Nik Stauskas had one of the strangest rookie years in a while for a lottery pick. The process that led to his selection by the Kings was turned into a show:
He couldn’t secure a role on the team, partly because he was competing with another lottery pick from the year before. The best moment came when a closed captioning malfunction gave him the greatest nickname in the NBA, Sauce Castillo. But after just one year and a shade over 1,000 minutes played, the Kings gave up on him and used him as sweetener in a salary dump.
Stauskas was lucky enough that the team he was exiled to was the 76ers, where he’ll get a new beginning. And under coach Brett Brown, the former Michigan Wolverine could turn things around.
Unlike the Kings, the 76ers have a clear plan which involves a long-term rebuilding effort. It affords them the opportunity to give ample playing time to prospects that might not be ready to contribute much in the present but could develop and be a part of the future. They also have a hole at shooting guard, the position Stauskas is best suited to play. There’s no mandate to play veterans and try to fight for the eighth seed and no lottery talent in front of him. Unless he gets hurt, Stauskas could easily double his total minutes next year.
That’s important because he needs reps to get acclimated to the NBA. In his first season he looked lost at times and couldn’t find his rhythm from the three-point line. Having one year under his belt will help him regain that swagger that made him stand out and be selected eighth overall, and the playing time he’ll receive in Philadelphia will force him to play his way out of mistakes. He’ll have a clear role playing under a coach who has job security and is famous for being a great teacher. As maligned as the way Philadelphia is going about building through the draft has been by some, they do offer a relatively stable situation.
Not only is Stauskas in a better position in terms or roster fit and off court stability, but the style of play the 76ers have adopted should play to his strengths. Brown is building a pace-and-space offense, even if he doesn’t have the right players for it yet. Philadelphia has ranked first and seventh in pace the past two seasons and 13th and sixth in three-point attempts. Stauskas had his best moments as a rookie when George Karl took over and installed a similar offense. He’ll be encouraged to let it fly, which should help unlock his offensive talent.
Brown values defense greatly and with Robert Covington at small forward, the team needs a perimeter defender at shooting guard, which is why Hollis Thompson will likely start. That’s actually a good thing for Stauskas. If he comes off the bench, he’ll likely get opportunities to run pick-and-rolls instead of just spotting up. He showed he has court vision in college and improving in that area would allow him to settle into a Manu Ginobili role as scorer and creator.
As a defender it’s hard to see Stauskas ever excelling because he simply doesn’t have the physical tools to be elite. He’s a smart player who could use discipline to make up for his flaws, however, which should go over well with Brown. With Jahlil Okafor taking up space inside and Nerlens Noel emerging as a game-changer on that end, playing solid team defense is all that’ll be asked of him. If he can do that and start showing the ability to create or at least make shots consistently, his value will increase, ensuring him a future in the league.
In simple terms, in Philadelphia Stauskas will have the chance to stretch his legs and try to figure out where he fits in the team’s future plans. The pressure was on to contribute now in Sacramento and to be the second young star the team needed next to DeMarcus Cousins. The 76ers have so many holes to fill that they could find a place for Stauskas as a floor-spacing bench guy, sixth man or starter. Only his play will determine which role fits him best. No expectations.
The team that drafts a player has an undeniable impact on their career. The Kings were simply a bad fit for Stauskas. The 76ers are a joke to some and might not be the place where top picks want to go, but for someone looking for a place in the league, they’re the best possible destination. Stauskas didn’t ask to be traded there, but it could turn out to be the best thing that’s happened to him since entering the NBA.