A Closer Look: Nik Stauskas Ball Screens

Dylan Burkhardt
on
Michigan 95, Iowa 67 - #17

John Beilein often tells the story of Tim Hardaway Jr.’s freshman season when the Wolverine staff didn’t realize how effective Hardaway could be in ball screen situations until mid-way through his first season. The realization changed the course of Michigan’s season and Hardaway helped guide the Wolverines to the NCAA tournament round of 32.

The Michigan offense circa 2012-13 clearly revolves around the Trey Burke ball screen and that’s fine (he happens to be one of the best ball screen guards in the country) but there’s a new wrinkle that the coaches have slowly been incorporating: the Nik Stauskas ball screen. Stauskas isn’t just a catch-and-shoot player and he’s been lethal in ball screen situations this year. Slowly but surely, he’s finding more opportunities to become involved in the offense with side ball screens.

The Wolverines have scored 53 points on the 33 possessions that have ended in Nik Stauskas ball screen action this season – scoring an impressive 1.61 points per possession. The Wolverines are scoring 1.65 PPP when Stauskas shoots off of the ball screen and 1.54 PPP when he passes off of the ball screen (via Synergy Sports). Stauskas is the ninth most efficient player in the country, so he’s productive in most situations, but his ability and more importantly versatility in ball screen scenarios is impressive.

Stauskas is particularly effective on the ball screen because of his ability to hit the roll man. In significantly fewer opportunities, Stauskas has already found the roll man for 14 points compared to Burke’s 21 points created for rolling bigs on the season. Obviously the sample sizes are different – Burke has 175 P&R possessions to Stauskas’s 33 – but here’s a look at the distribution of outcomes in each player’s ball screen scenarios:

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Source: Synergy Sports

The charts show that both players love to shoot the ball off of the screen and roll but Stauskas hits the roll man almost twice as often. Meanwhile Burke thrives while getting the ball to jumpshooters, something Stauskas hasn’t done nearly as often. The next chart shows the point per possession production that Michigan scores in each of the four primary ball screen outcomes:

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Source: Synergy Sports

Stauskas benefits from sample size quite a bit in these charts considering Burke has run more than five times as many pick and rolls this season — obviously there would be some natural regression as Stauskas gets more opportunities  This isn’t meant to be a slight on Burke in any way shape or form as he’s easily on the of best ball screen players in the country. What these charts do begin to show is that Stauskas deserves more opportunities. Michigan has scored the ball on 70% of Stauskas’s ball screens and the Wolverines eFG% as a team on Stauskas ball screen scenarios is a ridiculous 98% (via Synergy Sports).

As we’ve previously identified, Burke creates opportunities by getting into the lane and then passing the ball – either to a cutter along the baseline or a kick out for a three. He doesn’t have the size to pass over hedging big men to find Morgan or McGary rolling to the basket. This is why a team like Ohio State will design its entire game plan around keeping Burke out of the lane and manage to be successful.

When Michigan runs the ball screen with Nik Stauskas, it’s a different beast. Stauskas is capable of driving to the basket but his biggest threat is as a shooter (Burke isn’t bad in this regard either). Stauskas’s eFG% when shooting off of the ball screen is a ridiculous 103%. He’s capable of driving to the rim but if the defense cheats out too far on the hedge he’s also surprisingly comfortable passing over or through the hedging big man.

As the season wears on, teams are going to do everything to slow down Stauskas the shooter. Every Big Ten coach is going to deny him the ball on the wing and not allow him to shoot wide open threes. Because of that fact, Michigan coaches are going to need to get the 6-foot-6 Canadian involved in other ways. That includes things like curls to the basket, backdoor cuts and other typical facets of Beilein’s offense but ball screen situations are a great wrinkle to include going forward.

The benefit of running more ball screens for Stauskas is twofold. Obviously it gets Michigan’s most efficient offensive player more involved in the offense but it also forces opposing defenses to defend screen and rolls differently in different situations. You can’t guard Burke the same you guard Stauskas in ball screen situations.

Here’s a closer look at Stauskas in each primary ball screen scenario:

The Shot

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Stauskas is comfortable shooting off of the dribble with even the slightest bit of space so if the on-ball defender gets caught in the screen and the hedge is soft, Stauskas will have an open shot – even from well beyond the college three point line. In this scenario, the Kansas State defender is smart enough not to go under the ball screen but it isn’t enough.

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Stauskas doesn’t have a lot of room off of this screen but the on-ball defender is caught in the screen and the hedge is soft enough that Stauskas rises and fires over the outstretched arms of the help man.

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You don’t need a screen cap to guess the result.

The Pass

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Stauskas is also able to find the roll man effectively because of his size at 6-foot-6 and almost as importantly, his natural feel for the game.

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Here against Minnesota, the on-ball defender is caught fighting over a good screen from Jordan Morgan, Trevor Mbakwe provides help, obviously aware of Stauskas’s perimeter shooting threat. Mbakwe can’t be caught in the same scenario as the Kansas State hedge man so he has to step all the way up, because of that Morgan is wide open rolling to the basket.

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Stauskas recognizes the situation and throws a perfect pass directly over both Minnesota defender, allowing Morgan to waltz to the bucket.

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For an easy layup.

Here’s another example against Nebraska where the Cornhusker defense tries to play soft off of Stauskas but he still finds a way to toss a sharp pass right over the top of McGary:

Reject and Drive

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Stauskas is also confident taking the ball to the rack with his dribble, although he prefers to drive by rejecting the screen. He did this absolutely perfectly on back to back possessions against Iowa. This play is made by a great fake from Stauskas, who convinces the defender he’s going to use the pick by a simple jab step and ball fake to the right.

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The defender cheats and Stauskas reverses the ball to his left, rejecting the screen for a wide open lane to the basket. The Hawkeye defender is behind him and the end result is a two handed dunk. This play is made because Adam Woodbury is already out of position waiting to hard hedge the screen, leaving the lane to the basket wide open without help.

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Video:

Here’s an almost identical situation a minute later. This time Stauskas dribbles the ball into the high screen and once again the on ball defender overplays and once again Woodbury commits early on the hard hedge. Stauskas is able to rip off a quick crossover dribble and find his way into the paint before spinning through the Iowa defense.

Drive off the screen

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Watching film it becomes clear that Stauskas is more comfortable rejecting the screen and driving to the rim (usually opting to pass when he uses the screen) but he’s also capable of driving it all the way to the cup if the big man’s defender sags into the lane.

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With the defender trailing him over the screen and Bradley’s big man stepping up late, obviously playing to take away the roll man, Stauskas sees the opportunity for a blow by.

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He gets past both defenders and is able to use his size at the rim to finish.

  • DoubES

    Great analysis and I too have appreciated his skills in running ball screens. The subtle jab step he uses on the Nebraska big, which gets Ubel(?) moving backwards and prevents him from denying the pass to McGary is so heady. Stauskas, like every other player on our team, is fun to watch.

  • MLaw

    Simply one of the best articles ever written on UMHoops. Fantastic stuff and interesting to see if the coaches have picked up on this also.

    • Zem528

      Agreed.

      • GregGoBlue

        Third’d. Thanks Dylan, really impressive analysis.

        • http://www.umhoops.com/ Dylan Burkhardt

          Thanks guys. These posts are definitely fun to do. Glad you enjoy them.

  • Don Dula

    This is an awesome post and highlights the fact that this team should never take a bad shot, even when running a fairly simple offense. I think he might have been better served to just shoot in the Nebraska clip, but he finds a way to convert the pass, which is obviously impressive. It might be nice to see some situations where Nik struggles running the pick and roll also. The scary thing is that none of our bigs can pick and pop. Add that in (maybe Donnal) and the efficiency would be even higher.

    • http://www.umhoops.com/ Dylan Burkhardt

      Yep. The pick and pop game is the one thing this offense is lacking right now. Robinson isn’t a good enough screener yet and Morgan and McGary don’t have that in their game – especially from three (where the pick and pop becomes valuable).

  • blackie6

    Good stuff, thanks for the article. I’ve often wondered why we haven’t run more high ball screen with Tim since his freshmen year…. I remember like you said, it becoming a big part of the offense down the stretch that year…. I always felt like we’ve gone away from it for the most part with Tim. When Darius was here, it seemed we had a very high level of success with gertting the ball to Morgan out of the high ball screen… Not so much with Trey, it seems due to his size and inability to get it to Morgan consistently and as cleanly (maybe they defend him differently) However, Tim is still here and utilized it fantastically as a fresh. Glad to see Nik using it and the team having such great success out of it.

    • http://www.umhoops.com/ Dylan Burkhardt

      It’s funny, Tim actually hasn’t been very effective this year on the ball screen, Michigan has scored just 15 points on 27 possessions w/ THJr ball screen action. Tim has been all about transition, cutting, and shooting off of screens this year and he’s done all three things extremely well.

      • blackie6

        interesting….. I remember a game in particular, @ PSU late in the year a couple of years ago…. Tim kind of took over and was working the PNR with Morgan so well…… It was like a light went on. Timmy can just keep doing what he’s doing and hopefully Nik gets more opps to do what he’s doin….

  • Mattski

    Great stuff. From your pen/keyboard, Dylan, to Beilein’s ear.

    • http://www.umhoops.com/ Dylan Burkhardt

      I’d say there’s already been an uptick in Stauskas PNRs in recent games. I also noticed that quite a few come near the start of games or second halves… and I think there’s a chance Beilein is almost scripting those (often times to get Morgan involved *think Minnesota second half*).

  • Chazer

    Great work Dylan! What a great perspective of the game and the PNR with Nik. Be careful, the Big coaches will be stealing your break downs! Looking to see how JB adds new wrinkles with the tough stretch coming in FEB. Really amazing how the PNR has been so effective with the 2 man isolation and the impact of a 6-6 wing. Will be watching where GRob fits in as the third option over the next month.

    If I’m being recruited by Big Blue you gotta love the confidence and freedom Johnny B has given Trey and Nik. Plus he is preparing these guys for the next level with the PNR. It can really showcase the individual skill set and highlight film. Makes me wonder how much Darius would have grown given another year……tough to learn on the sidelines, but millions in your pocket!

    Thanks for the education!

  • sane1

    Nice work Dylan. Stauskas has a better feel for the game than anyone on our roster.