Stauskas' rookie campaign is bumpy but promising

Vincent Goodwill Jr.
The Detroit News

Sacramento — It hasn't been an easy transition to the NBA for former Michigan sharpshooter Nik Stauskas, who wasn't shy about feeling he was college basketball's best shooter last season.

An outstanding sophomore season led to Stauskas becoming a top 10 pick for a Sacramento Kings team that needed his outside shooting, but he hasn't been able to impact the game the way he anticipated — at least not yet, being 20-odd games into his rookie season.

"It's definitely humbling," Stauskas said. "It makes you want to work harder, so for me I use it as motivation to put the extra time in the weight room and with the other coaches. All the coaches, my teammates have been really supportive and helped me get through this."

Sacramento is a long way from Ann Arbor and even further from Mississauga, his hometown in Ontario. No family, no support system to help him when going through the tough nights when there's nothing to do besides think.

Sacramento is one of the smaller cities in the NBA, along with Oklahoma City, Orlando and Charlotte.

"The biggest transition has been off the court. Just being by myself out there," he said. "I don't have any people or family in Sacramento or California. I kinda feel isolated from my family and friends but other than that it's been cool. I feel like we got a lot of good guys on this team, they've been really supportive."

Stauskas, a backup shooting guard playing behind 2013 top ten pick Ben McLemore, is averaging 3.4 points in 14 minutes. It's certainly not the ideal start for him, but plenty of rookies — particularly those used to having the ball in their hands, making plays for themselves whenever they choose — have slower adjustments to the NBA game.

Headed into the draft, scouts compared Stauskas to two Golden State's Klay Thompson and Clippers guard J.J. Redick. Thompson didn't struggle out of the gate his rookie season, but he's developed into arguably the league's best shooting guard. But it took Redick, the 11th pick in the 2006 draft, almost four years before he turned into a bonafide player.

"I realize this happens to a lot of great players," Stauskas said. "They come into the league and struggle because they don't have it all figured out. It's humbling and I can only get better from here."

Although he's not a point guard, he was used to feeling his way through a game in college, picking his spots at his leisure without having to force the action. When he enters a game now, he's expected to score immediately — tough to do off the bench.

"For me I've been so used to, at Michigan, I could get my shot whenever I wanted," he said. "And I could pick and choose when I wanted to shoot and when I wanted to turn down things and wait. Here it's not the case."

The bulk of the shots are going to center DeMarcus Cousins and forward Rudy Gay, guys who demand the basketball, as the supporting players have to make it work around them

"If you have an open look you have to shoot because you don't know when is the next time you'll get an open look," Stauskas said. "I've been hesitant and turned down shots. I have to find the balance.

"Even with me struggling, I've consistently played in every game. As a rookie, all I can ask for is an opportunity. Me shooting the ball, I know I can help this team. Spreading the floor and knocking down shots.

He had a bit of a breakthrough against Utah, scoring 15 in a 101-92 win on Dec. 8. It wasn't so much that something finally clicked, he just hit a few shots — which shooters do, even when they're struggling.

"I think the repetitiveness, everybody saying keep shooting, the guys going, 'We don't care if you miss, we're gonna be mad if you don't take shots,' so with me it was about being aggressive and seeing the ball go in a little bit," he said.

That one good game didn't keep him from the usual rookie treatment, such as taking a ribbing from second-year guard Ray McCallum ( Detroit Mercy) about Michigan's tough start,

"We have a great group of guys," Stauskas said. "They make me laugh. On the court, they've all been really encouraging. Off the court, I'm a rookie so I have my duties and they make fun of me and whatnot. It's part of being in the NBA and it's fun."