2012-13 Player Preview: Nik Stauskas

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Nik Stauskas probably isn’t the best player in Michigan’s freshman class but he just might be the most important. Due to transfers and graduation, the Wolverines lose over half of their three point production from a season ago. For a team and coach that has been so consistently dependent on the three point shot, that’s a big deal. Stauskas is clearly the freshman best suited to fill that three point sniper role on Michigan’s roster and should have every opportunity to prove himself early in the season.

Michigan has playmakers (Burke, Hardaway), big men (Morgan, McGary, Horford) and a great athlete (Robinson) but the offense will be handicapped without a legitimate three point shooting threat. If Stauskas can play the role of shooter deluxe, as many expect, it will go a long way toward balancing Michigan’s offense.

At 6-foot-6, he’s taller than his predecessors, Zack Novak and Stu Douglass, at the shooting guard position which could go a long way toward protecting against his other weaknesses early in his transition to the college game.

Reasons for Excitement:

  • Three Point Shooting: All of the evidence shows that Stauskas is a great shooter… at the prep level. All of the evidence from prep school and AAU suggests that Stauskas is a great shooter with a quick, consistent and efficient release. However, attempting to predict how well Stauskas will shoot as a freshman is guess work until he steps on the floor. But at the end of the day, it’s a safe bet that he’ll get every opportunity to audition as one of Michigan’s primary shooters.
  • Length: This is a trait that has the ability to make up for plenty of Stauskas’s other shortcomings. He’s not the most athletic player in the conference by any means but at 6-foot-6, he can overcome that. The length will help him almost everywhere on the floor: shooting over defenders, driving to the basket, on defense, etc. Michigan operated with 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-4 shooters throughout most of the last year, so the upgrade should be noticeable right away.
  • Versatility: Stauskas already has shown to be more than just a shooter. While he’s not going to be running multiple isolation plays or screen-and-roll sets every night, he does have the ability to keep defenses honest. If he needs to put the ball on the floor he can get to the basket or find a teammate. That’s something that took Zack Novak and Stu Douglass four years to develop. Stauskas isn’t going to be the best slasher, passer or ball handler on the team, but the ability to do just a bit of everything should be invaluable as he transitions to the college  game.

Causes for Concern

  • Quickness & Athleticism: Stauskas has played high level basketball throughout his career whether in prep school or on the AAU circuit but whether or not he keep up with the pace of the college game on both ends remains to be seen.  A summer in Michigan’s strength and conditioning program will help but athleticism and quickness will probably be the bottle neck on Stauskas’s freshman season.
  • Defense: Defense manifests itself from the lack of athleticism above but all freshmen go through a major transition defensively. At Michigan’s media day, John Beilein said that defense was what would determine whether Stauskas finds his way onto the floor consistently. It also wouldn’t be surprising for Michigan to experiment with zone looks when he’s in the game in attempts to maximize his length and minimize his lack of quickness.
  • Adjustment to college game: The jump from high school shooter to high-major shooter is dramatic. Stauskas played in a competitive NEPSAC prep school league, well above most high schools, but it remains to be seen how he fares at the college level. Even great shooters can struggle with the transition as freshmen. Jon Diebler is a great example, the Ohio State wing shot 29% on threes as a freshman before connecting on 44% of his threes over the next three seasons.

Outlook

In many ways, Stauskas could be in a perfect situation as a freshman. When he’s on the floor, he’ll often have Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. flanking him in the backcourt. Opposing perimeter defenses will focus on those two, and it’s likely that a fair amount of open shots will find their way to the Canadian freshman. Zack Novak, Stu Douglass and Evan Smotrycz all averaged over 100 three point attempts per season and it’s probably safe to pencil in at least 100 three point attempts in Stauskas’s freshman season.

If he can hit those shots, Michigan has a valuable asset. If he can’t it’s back to the drawing board. There were high hopes for Matt Vogrich to step in immediately as a shooter on Michigan’s roster and make an impact. To date, he really hasn’t. Vogrich isn’t Stauskas and vice versa, but in this day and age the label of a shooter simply can’t be applied until it’s proven on the big stage.

Bottom Line

John Beilein compared Stauskas to a “five tool baseball player” at Michigan’s Media Day. That’s a strong endorsement for a true freshman before the start of practice. The versatility of Stauskas’s skillset could make him a perfect fit in a sort of complementary shooter role. He can do just enough of everything else to make his shooting a legitimate weapon.

Stauskas is a consensus top-100 recruit, rated 78th in RSCI’s consensus ranks, and although he’s not as highly rated as Glenn Robinson III or Mitch McGary, he’s still rated higher than any Michigan commitment since Manny Harris. Simply put, he should be expected to make an impact in his first season in Ann Arbor.

Stauskas’s production will be determined by two things: whether he’s able to play adequate defense and whether he can hit open shots consistently. If he can do both of those things, he’ll have a huge impact on Michigan’s success in 2012-13.

Quotable: “He’s just got a natural ability to find the bottom of the basket. What separates Nik is, what we hope will make him a very difficult guard, that where some guys are just shooters, Nik, if you come out on Nik he can put the ball down on the floor and get to where he wants to go to. Some guys can do that and then can’t throw drop-off passes and see the court. He has been able to do that thus far. With that being said, we see that, we like it, now we’ve got to defend. I sense he is embracing (defense), because he knows that is how he gets to do the other stuff. Like most shooters, they love shooting the ball. I would sense that if he continues doing what he has been doing so far, he among some others will have a pretty green light to let it ride.” – John Beilein at Michigan Media Day 2012

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