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September 02, 2015

Stauskas’ success as a shooter could be tied to Okafor

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On Tuesday afternoon, Nik Stauskas and the rest of Team Canada started pool play at the FIBA Americas Championship against the always tough but shorthanded Argentineans. Stauskas finished with seven points, but the Canadians weren’t much for either defense or rebounding as they fell to Luis Scola and the Argentines, 94-87. Hosers. 

The tourney is taking place in Mexico City, and the goal there is to qualify for the Olympics next year in Rio. The top two finishers in the 10-team field (or third place team as well if Brazil finishes in the top two) will automatically punch their tickets. By virtue of winning the World Cup in Spain last year, the United States already secured a spot in the Olympics (USA, USA, USA!) so Stauskas and Co. don’t have to worry about the juggernaut that we are.

With an influx of young talent over the last few years, it seems like a pretty safe bet that Canadian hoops will make a major leap in the near future. Joining Stauskas in the starting lineup were Cory Joseph, Andrew Wiggins, Kelly Olynyk, and Anthony Bennett. Those are five NBA players who are all under the age of 25. It’s no longer Steve Nash and a bunch of guys you’ve never heard of.

If he finally figured something out or simply adjusted to the speed of the NBA game, the 21-year-old shooting guard will theoretically be able to build on his late-season improvement right away with the Sixers. That is admittedly a big if, though.

As Jake Pavorsky wrote over at Liberty Ballers, Stauskas also didn’t play so hot in the warm-up tournament, which Canada won anyway. Shifting the focus squarely on him, Stauskas also didn’t play well as a rookie in Sacramento. The move to acquire him back in July was a worthwhile gamble mostly because the Sixers gave up so little for a potential windfall (hooooo boy, those pick swaps), but there is a chance that Stauskas doesn’t improve to the point where he becomes a viable NBA rotation player. Right or wrong, the Kings felt comfortable cutting ties with him after just one season.

There is a lot to unpack here, but for now my question is fairly simple: Why did he shoot the ball so poorly from deep in 2014-15? A marksman can’t be considered as such if the ball isn’t going in the basket. After all, this is a guy who can make 46 three-pointers in a row.

Stauskas entered the NBA coming off an excellent offensive season as a sophomore at Michigan. A 44 percent three-point shooter on 208 attempts turned into a 32 percent shooter on only 149 attempts, and you would figure that has to change if he is going to be a successful pro. There are completely understandable explanations (uneven playing time, three coaches in one season, Kings) for the poor shooting, but as of now, that is all they are. 

Just to get the ball rolling, let’s take a look at Stauskas’ basic shooting splits while playing under all three of his coaches. Shots and attempts are per-game numbers here:

Mike Malone
 Ty Corbin
 0.4 1.5 29%
George Karl

On the surface, this is encouraging. Under the best offensive coach of the bunch, Stauskas found the range as the year went on. If he finally figured something out or simply adjusted to the speed of the NBA game, the 21-year-old shooting guard will theoretically be able to build on his late-season improvement right away with the Sixers. That is admittedly a big if, though.

In addition to looking at the numbers (and preferably, you would look at a few more than basic splits, but it’s only September 1st and we have more detailed preview stuff planned), you also have to watch video to figure out why things are happening on the court. I looked at all 149 of Stauskas’ three-point attempts and saw a couple of things. For one, Stauskas had the green light to fire away in transition, which shouldn’t change here. Also, the Kings ran some of the same motion sets that Brett Brown has used in his first two years in Philly. From a schematic standpoint, the transition shouldn’t be all that difficult.

But mainly, I saw Boogie. And when watching Boogie, it’s hard not to think of Big Jah.

Whatever you think of DeMarcus Cousins as a basketball player, it’s impossible to deny his talent. If the Kings throw the ball to Cousins in the post, his defender is in a precarious position if no additional help heads his way. The problem for opposing coaches is that Cousins can whip a pass on the money across the court if the defense keys in on him too much. Stauskas can attest to that:

A couple of months ago,’s Max Rappaport used StatMuse to create a pretty cool visual on how dominant offensive big men can have a positive effect on their teams’ overall three-point shooting. Cousins was one of those players he highlighted:

This where I believe that Jahlil Okafor can help Stauskas. Now, the question is if Okafor can punish teams when they decide to play him one-on-one somewhat like Cousins can. Maybe he won’t ascend to that level of low-post dominance right out of the chute, but his passing impressed me during summer league. The one thing we know for sure is that Brett Brown will have the floor spacing much more organized than it was in summer league.

For reference, take a look at Stauskas’ efficiency numbers when he was on and off the floor with Cousins. First is before George Karl, and second is after Karl arrived (via NBA Wowy):

 Before Karl
Cousins On
41.7 %
Cousins Off
 38.9% 44.2%
After Karl
Cousins On 
Cousins Off 
50.6 %

Interestingly enough, Stauskas actually had a higher true shooting percentage both times with Cousins off the floor because he was able to get to the line more frequently. Unsurprisingly, he shot the ball better from the floor both times playing alongside Boogie.

What does all of this mean? I’m not sure, but if the Sixers plan to feed their rookie big man on the block even somewhat consistently, he’s going to need shooters to keep help defenders away. Stauskas could end up supplying Okafor with some much-needed relief.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann