The Creator Comment Count

Ace April 16th, 2014 at 1:31 PM

In today's basketball world, the corner three is superior in value to any shot that doesn't come at the rim. It's also the toughest shot in the game to create for yourself; to do so requires a silky touch, a tapdancer's precision, and the guts and/or stupidity to launch a shot that would earn most players a quick trip to the bench.

Grantland's Kirk Goldsberry covered this topic in exacting detail yesterday, posting this fascinating chart that shows the assist rate for shots made from each spot on the floor—three-pointers usually require assistance, and the rate increases as the shooter gets closer to the baseline [click to embiggen]:

Goldsberry's post focused on the players who could create those high-percentage shots for their teammates, because even in the NBA, finding players who do it themselves is a difficult proposition:

Meanwhile, unassisted corners 3s are the white buffalos of perimeter shooting. They don’t come around too often. As it turns out, dribbling into the corner and firing up a 3 is very difficult, and perhaps unwise, as well. It takes a special kind of player to even attempt this task, as Rudy Gay demonstrates for us here: [GIF of Rudy Gay dribbling into the corner and badly airballing a fallaway attempt]

Which brings me to Nik Stauskas. I've written before about his pregame shootaround routine, but it's worth mentioning again. In addition to practicing the usual spot-up threes from various points around the arc, Stauskas always spent time in the corner working his crossover stepback, a move designed to clear out just enough space to launch from a spot that opponents long ago learned to keep him from at all costs.

Without ever having to look, Stauskas's feet nestled precisely between the three-point line and the sideline, the product of countless practice hours transforming process into instinct. By the end of his Michigan career, he made these audacious warmup attempts at about the same outrageous clip that he hit his normal shots. Michigan's shootarounds were considered must-watch because of the team's—and especially Glenn Robinson's—impromptu dunk exhibitions; for me, however, the Stauskas Stepback was always the highlight.

[Hit THE JUMP for more on Stauskas's incredible shot creation in GIF, still, and chart form. Oh, and some more words, too.]

It wasn't limited to warmups, of course. There's no point in creating that level of muscle memory without utilizing it when it counted. So, far more frequently than any fanbase deserves, we were treated to the sight of this 6'6" Canadian kid make a mockery of the game's toughest shot—and, delightfully, mark this feat with a turn towards the opponent bench as the ball fell through the hoop.

Of all the facets of Stauskas's game—the remarkable vision running the high screen, the "Game ... Blouses" dunks, the way he fed off and genuinely enjoyed the hatred from opposing fans (and sometimes players)—this is the one I'll miss the most. I'm just not sure I'll ever cover another player who could so routinely the game's least threatening situation, a ballhandler trapped in the corner, and conjure a dagger.

Out of curiosity, I put together a chart of this season's top ten three-point shooters from high major conferences (min. 200 attempts) and combined it with data from hoop-math on the percentage of each player's three-point makes that were assisted. The results were rather astounding [click to embiggen]:

Eight of the top ten benefited from assist rates between Brady Heslip's 89.2% and Ethan Wragge's 95.5%. Eron Harris is a distinct outlier, shooting 42.4% with just 76.4% of his makes assisted.

Then there's Stauskas, who made 44.2% of his triples despite being assisted on just 71.7% of them. Even after watching him play for two years, my jaw dropped while compiling these numbers. John Beilein summed it up perfectly after watching Stauskas drop 21 second-half points on Michigan State in Crisler this season, most of those points coming off an astonishing array of pull-up jumpers:

“He’s looking for a perfect play all the time, and shooters gotta shoot it. I mean, he’s a tremendous shooter. Whether he’s turning down ones off the dribble lately because he’s maybe looking for something else, we want him to shoot the ball. ... We just encourage him to be more aggressive. Aggressive usually means drive the ball. But shooters shoot when they’re open. Sometimes what’s a bad shot for others is a really good shot for him.

That State game is a great example of Stauskas's often unstoppable combination of size, skill, and body control. Watch the highlight tapes and you'll see him scoring at will off the dribble, stopping on a dime and pulling up whenever he gave himself enough air to breathe. For just about any other player, the shots involve fading away or being off-balance in one way or another. But look at these three photos from our own Bryan Fuller—all of these shots were launched off the bounce:

Looking at the stills, you'd think these were three spot-up attempts that Stauskas managed to barely get off over quickly closing defenders. He elevates in ideal shooting form, keeping his body aligned perpendicular to the court, his eyes on the rim, and finishing with that same sweet stroke each time. Words fail to describe how remarkable it is to make a play like this become routine:

That's Nik Stauskas. Tell him there's a shot he shouldn't take, and he'll work and work and work until it becomes a shot opponents not only have to respect, but gameplan to defend. Cut off his other options and he'll pull a Houdini act, then tell you all about it on his way back down the court. Pin him in the corner and, well, screw it, he'll hit the shot from behind the damn backboard if he must.

He did this while playing within the confines of Beilein's offense—Stauskas took a smaller percentage of the team's shots when he was on the floor than Robinson, even though the go-to guy was obvious to all. He played his part, and when all else broke down, he created shots that mere mortals simply hope will come to them. And he made them so often it almost (almost) stopped being amazing.

But every time Stauskas came out for warmups, I watched agape. Then he'd pull it off in games, turning bad shots into good until we no longer went "no, no, no..." before the "YES!"



April 16th, 2014 at 1:43 PM ^

And I realized myself that I was always so surprised when a Stauskas 3 wouldn't go it. It was great to me how our go-to first possession of the tourney was almost always a Stauskas 3. It was like when we'd run Mike Hart behind Jake Long - the first punch of a fight with "this is my best bread-and-butter, can you stop it?"

The other team would try to stop it, they'd know that Stauskas was a threat, and he'd calmly hit a 3, turn towards their bench and know that they were in for a long day.


April 16th, 2014 at 1:47 PM ^

groaning when Stauskas would attempt all those contested, off-dribble, impossible jumpers. More often than not, I was made a fool for doubting him. He may be "not just a shooter", but... those stats... those gifs... just, wow.


April 16th, 2014 at 1:50 PM ^

Unexpected Nik Stauskas goodbye post for the tears! (and the win)

Great write up Ace. I'm gonna miss that damn Canadian. Crazy how great of an overall player he became this year. 


April 16th, 2014 at 1:52 PM ^

Before each game I attended, I had to choose between 1) go say hi to Ace in the media section or 2) watch Stauskas warm up.

I always chose option #2.


April 16th, 2014 at 2:04 PM ^

Only college player I've ever watched where I was genuinely more surprised when he missed than when he made it. Other than end of the shot clock forced heaves (which still might go in), I was always shocked when he missed.


April 16th, 2014 at 2:05 PM ^

I really want to come up with something intelligent and humorous to write, but all I can think about is how much I'm going to miss this guy. ALL THE SWAGS.


April 16th, 2014 at 2:45 PM ^

Thanks for putting this together.  The corner three assists number is astounding.  This really codifies the reasons why Stauskas could accurately be described as an “elite-level offensive player”.  He rarely took a “bad” shot because even his contested looks were taken completely under control.  His fundamentals were so sound.  He never achieved the “clutch” level of a Trey Burke – lofty comparison, I realize – but I’ll probably miss watching him more because his routine game was completely refined.  Can’t wait for him to make people look ridiculous in the NBA where defensive gambling is the norm.


April 16th, 2014 at 2:58 PM ^

Nik's girlfriend posted a video of him practicing at the University of Toledo. I've never noticed him kicking one leg out after his shot until watching this video. He does the same thing in the first gif.

Very first comment. Does this embed work?

Link to video just in case.

Blue In NC

April 16th, 2014 at 2:53 PM ^

Great post.

But when did we all agree that "In today's basketball world, the corner three is superior in value to any shot that doesn't come at the rim?"  I don't get why that is a better value shot than the wing three.

In fact, given the difficulty of the shot, the danger of stepping out on the sideline, I would argue that other threes may offer more value.  Also, I would speculate that corner threes may lead to less offensive rebounds (less tap-outs) and more run-outs for the other team.  Hitting some corner threes may open up the defense and allow better future possessions and that may be the true value but I don't understand why a corner three is better than another type of three.

Of course in the NBA, the corner three may be advantageous because of the shorter distance but distance is not a factor in the college game.

El Jeffe

April 16th, 2014 at 3:26 PM ^

It's an interesting point. From an EV point of view the question would be what is the average shooting percentage from a corner three as opposed to a wing or top of the key three.

My guess is that even in college it is higher (certainly it's higher in the NBA because of the shorter distance, which the Spurs figured out before anyone else), but this might be because of the drive and kick game. That is, if a G breaks down the defense and gets into the lane, it's easier for him to draw a defender from the corner and kick to the man in the corner, thereby creating a more open shot.

So it isn't that the shot is intrinsically easier the way it is in the NBA, but rather that it's the place that more open threes come from.

Blue In NC

April 16th, 2014 at 3:54 PM ^

Good point, it would be interesting to see the data.  It would also be interesting to see whether some of my assumptions are accurate (less offensive rebounds, more run-outs but leads to better spacing).  Personally, I always liked shooting the wing three better but every shooter has different favorite zones.  I think I have seen data suggesting the straight-on three tends to have the lowest % made.


April 16th, 2014 at 7:42 PM ^

last year!

Trey, too, would take and make 'bad' shots with regularity.

I'm not putting too much import into the unassisted 3 stat.  Yeah, it means you create your own shot, but without an impressive assist total, it might be viewed as ball-hogging under, um...other circumstances. 


April 17th, 2014 at 3:57 AM ^

Great article and very true.

Last year watching Burke, I thought that he might be the player I enjoyed watching most since Rice and/or Jalen Rose.  Then this year watching Stauskas, I realized it was more fun watching him (play well) than any player I've ever watched.  I'm not young and that's a whole lot of years watching basketball.

Stauskas did some incredible things.  Unlike most players who are incredible and incredibly fun to watch, however, many of Stauskas things were jump shots.  That is rare.  In the NBA, only Stephen Curry plays/reminds me of how Stauskas creates his own jump shot.  Not saying Stauskas will rise to that (almost MVP level), but I've been saying his ceiling is very high because he has that rare ability to create his own jump shot.  That is a rarity.  Great, great article, Ace.

Also, do we get one video/gif dedicated to Stauskas and one for GRIII?


April 17th, 2014 at 10:23 AM ^

I agree with pretty much everything stated by Ace/commenters about Stauskas, but I'd also add that he had great court vision.  Incredible passer and very unselfish.


April 17th, 2014 at 11:12 AM ^

And I almost typed that we may never see the likes of a Nik Stauskas again.

But then I remembered that I said the same thing about Trey Burks last year.

How amazing that Coach Bielien and his staff have found these two players and watched them blossom into NBA first roud picks as they close out their sophomore years?

That was something unexpected (at least by me) out of our basketball program.  

And it gives me something to look forward to in the years to come. 

Go Blue Hoops!


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August 26th, 2016 at 6:40 AM ^

Stauskas did some incredible things.  Unlike most players who are incredible and incredibly fun to watch, however, many of Stauskas things were jump shots.  That is rare.  In the NBA, only Stephen Curry plays/reminds me of how Stauskas creates his own jump shot.  Not saying Stauskas will rise to that (almost MVP level), but I've been saying his ceiling is very high because he has that rare ability to create his own jump shot.  That is a rarity.  Great, great article, Ace.



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