Nik Stauskas Looking to Prove He Belongs in NBA

After an up and down start to his NBA career, third-year shooting guard Nik Stauskas is looking to prove he belongs in the NBA.

Philadelphia 76ers guard Nik Stauskas (11) talks with the media during media day at Stockton Seaview Hotel. Photo | Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

After an up and down start to his NBA career, third-year shooting guard Nik Stauskas is looking to prove he belongs in the NBA. | Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The first two seasons of Nik Stauskas’ NBA career have not gone according to plan.

Stauskas started off his rookie season with inconsistent playing time and even more inconsistent results, averaging 3.4 points and shooting just 32.8 percent from the field in 13.6 minutes per game before the All-Star break for Sacramento. He seemed to find his footing a little bit in the second half, connecting on 42.1 percent of his three-point attempts after the break to end his rookie season on somewhat of a high note.

After being traded to the Philadelphia 76ers last summer, that improvement didn’t carry over. Despite getting much more consistent playing time (24.8 minutes per game), Stauskas shot just 38.5 percent from the field and 32.6 percent from three-point range. For somebody whose NBA skill is supposed to be shooting, that’s not going to get it done.

With two years’ worth of struggles in his rear view mirror, Stauskas knows that he has to start showing signs of life.

“Coming into my third year now I can’t really make excuses anymore that I’m young,” Stauskas said. “It’s time for me to make the improvements that I’ve been trying to make over the last two years, and it’s time to show that.”

For Stauskas, he’s hoping improvements in two areas will drive him to become a more effective NBA player. The first is in his strength, which was the primary focus for Stauskas over the summer. According to both Stauskas and head coach Brett Brown, he’s made progress in that regard. “I think his body has changed where he still has that bounce, but I think there’s a leaner strength, an athletes strength,” Brown said.

Still, for as much as additional strength would help Stauskas as a defender, as a shot creator, and in his ability to finish through contact, finding his shot, which was at a lockdown status at Michigan (44.1 percent on 390 three-point attempts during his two years at Ann Arbor) is a prerequisite for Stauskas establishing himself in the NBA.

Those struggles Stauskas attributes to a lack of confidence.

“The first two years there’s just so many times where I’m trying to fit in. I’d go to bed at night and I’m wondering ‘Do I really belong here? Is this where I was meant to be?”, Stauskas said. “I think this is the first time in my NBA career where I’ve said ‘I know I belong here and I know I can compete at this level.

“When I got drafted was the first time I really received any kind of recognition throughout my career,” Stauskas, the 8th pick in the 2014 draft, noted. “I don’t want to say I lost that chip on my shoulder, but I think my mentality was a little bit different, and I lost that swagger and that cockiness that got me to where I was. I feel like an underdog again, and I feel like that’s when I play my best.”

It had better be. Stauskas has no such guarantee of playing time this year, not with Gerald Henderson, Jerryd Bayless, and Sergio Rodriguez now on the roster. The fourth-year option on his rookie-scale contract, which has to be picked up by the end of October, is no guarantee, either. And, for the first time in recent memory the fight for the last roster spot will likely see the casualty of a very legitimate NBA player.

Stauskas needs that confidence level to be high, and not just on the third day of training camp but with a defending closing out on him on a contested three-point shot with the game on the line after missing his first five shots of the game. That will be the true test for Stauskas.

Training camp note:
Stauaskas was sporting a very visible bruise under his left eye. That came from what Stauskas described as an “old man veteran screen” from teammate Elton Brand during practice.

Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.