There are only a handful of players at the collegiate level that have the ability to carry their team night in and night out. This means competing at the highest level on a consistent and efficient basis. This means creating offense not only for yourself, but for your teammates. Through the halfway point of the season, Nik Stauskas certainly belongs in this grouping of rarified players.
Truth be told, Stauskas was already a pretty darn good player during his freshman season with the Michigan Wolverines. He averaged double figures (11.0) and was one of the more lethal outside shooters in the nation (73 3FG-4th nationally). Playing alongside Trey Burke last season, Stauskas had the luxury of roaming on the perimeter and shooting three pointers at will. Of his 298 field goal attempts during his freshman campaign, 61% came from beyond the arc. However, with the departure of Trey Burke, as well as Tim Hardaway Jr. to the NBA, the onus would fall upon Stauskas to improve upon his playmaking ability during his sophomore campaign.
Before the start of this season, Stauskas’ scouting report probably looked something like this:
Pros: Rare shooting ability, quick release, great range. Has good height and length, and consistently finds open spots on the floor during transition.
Cons: Not particularly a fast or athletic player. His strength is a question mark. He doesn’t put the ball on the floor well, and struggles to create shots for himself and others.
As the saying goes, greatness is earned, never awarded. Stauskas took this philosophy to heart during an intense off-season training program that saw him add 16 pounds of muscle, as well as 6 inches to his vertical leap. Aside from his physical transformation, perhaps the biggest improvement of Stauskas’ game has been his ability to attack the rim. Last season, Stauskas really seemed to wear down during conference play. His lack of strength didn’t allow for him to dribble penetrate and earn consistent trips to the foul line. That has certainly changed this season with his offseason conditioning, as the sophomore has already earned 103 trips to the foul line (5th-Big 10).
Another noticeable improvement in Stauskas’ game is his playmaking ability. Head coach John Beilein loves to put Stauskas in high pick in roll situations at the top of the key. From there, Stauskas has made life extremely difficult for his opponents in 2013-14. His ability to penetrate, draw the defense, and consequently find the open man for easy buckets simply can’t be devalued. Through 18 games, Stauskas already has more assists (60) than he did all of last year (52). Personally, I think Stauskas always had the ability to create shots for himself (as well as others) the moment he arrived on campus. The fact of the matter was, he didn’t have to during his freshman campaign (and why would you with Burke on your team).
Currently, Stauskas leads the Big Ten in scoring at 18.4 points a game. Last week he averaged 22 points, five rebounds and 4.5 assists in wins over Penn State and Wisconsin. His performance enabled him to earn Big 10 Player of the Week honors. Last night, he picked up right where he left off with yet another impressive performance against 10th ranked Iowa. His 26 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists help fuel the Wolverines to their 8th straight victory, and perhaps more importantly, enabled them to stay unbeaten in arguably the toughest conference in the nation.
Next up for Stauskas and the Wolverines, a trip to East Lansing on Saturday to face the 3rd ranked Michigan State Spartans (18-1, 7-0). If the first part of the season is any indication of what to expect, Stauskas will be more than ready for the challenge.
Stauskas’ Step Back Three Pointer versus Wisconsin
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