This Week's Obsession: Free Stauskas Comment Count

Seth February 12th, 2014 at 4:13 PM


I pose the questions for these things on Monday nights or Tuesday mornings, so I was taking a guess that Ohio State would sic Craft on Michigan's alpha dog. He was surprisingly efficient but the question remains relevant:

We are now alarmed. What are teams doing to shut down Stauskas, and what can Michigan do to counter it?

BiSB: Like Seth, I was assuming Craft would be able to lock up Stauskas. Boy, are my cheeks red.

via [@JeffBoals]

The Stauskas shackles are complicated but revolve around the same principle: put a little guy in his face who can shadow him. Stauskas isn't extraordinarily quick, so if you get a Ferrell/Craft type who can get over every screen and stick with him through curls and such, you can deny him good looks. Moreover, if they do that, bigs can sag off a bit, and as a result the pick-and-roll game has sputtered.

There are a number of theoretical options to Liberate the Stauskas, but I'm not the Xs and Os expert. Ideally you'd see more back-cuts to take advantage of the overplays, but for one reason or another those haven't been there. They can also try to find ways to take advantage of the size mismatch, but Stauskas hasn't really demonstrated much of a post game.

This nearly got the cat called for a moving pick.

So that leaves stuff like off-the-ball down-screens that see Stauskas take a Family Circus-like route to a catch-and-shoot. Stauskas can also generate his own pull-up 3s on occasion, which are both fun and profitable. Basically, we might need to add a "Nik Stauskas is probably Rip Hamilton" tag to the site. That might breathe new life into the Not Just A Shooter debate, but even if he is Just A Shooter sometimes, that's okay because he's still a really really good shooter. Also, Ferrell notwithstanding, chasing Nik in circles all game will take a toll on a guy on the offensive end; Craft had to rotate off of Stauskas a couple of times, and by the end of the game he wasn't even strong enough to shoot a basketball all the way to the hoop from 22 feet.

via user harryddunn


[After the jump, the spheroid of truth]

Ace: Aside from glossing over the fact that the play ESPN kept showing resulted in an open corner three and a putback opportunity, I thought Dan Dakich did a good job of explaining what teams have done to slow down Stauskas—shade over the top of him with a quick guard and use a big man to defend the baseline (taking away the backcuts that we've all wanted to see).

The solution, as we saw last night, is actually pretty simple: have your other players step up. If opponents want to dedicate 1.5 defenders to Stauskas, space should open up for everyone else. Yesterday, that meant open three-point looks for Caris LeVert and Zak Irvin, pick-and-roll opportunities for Derrick Walton, and plenty of putback chances after offensive rebounds—it's tough for a big to both guard the baseline against a cutter and be ready to box out his own man. In the Indiana and Iowa losses, Michigan's scoring was wildly imbalanced; against Ohio State, the points were spread quite evenly. The results speak for themselves.

It's nice to get him to the net too. [Fuller]

The other solution, also on display last night, is the maze of screens action that BiSB mentioned. All Stauskas needs is a tiny bit of daylight to get his shot off; I thought he did a fantastic job last night—other than a couple forced shots early—of selecting the right times to rise and fire. With Walton improving on the pick-and-roll and LeVert continuing to create his own shots with regularity, Stauskas doesn't have to be the focal point of the offense if teams are making a concerted effort to take him away; having the patience and discipline not to force matters is a critical trait for a player who expects to be at the top of the scoring column in every game.


Brian: Despite his efficiency, Stauskas was limited. Zero assists and a number of his shots were some level of bad idea brought about by frustration. He hit one, because he's Nik Stauskas. It's still an issue; Stauskas is more efficient than anyone else on the team and while getting limited by Aaron Craft is one thing, Mike Gesell is another. Michigan does have to figure out how to free up their top weapon.

As mentioned, having Derrick Walton do Burke things consistently is one way to do that. Walton did a lot of his damage against Shannon Scott, who's 95% of the defender Craft is. If he can go from sporadic weapon to true threat against teams that don't have a one-two perimeter defense punch like OSU, opponents will have a bad choice instead of an obvious one. Walton emerging into a guy who can punish you for putting a slower guy on him is the best hope for a liberated Stauskas.

Because I don't really see a way the most obvious option, posting up, is going to work. Stauskas tried it once against Indiana and didn't like it. Meanwhile, the last time Luke Winn checked, Michigan was literally most post-up averse team in the country. It's just not in either the player or the team's DNA to go all Jordan Taylor on the point guard matchup. I do think our complaints about Michigan not bringing the ball up with Stauskas could help out against some players. Doing it against Craft would be suicide, but a Gesell type probably not so much.

Stauskas could also stand to be more of a cheating bastard, a la a Chauncey Billups. If you're getting checked hard on the perimeter, start jerking yourself to and fro, and emphasize the fact that your movement is being impeded. Impede your own damn movement if you have to. Craft got a foul on Horford by burying himself in Horford's chest (gif via Ace); Luke Winn pointed out how Louisville's Luke Hancock has acquired a huge FT rate with a lot of help from fouls off the ball:

Stauskas isn't getting legit calls; he should try to get some illegitimate ones. Finally, transition makes it difficult to focus on any one player in particular. I'd like Michigan to step up their aggressiveness on defense, trading a few more fouls for a few more steals.


Seth: Here's what that scouting video had to say about the Duke/Indiana method:

It's not always using 1.5 defenders to stop him; it's using one defender, but a different defender than normal. Stauskas's athleticism can take advantage of 2s and 3s but he's on more equal footing with point guards and doesn't have the length to just go over them.

Brian hit on my two preferred answers:

  1. Unleash Walton. If their PG's on Stauskas that means Michigan's PG is drawing an athletic mismatch.
  2. Go through them. In the first play against Indiana in the video above they managed to double-screen the Yogi off of him and get an isolation with Vonleh while Ferrell and Etherington pointed at the top of the key going "oh no who's got that?" With the way charges are called nowadays, even in Assembly Hall there's nothing Vonleh can do to avoid a charge unless you don't let him make contact. Stauskas is also our best free throw shooter; get him to the line.

The last option Michigan had some success with last night, and that's to set the screen really high so that Stauskas comes off it looking like he's going to slash toward the basket yet still has some room to stop and put up a three. They also had success earlier this season with having LeVert bring the ball up and going immediately into a passing screen.

The Rip Hamilton/Reggie Miller option—having him run around in circles until his defenders are put on oxygen tanks—probably isn't much of an option unless we expect to sit Stauskas a lot. Those guys could do that because they had ridiculous cardio regimens over years. When they face Indiana again it may be worth trying in order to remove Ferrell from the offense.


carolina blue

February 12th, 2014 at 4:21 PM ^

it's clear that walton is our barometer. Every great team has that guy that when he's doing well, you know you'll win. It's like the '04 Pistons with 'Sheed. If he played well then we knew the Pistons would win even if Rip or Chauncey were limited.


February 12th, 2014 at 4:42 PM ^

1) When you hear that LaVall Jordan is emulating Craft in practice, it says a little bit about the scout's teams ability. One of the overlooked factors is that we had 5 experienced guys on the scout team last year & now we have 5 fresh faces. IMO it contributed to some of the early losses, just part of the game.

2) Beilein expressed disappointment in their hectic schedule so far. While they'd like to focus numerous plays to get Stauskas open, a bigger priority is just being able to prepare for the next appointment. Yeah, the end of the regular season schedule is tough with 5 games in 13 days; they now play 1 game over the next 11. Practice is what they've wanted and now they'll get it. Will be interesting to see their progress regarding this topic over the next 2 games.


February 13th, 2014 at 12:31 AM ^

I have always wondered about the impact of the scout team, and I think this year has shown the answer. Last year, players like Eso and McLimans used to get minutes earlier in their career and I have to think that benefitted the team overall when they moved to the reserve unit. 


February 12th, 2014 at 4:53 PM ^

if you look real close during the crowd leaving part, you can see the dude who always wears the cowboy hat and paints his face, just sittin' there, chillin'. i wish i knew what he was thinking as a super fan.


this guy:


February 12th, 2014 at 5:11 PM ^

I expect them to really work the Xs and Os during the next two games.  We've got until Sunday to plan for Wisconsin then an entire week(!) for MSU.  This is the break the players need for one last push, and the coaches can use it to think of some exotic counters.

As others said, the easiest thing is for Walton to step up and I think he is and will continue to do that. 

Ron Utah

February 12th, 2014 at 5:25 PM ^

This is a great analysis with some good ideas; it's hard to install a new offense in a short period of time, but I think the Rip Hamilton double screens are a great solution, and would serve Stauskas well in the long run: he's a pure SG in the NBA that won't be able to create his own shot against most defenders he'll face in the league.


February 12th, 2014 at 5:29 PM ^

I think it helps having Morgan/Horford combine for 7/9 from the field and the OREB advantage we had. It's not nearly like the impact Walton had, but it's important to not overlook that we are somewhat balanced. I'm not saying we have a presence down low but at least we can hurt teams that will give 1.5 defenders to Stauskas.


February 12th, 2014 at 5:46 PM ^

While the Craft airball gif is funny, it is also quite depressing.  Only 1 Wolverine (GRIII) sort of boxes out while the other 4 watch the ball.  Stauskas actually moves out of the way to avoid boxing out.  #whywearenotgoodatrebounding


February 12th, 2014 at 5:55 PM ^

While I agree that having other players step up is the optimum solution, I think the issue you're seeing is that none of our other players are great creators.  Walton is getting better, but still struggles to get others involved or use the ball screen.  LeVert rarely looks to set anyone else up when he drives and gets lost in traffic.  GR3 and Irvin need no explanation.  I think that explains why the back-cuts aren't getting the ball to Stauskas because the other guards aren't confident in making that pass. 

steve sharik

February 12th, 2014 at 6:09 PM ^

Nik should work with Bacari every practice instead of LaVall.  Beilein has shown he can post up a post--see DeShawn Sims--but he may have to add a wrinkle to post up a 2.

The problem with Nik posting up against IU was him getting the ball so far extended and having to back Yogi down.  He needs to learn not only how to make post up moves, but also how to establish position down on the block.  Good thing is, point guards aren't used to moving opponents off the block.

Not only can the scheme itself be post-averse, but it can impact the players' mind-sets, too.  I've seen many times when Horford/Morgan have excellent position and are wide open for an easy entry to the block, but the ball handler on the wing simply doesn't throw it in.

Nik posting up simply has to become part of the arsenal b/c it's by far the best way to take advantage of a 6" size difference.


February 12th, 2014 at 6:14 PM ^

I don't know what wrinkles or augmented offensive strategies we will see in the next few games. However, I know it will be good. Players like Walton (and probably all the underclassmen) are just scratching the surface of what Belein wants to do schematically. There is good reason to be excited about how the rest of this season plays out. 

Any chance Walton eeks into the B1G freshman of the year award? Vonleh seems to have it in the bag but a lot can happen in the games remaining.


February 12th, 2014 at 8:17 PM ^

Re: Walton vs Vonleh

That sounds ridiculous at first but let's check anyway. There isn't that much separation between them at this point in ORtg; Vonleh's is 110.7 with 22.6% usage; Walton is 110.2 and uses 19.8% of possessions. Those numbers have been climbing at a ridiculous rate lately so I'd expect him to finish a more efficient offensive player than Vonleh, but in the aggregate not by that much.

The big thing with Vonleh is he's a rebounding machine--6th nationally in defensive rebound %. You'd need to find something comparable that Walton adds defensively or offensively that's as valuable as Vonleh's rebounding. And there isn't any. He's got a 1:1 TO:A ratio, and gets just one steal a game.

Expect Walton to finish second, but closer to 1st than 3rd (I don't even know who that'd be? Irvin?)


February 12th, 2014 at 9:14 PM ^

missed some looks--tight ones, but possible shots. He'd been used to getting pretty open, but I thought he still had some space. Last night, several times he used it. 


February 12th, 2014 at 9:15 PM ^

The back cuts did not work last night because we were using Morgan or Horford on the same side of the floor.  Because they are no threat to shoot a jump shot, their defender would sag off and help on the back cut.  Ohio was giving Morgan and Horford a clean look at 16 foot jump shots, knowing that they weren't going to take them.

I would like to see UM run this same action with Zak Irvin on the same side as Stauskas.  If Irvin's defender wants to sag off, he will make the pay.


February 13th, 2014 at 9:41 AM ^

It seems clear with Coach Beilein that the limiting factor isn't how many sets he can dream up, it's how much practice time he has to install them before the next game. I'm not so sure Beilein is "saving" anything for the tournament, but it may look that way just because it'll take all the practice time between now and then to add new wrinkles to the offense. Remember that this team is still very young -- Morgan and Horford are the only upperclassmen. So each time the coaches want to do something new, the players are probably seeing it for the first time.

To echo an earlier poster, this is probably also where having an experienced scout team really helps you. If the scout team already knows the play you're trying to install, they can be much more effective in helping the starters pick it up. This year, those guys are young too, so the practice time becomes even more critical. Good thing we have lots of it coming down this final stretch.


February 13th, 2014 at 8:34 AM ^

While I don't deny the importance of Walton in taking advantage of our opponents' overplay of Stauskas, I look for GRIII to get better and better looks as the season nears its end.  He's the third or fourth option now, the defense recognizes it, and his talent and athleticism will eventually show through. 


February 13th, 2014 at 8:52 AM ^

I'm sure Stauskas can take a smaller guy in the post. Speaking from experience as a 6'2 SG if he has any kind of turn around jumper he can float to the post w/ anyone.  He doesn't have to have the arsenal of a big man in the blocks.  Not to mention his passing skills would be a bonus if he did start recieving the ball in the post.  If they double down on him there someone's open, if he hits a couple of turn around jumpers the pump fake can then become his greatest assest. He's a shooter, a pure shooter, but having a post game would make him the complete package.  


February 13th, 2014 at 9:44 AM ^

His slump is clearly a mental blockage, and not the result of him reaching the limits of his physical abilities. He may just need to play through it, and suddenly the pieces will click.

Or, maybe it's time to call a sports psychologist.

Or, maybe we just need to get him really angry. I suspect our opponents wouldn't like him when he's angry.

Low Key Recidivist

February 13th, 2014 at 5:26 PM ^

They kept him out of the ball screen game for the most part and set a few more picks for him, but the main thing they did IMO was use him more like they did last year.  They dropped his usage and bet that his efficiency would even it out, which amazingly it did.

LeVert and Walton having solid games helped a bunch of course.