 points, including multiple games scoring over 20 points.
Stauskas was on the rise and in spite of, or maybe because of this, Philadelphia (still knee deep in “The Process”) decided to trade him; along with Jahlil Okafor to the Brooklyn Nets for Trevor Booker in December 2017. In his first game for the Nets, he led the team with 22 points in a losing effort. While his scoring dipped a bit in Brooklyn to 5.1 points per game, his shooting percentage skyrocketed to 39.3% and 40.4% from deep. He even recorded a 7 three-pointer game off the bench. However, this was not enough to convince Brooklyn to resign him and he signed with Portland in the 2018 off-season.
Nik Stauskas stretching the floor
Photo via Nets Republic
So what can Portland fans expect to see from Stauskas during this upcoming season? After his best shooting season yet in 2017-18, he should pick up right where he left off, proving to be a valuable asset off the bench when teams double-team Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Like many of the other perimeter players for Portland, consistency is the key for Stauskas. In addition to shooting, Stauskas also has the ability to put the ball on the ground, giving Coach Terry Stotts another ball handler option in his offense if he wants to free up Lillard or McCollum off the ball. Stauskas also has some sneaky athleticism hiding underneath his slender 6ft 6in frame similar to Pat Connaughton. At the draft combine, he registered a vertical leap of 35.5 inches; so don’t be surprised to see him rise up a time or two in traffic.
Could this be the year Stauskas finally establishes himself in the league? Olshey seems to think so and the city of Portland sure hopes so. Only time will tell if he will continue his growth as a player and become a valuable scorer off the bench, one that Portland so desperately needs this season.
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