Rookie Nik Stauskas finds his rhythm against the Jazz
Red eyes. Five o’clock shadow. Slouched shoulders.
That is the Nik Stauskas we have come to know in Sacramento. Gone is the smile and swagger that is somewhere between Justin Bieber and Corey Haim’s character Les Anderson from the 1980’s movie License to Drive.
Up until Monday night, the reality of the NBA had worn through Stauskas, leaving a shell of a player behind to fill up a no. 10 Sacramento Kings jersey. A terrific college shooter and scorer, the 21-year-old former Michigan Wolverine had lost his mojo. In his first 20 games as a pro, Stauskas was averaging just 2.8 points per game, while shooting 29.7 percent from the field and 22 percent from behind the arc.
When things are going poorly for a young player, sometimes things can spiral out of control quickly. Thousands of miles away from his family and isolated away from his support system, Stauskas was mired in a prolonged slump. Over his previous five games, the Canadian-born shooter had scored a total of six points, all of them coming in the Kings’ 117-109 loss to the Toronto Raptors. He had hit just one of his previous 11 shots and missed all seven of his 3-point attempts.
“I think the biggest problem for me has been throughout the slump, is I feel like I’ve just been at home thinking about it all the time,” Stauskas said. “It really weighs heavily on my mind and that’s one of the reasons why it’s kind of continued over a long period of time.”
The transition to the NBA can be brutal, especially for a shooter. Finding a rhythm in limited minutes is difficult for any player, but maybe more so for a player being asked to play the role of catch-and-shoot 3-point specialist.
“Here (in Sacramento), a lot of nights I’ve been playing 5, 6, 7 minutes,” Stauskas said following Monday’s victory over Utah. “In those 5, 6, 7 minutes I’m getting two shots and if I miss both of them, it kinda tough to break out of that slump. Tonight was just a great opportunity for me.”
After finishing the first quarter 0-for-2 from the floor against the Jazz, Stauskas shook off the rust and hit all three of his shots in the second quarter, for seven points. As the makes began to pile up, you could see the rookie’s body language shift. His movements became quicker as his confidence began to bubble.
“Just to keep attacking,” Stauskas said of his mindset after missing his first two shots. “I knew eventually something would go in and I appreciate the opportunity that I had today.”
Stauskas finished with a career-high 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting in 30 minutes of action. He added two 3-balls and set another career-high with eight rebounds.
“I wanted to put Ben (McLemore) back in the game, but I thought it was important for Nik to finish the game out,” coach Michael Malone said. “He earned that with the defense he played, the fact that he was making plays going to the basket and more importantly, when you get eight rebounds as a two guard in the NBA, that’s pretty impressive.”
This is the beginning of what should be a long career for Stauskas. While it has been painful to watch him take his lumps as a rookie, this sort of stretch was bound to happen sometime. This isn’t the first slump Stauskas has had and it won’t be the last, but he seems relieved that it is over.
“It’s definitely a confidence booster for me to just see the ball go in a few times and see my teammates and the fans show support for me, hopefully we can just keep it going from here,” Stauskas said.
He hopes to build off this game and he won’t have to wait long to do so. The Kings boarded a bus for the airport after the win over the Jazz and headed to Los Angeles for the second night of a back-to-back this evening. Stauskas will face off against one of his heroes growing up in Kobe Bryant and continue his baptism by fire as an NBA rookie.