Evaluating Big Ten’s Sophomore Class of 2013-14: Nik StauskasPosted by Deepak Jayanti on August 8th, 2013
Deepak is a columnist for the Big Ten microsite of RTC. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.
With approximately three months left until the college hoops season begins, Big Ten basketball fans can take two paths to fill the void of sports in their lives over the next few weeks: They could try to convince themselves that their football team is good enough to compete with the SEC until they get hammered again during bowl season; or, they could begin to entertain the idea that the conference will finally win the national title in basketball after a 14-year hiatus. Since Michigan lost to Louisville in mid-April, most of the news around the hoops world has revolved around all the incoming freshmen – Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins or the Kentucky All-Stars, to name a few – who chose to not take their talents to Big Ten country. Regardless of that lack of incoming star power, we at the RTC Big Ten Microsite are here to get you excited the stars who are returning and ready to take on the responsibility of leading their teams to conference glory.
Over the next few weeks, we plan to evaluate a number of key Big Ten sophomores who will have an impact on their team’s performance throughout the entire season. Today we start with Michigan shooting guard Nik Stauskas.
Nik Stauskas’ rise to fame in Ann Arbor was quicker than expected because he came out of the gates firing on all cylinders, shooting over 50% from beyond the arc during November and December. Michigan’s “Fresh Five” may never have cemented its nickname if only Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III had led the charge offensively; as it turned out when the Wolverines steamrolled through its non-conference competition last season, it was Stauskas who added the most early value to the offense as a member of the starting rotation. If he decides to stay on campus for at least two more seasons, he could go down as one of the best sharp-shooters in Big Ten history. Beilein’s offense is built to enhance his impressive shot-making abilities, but let’s also evaluate the other parts of his game that could determine if he will hit a sophomore slump during the 2013-14 season.
What did we learn about his game from last year?
If 44% shooting from beyond the arc isn’t enough to convince you about Stauskas’ effectiveness as a shooter, this clip where he makes 45 out of 50 shots should seal the deal. The defensive scouting report is clear: Take the three-point shot away from him — especially in the corners — and you’ll make him earn his points the hard way. But Stauskas’ offensive game expands beyond an effective jumper; for example, he is excellent off the dribble especially in going to his left. Check out these highlights that showcase his ability to dribble off screens and use his left hand to get to the basket for easy layups and dunks. He is comfortable enough finishing around the basket with this left hand and can shift direction when his defender goes even a half step too far defending him off the screens. At the outset, he may look like just a shooter, but Stauskas has already shown that he can do more than bomb from long range in Beilein’s offense, setting himself up for high expectations after a full offseason of strength and weight training.
What can we expect from his game next year?
What can we not expect next year should really be the question in his case, because the sky is the limit for Stauskas in Beilein’s offense. If Michigan finds a competent successor to Trey Burke at the point guard position, expect Stauskas to take on a heavier scoring burden to add to his 11 PPG from last season. All Spike Albrecht or incoming freshman Derrick Walton needs to do is handle the ball in the half-court without turning it over (easier said than done against Big Ten defenses), and dish to Stauskas coming off screens to punish the opposition. Neither Albrecht nor Walton will have Burke’s ability to penetrate and kick to Stauskas in the corner, so he may not get the same easy looks from beyond the arc, but he will earn his points in other ways off the dribble. Speaking of half-court sets, there should also be a fair number of pick-and-rolls drawn up for McGary and Stauskas. At the end of last season, Burke and his big freshman ran several pick-and-rolls at the top of the key which resulted in either Burke shooting a nice little jumper or penetrating and dishing to Stauskas in the corner when the help defender left his assignment. It is certainly possible that Beilein could choose to replace Burke with Stauskas in some similar sets in the half-court this season. Now, I’m not saying that Stauskas will come close to duplicating Burke’s sophomore season during his second act on campus, but he will be called upon to fulfill Burke’s role in some key spots next year.
What is the best case scenario for his sophomore season?
Putting aside all statistics, Stauskas could be an invaluable asset for Beilein by providing another veteran presence on the court. After losing Tim Hardaway Jr. and Burke from the perimeter, the Wolverines will need a new backcourt floor leader and we should look no further than the 6’7″ sophomore morph into this role. Dating back to his first game on campus in Ann Arbor, he has shown a great understanding of Beilein’s offense and there is no reason to believe that he couldn’t make All-Big Ten next year because of his expected contributions. If Robinson ends up becoming the Wolverines’ primary scorer next season, Stauskas can play the role of play-maker in the half-court; and if McGary develops a consistent jumper, then you can expect Stauskas to baffle opposing defenses by running the pick-and-roll from the wing with the big fella. Regardless of the development of his fellow sophomore teammates, it says here that Stauskas’ sophomore act will not be disappointing in any way.