Our fearless leader Aykis16 conducted a Q&A with Zach Travis of Maize N Brew, SB Nation's Michigan Wolverine's blog. Zach was kind enough to share his insights as to the type of player we're getting with rookie Nik Stauskas. Enjoy!
A: Statistically, Nik improved a bunch from his freshman year to sophomore year. What to you was his biggest improvement?
Z: As a freshman, Nik Stauskas played primarily a secondary role in the offense, an outlet for Trey Burke passes and a specialized gunner that helped keep the defense honest. Stauskas was perfectly suited for this and delivered with a high ORtg (122.8) and eFG% (59.7%). When Burke left the Michigan offense opened up. Burke's replacement was a true freshman, and Michigan suddenly found itself with a lot of capable wing scorers but no reliable distributor. Michigan's offense changed its focus to take advantage of this shift in talent, but it was only able to because Stauskas made such a leap as a facilitator for the rest of the offense.
Between year one and year two the shooting, rebounding, and defensive numbers are all the same. However, Nik was able to continually play at a high offensive rate (his ORtg went from 122 as a freshman to 124 as a sophomore) while his role in the offense expanded (his usage rate went up 7.7%) because of the improvement made to his on the ball ability. As a sophomore, Nik because a deadly weapon in the pick and roll game. His shooting always made him a deadly threat for teams that played soft, but as a sophomore he showed an ability to win one on one matchups and get into the paint where he could finish shots and find open passes when the defense broke down. He became one of Michigan's primary catalysts on offense (alongside fellow sophomore Caris LeVert), because he was able to attack the rim (his FT rate jumped 20%) and find open teammates (his assist rate jumped over 10%). No longer was he a shooter on the wing that primarily threatened to hurt defenses that collapsed, as a sophomore he became the focal point of Michigan's offense, and did it without sacrificing any of the efficiency from his previous year.
A: The one nickname I've heard of Nik's from Michigan is "Tube" for all his YouTube videos. Any others we should be aware of?
Z: That is actually a new one to me. I don't think Stauskas developed many nicknames during his time at Michigan that went very far. He was always well known for flashing the three goggles after a big shot or playfully getting into it with opposing crowds, but no nicknames ever came out of it.
If I had to guess why, I'd imagine it has something to do with the pervasiveness of the "Not Just A Shooter" meme, which became something an announcer would say at least once a game in response to something Nik did. This became a pretty big joke on Michigan's twitter-sphere and was probably as close to a nickname as Nik ever got.
A: It's well documented that Nik's greatest weakness lies on the defensive end. In your opinion, do you think he can ever become a good defender?
Z: Just work at it. Nik has good athleticism and length, so the physical tools are there for him to become at least a good defender. One issue he had while at Michigan was that - at least in his sophomore year - he was shouldering such a big part of the offense that Michigan was content to let him take weaker assignments on D to keep him fresh for the other end. In the end, defense is just something he needs to focus on in the same way he spent time improving his offensive game. I don't see a physical reason why he can't be a good defender, or even a great one. It just depends on how bad he wants to improve in that area.
A: We all know Nik can shoot. What other part of his game stands out to you?
Z: His ability to shoot is impressive, but I think that ignores just how impressive it is that he is able to get his shot off in some instances. Nik's ability to shoot the three off the bounce is nearly as good as his catch and shoot abilities. Last year he had the lowest percentage of assisted three point makes on the team (just 71.7%), but shot the most attempts (208) and made those shots at the highest percentage on the team (44%). As I mentioned above, Nik is a brutal player to guard in the pick and roll because he forces guards to go over top of the screen to contest shots, and teams that hedge soft open themselves up to a blizzard of open looks off the dribble. But Nik was also very good at simply breaking a defender down and getting an open look in isolation (check out his big shot against Wisconsin in Madison for a prime example). So yeah, Nik can shoot, but his ability to find his own shot from so many places on the court is what makes him such an impressive scorer and not just a shooter. It also opens up so much else on offense to him, because a defender and any help defenders in the area have to be worried first and foremost about Nik's shot, leading to openings elsewhere.
A: How did Nik handle the jump in responsibility his second year from being a role player to being the go-to guy?
Z: Nik handled the increase in responsibility as well as anyone could have expected. The jump in his role in the offense (an eight point increase in usage rate) is rarely ever coupled with an increase in offensive efficiency, but NIk's increased passing and ability to get both shots at the rim and shots on the perimeter on his own made guarding him a very tough job.
The really impressive thing was how well he dealt with the pressure in season. At one point Indiana exposed what was then the blueprint for stopping Stauskas. The Hoosiers matched Yogi Ferrell on him, played a lot of denial defense, and kept Ferrell right up in Stauskas to make it hard for him to get the ball and get into the offense. Iowa and Wisconsin appropriated this strategy with similar results, and it looked like Stauskas had finally been cracked. However, Michigan was able to tweak its approach. Stauskas used more backdoor cuts to punish over-playing guards, and he became more comfortable simply overpowering and shooting over these smaller guards. His second half against Michigan State was a clinic in how to take advantage of a smaller defender. Teams tried different things to limit Nik's effectiveness, but Nik and John Beilein were able to come up with an answer for almost everything.
A: Aside from defense, in what other areas do you think Nik might struggle with in the NBA?
Z: I don't think Nik is as good a rebounder as he could be given his size and athleticism, although that could be a function of his being such a perimeter oriented player. However, it would be nice to see him provide a bit more help on the boards. I'm also not sure if he will have as much success in isolation on offense in the NBA. He should still be deadly in the pick and roll, but until I see him break down a wing defender and consistently get good shots at the rim against talented rim protectors, I will question whether he has quite enough athleticism to do that at a high level in the NBA.
Thankfully, I don't think any of this matters much. Nik should be a great asset at the next level. He has an elite skill (shooting) that isn't entirely dependent on being part of the offense (he can get his own shot), and he brings enough skill in ball handling and passing to give his team options when he is on the floor. If he deals with his defensive issues, he could be an NBA player for a long time and have a very productive career.
A big thanks to Zach for answering our questions. For more of his Michigan insights, you can follow Zach on Twitter.