Training Camp Preview: Defending Philadelphia 76ers Nik Stauskas

Sauce Castillo has his detractors. Here’s why I’m buying stock in the Philadelphia 76ers’ Nik Stauskas

By all statistical measurements, Nik Stauskas has been an underwhelming NBA player. He does not defend well, struggles to work the 76ers’ offense, and shoots below-average. The 6’6 guard out of Michigan has been riding his collegiate success and subsequent draft status for two years now.

The more Stauskas saw the court last year, the more detractors he seemed to draw. One can only ride the Sauce Castillo wave for so long.  Eventually that pure shooting stroke has to translate into actual production. At 32.6 percent from deep, Stauskas is nowhere near the shooter he has to be.  His offense must cancel out his other deficiencies to develop his game into a positive contributor at the NBA level.

With roster cuts coming up in October, Bryan Colangelo and the Philadelphia 76ers have some tough decisions to make.  The end of the Process could mean the end for Stauskas as a Sixer. If the Elton Brand signing is an indication of things to come, Stauskas could be on the chopping block.

There are many reasons to give up on Stauskas. But Colangelo and co. shouldn’t bail on the Sauce just yet. Unless you think the Old School Chevy qualifies as a more productive NBA player at this point in his career, Colangelo should still use those end-of-the-roster spots on young assets with potential. Stauskas—while disappointing thus far—still has the potential to carve out a niche at the NBA level.

Shooting has never been more valuable to the synergy of an NBA offense. Not only is it one of the more efficient shots in the game with regard to points per possession, but the very existence of shooters on the court maximizes the amount of space for the offense to flow.

While Stauskas obviously hasn’t been that go-to shooter that the Sacramento Kings expected with the 8th pick in the 2014 draft, his career 44.1 percent from deep at Michigan indicates there’s a high-level shooter somewhere in there. Standing 6 feet 6 inches tall with passable athleticism, it’s a little confounding that Stauskas hasn’t been able to find the stroke that led scouts to believe in his NBA ability.

But it would be careless to ignore the environmental factors that have shaped Stauskas’s short but eventful two-year career. During his rookie season with the perpetually dysfunctional Sacramento Kings, Stauskas played through three coaching changes in one season.

The Kings have not been known for developing their young draft picks with Boogie as their team leader (Thomas Robinson, Jimmer Fredette, Ben McLemore, and Stauskas, for example), and while it’s difficult to quantify the corrosive effects of a “losing culture,” the least we can say is it didn’t help Stauskas’s development. 

Not every player’s developmental curve looks the same, and Stauskas’s potential coming out of college should buy him at least one more year.

When Sam Hinkie rescued him from Sacramento, fans anticipated a Stauskas Renaissance—but it he failed to read the same script. The 2015-2016 Philadelphia 76ers, armed with perhaps the strongest Process-era roster of Sam Hinkie’s three-year tenure, won a totality of 10 games all season. While Stauskas marginally improved in most facets of his game across the board, his numbers still reflected a borderline NBA talent.

Like I said, it’s difficult to quantify the effects of a corrosive situation on a young player’s development. I’m not one to espouse the merits of “culture” and it’s intangible benefits, but it’s arguable—even probable—that Nik Stauskas played for the two worst franchises at incubating and developing talent in his first two seasons. Spot-up shooters are uniquely reliant on creative facilitators, space, and a limited offensive workload to be at their best. Stauskas had none of these in his first two years.

It’s interesting to note J.R. Smith’s first three years in the league and Stauskas’s first two. Smith, also 6’6 with the same offensive strengths as Stauskas, spent his first two years playing in an antiquated offense led by Byron Scott in New Orleans, who went 56-108 in those two seasons. Check out Stauskas and Smith’s first two years in the league, with an emphasis on field goal percentages.

 
PlayerGMPFG%3P3PA3P%2P%eFG%FT%TRBASTPTS
J.R. Smith13121.7.3941.03.2.316.442.454.7402.01.59.2
Nik Stauskas14620.1.3781.13.2.325.447.470.8021.91.46.4

Once he was traded to a more stable situation in Denver with Carmelo Anthony and George Karl, Smith’s production took off. This is Smith’s first year in Denver:

J.R. Smith
SeasonGMPFG%3P3PA3P%2P%eFG%FT%TRBASTPTS
2006-076323.3.4412.46.1.390.515.557.8102.31.413.0

It’s easy to cherry pick an example supporting this narrative, but the logic is sound. Stauskas’s statistics follow a very similar pattern. While Nik Stauskas hasn’t been good, he’s faced situations which amplify his chances of failure. For the first time in his career, Stauskas should be flanked by a competent Sixers roster that’s more catered to compliment his abilities.

While not eye-popping by any means, Stauskas did boast a league-average 36.3 three-point percentage on catch-and-shoot situations during the 2015-2016 season. If Stauskas returns, he’ll likely slide into a more exclusive catch-and-shoot role with better facilitators around him. The less Stauskas dribbles and creates for himself, the higher that overall percentage should creep.

Not every player’s developmental curve looks the same, and Stauskas’s potential coming out of college should buy him at least one more year. Perhaps Nik Stauskas will struggle this year—as that is his track record so far. But I’d rather take a chance on a still-young former lottery pick than others with lower ceilings.

There’s not much risk in bringing Stauskas back for one more year.  Stauskas will make just under $3 million next year—a figure that means nothing to the Sixers this year.  If he struggles again, Brett Brown isn’t under any obligation to play him.

Regardless, this is a huge preseason for Stauskas, as he’s likely one of the few players fighting for those last roster spots. There comes a point when Stauskas won’t have any more excuses, and that moment’s coming soon. Maybe Sauce Castillo takes the next step in his game.  Maybe not.

I’d just like to give him one more year to figure it out.