At about 10:00 p.m. last Wednesday, the Philadelphia 76ers finally made their first move of free agency – a trade with the Sacramento Kings. During the opening 46 hours of the NBA’s annual spending frenzy, the Philadelphia franchise had been very quiet, and many fans were clamoring for the team to do something with its gobs of cap space. The Sixers ended up using the space not to sign a major free agent but to take on a couple of undesirable contracts (Jason Thompson’s and Carl Landry’s) from the Kings. In the deal, Sacramento also sent over a future first-round pick, two first-round pick swaps, and an intriguing young player – Nik Stauskas. In the interest of giving Stauskas a warm Pennsylvania welcome, I took a look at who he is and how he will fit with the Sixers.
Stauskas is a 6-foot-7 Canadian who played his college ball at the University of Michigan. His best NBA skill is undoubtedly his shooting. Stauskas is adept at getting his feet set and releasing the ball in a short time span. At Michigan, he had excellent range on his jumper, and he displayed elite shooting skills both off the catch and off the bounce. During his rookie year with the Kings, however, Stauskas struggled to adapt to his new environment, converting only 32.2 percent of his shots beyond the arc, well below the league average mark. Over the last two months of the season, this number perked up to 42.1 percent (on 57 attempts), providing at least some evidence that Stauskas can shoot at the NBA level.
While long-range shooting is his best NBA skill, Nik Stauskas is not a one-trick pony. He has several supplementary skills that combine to make him a good secondary ball handler. First, Stauskas uses his height to see over the defense, assessing the situation and determining the best way to attack. Second, he has a great handle, which allows him to create space off the dribble and avoid turning the ball over. Lastly, he has solid athleticism that he can make use of to attack the rim on drives to the hoop. This was most obviously on display last season when he threw down this fierce dunk against the Pelicans:
Most of Stauskas’s struggles come on the defensive end of the floor. He often does not move his feet quickly enough and is prone to getting blown by. Stauskas also suffers from having a fairly small wingspan by NBA standards. This means that he does not bother shooters very much when he tries to contest their shots. Additionally, Stauskas is not very strong physically, which invites burlier wings to take advantage of him in post-ups and on drives. Foot speed and strength are areas in which Stauskas can presumably improve to an extent, especially now that he will be working with fitness zealot Brett Brown, but he still tops out at an average defender at best.
As long as he is at least playable defensively, Stauskas’s offensive potential will be a big boon to the Sixers. Offense is where the Sixers have the most room to grow, as they had one of the least efficient offenses in the league last season, at a mere 93 points per 100 possessions. Considering they will again rely heavily on lineups featuring several non-shooters (like Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, and Tony Wroten), it is important to have shooters so the offense has enough spacing to operate efficiently. Throwing Stauskas into the mix should help immensely in this regard. It is important to note as well that Stauskas is only one year into his rookie contract, meaning he will be on a team-friendly deal for several more years should he begin to develop into a real contributor.
It is not only the Sixers who stand to gain from this new acquisition – Stauskas does, too. Last season, he could not consistently find significant playing time, averaging only 15.4 minutes per game. I expect his playing time to go up this year and his play to improve along with it. He will be able to feed off of the attention Okafor and (hopefully) Embiid will garner in the post. These post-up threats will open up space for Stauskas to nail jumpers and make plays from the perimeter. Theoretically, Stauskas would have received a similar spacing benefit in Sacramento playing with DeMarcus Cousins, but it did not exactly play out this way. The team as a whole suffered from a lack of spacing, particularly the bench units with which Stauskas played the majority of his time. Moreover, Cousins was unwilling to share the rock with his rookie teammate, a source told Sixers reporter Michael Kaskey-Blomain.
Per source, Cousins was very tough on Stauskas all last year. Told Kings management he wouldn't pass ball to Stauskas if on court together.
— Michael K-B (@therealmikekb) July 2, 2015
While Cousins’ numbers do not indicate that he specifically avoided passing the ball to Stauskas when they shared the court, the above tweet nonetheless sheds light on the harsh, unreasonable basketball environment that Stauskas was put in. The situation only looks worse when we consider the 2014-15 Kings’ general lack of organizational stability, with two coaching changes and frequent front office clashes. In contrast, the Sixers’ organizational cohesion and emphasis on player development will provide Stauskas with a much better path to NBA relevance.
The Sixers’ trade with the Sacramento Kings last Wednesday yielded two veterans, several future assets, and Nik Stauskas, a young guard with some upside. This particular acquisition makes me excited as a Sixers fan. I fully expect Stauskas to leave behind the woes of his rookie season in Sacramento and to become a successful rotation player for years to come.