Nik Stauskas, the sweet-shooting Sixers newcomer, has had a busy summer. At the beginning of free agency, he was traded to Philly from Sacramento in a salary dump. He twisted his ankle at some point this offseason, so he had to work on getting back on the court. This ankle ailment caused him to miss playing in Summer League. Now healthy again, the Mississauga native is playing for the Canadian national team at the FIBA Americas Championship, hoping to help them qualify for the 2016 Olympics.
Canada is an emerging power on the international basketball scene, with several high-potential NBA talents. Andrew Wiggins is the headliner, but the supporting acts are fairly talented in their own rights. In addition to Wiggins and Stauskas, the Canadian team boasts NBA players Cory Joseph, Kelly Olynyk, Anthony Bennett, Andrew Nicholson, Dwight Powell, Robert Sacre, and Melvin Ejim. While these players are not elite NBA players, they are young and fill useful roles for Team Canada.
Nik Stauskas, as the starting shooting guard, has the role of spot-up shooter and penetrator. In this tournament, Stauskas’s long-distance shooting has been up-and-down. In the first two games of the competition (against Argentina and Cuba), he made only two of his first ten shots from downtown. Since then, Stauskas has gone a stunning 7/10 on threes, and his team has also perked up its overall performance. One place where Stauskas has been consistently on the money is at the charity stripe, where he has gone 10-for-10 thus far.
Stauskas is one of the few Canadian players who can create space off the dribble and get into the teeth of the defense, so these skills have been tremendously helpful to his team.
In his 23.8 minutes per game, he has ventured into the paint time after time, leveraging the defensive alterations he forces into opportunities for his teammates. Stauskas’s numbers back up the fact that he has been such an effective playmaker: he has twelve assists so far and only one turnover. Additionally, Stauskas is starting to reap the benefits of the work he has done improving his defense this summer. He still has a ways to go in that area, but it has been encouraging to see him doing such a solid job of staying in front of his man and using his length to bother shooters.
The group stage is over now, with Canada having won three of their four games. Now they move on to the second round of the tournament, where they join seven other teams in a group – three of which they have already faced. The Canadians play Panama, Uruguay, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic in this round, and they will be hoping to qualify for the tournament semifinals. A spot in the final would mean a guaranteed spot in the Olympics for Canada and for Nik Stauskas. I look forward to seeing how the young Canadian team continues to mature and how Stauskas keeps contributing to their Olympic undertaking.