The Wizardry of Nik Stauskas

Submitted by Ace on January 29th, 2014 at 4:01 PM

Swish. [Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]

In the last three games, Michigan earned their status as the team to beat in the Big Ten by sandwiching road wins at Wisconsin and Michigan State around a home victory over Iowa; all three teams ranked in the AP top ten when they played the Wolverines and sit at #6 (Iowa), #8 (MSU), and #14 (Wisconsin) in the latest KenPom rankings. Michigan ranks #7 on KemPom themselves after entering the Kohl Center at #19.

This brilliant three-game stretch also vaulted Nik Stauskas up the NBA Draft boards (from unranked to #14 in Chad Ford's latest rankings[$]), gave him the inside track for Big Ten MVP, and landed him the #8 spot in the KenPom POY standings. Before I get to the video breakdown, here are Stauskas' numbers from the last three games:

  • 68 total points (22.7/game) on 10/19 2-pt, 12/24 3-pt, 12/13 FT shooting
  • 13 assists to five turnovers, 11 rebounds (one off.), three blocks, three steals
  • 28 points generated by assists (includes FTM)
  • 96 points generated on 74 possessions used* for a mark of 1.30 points per possession
  • Let me state that again: 1.30 POINTS PER POSSESSION

Keep in mind that, while Wisconsin is struggling defensively (#10 in B1G defensive efficiency), Michigan State and Iowa rank first and third in the Big Ten in defensive efficiency. Those numbers are patently ridiculous; just as impressive is the variety of ways Stauskas generated those points. I compiled a video of every point Stauskas produced in the last three games, broken down by how the shot originated. It is highly recommended viewing:

Apologies for the slight audio issues in the Iowa clips.

Stauskas scored in just about every fashion imaginable, regardless of how opponents tried to defend him, and created most of his points himself—only six of his points and two of his assists came off non-transition spot-up opportunities. The "Not Just A Shooter™" meme is a tired one at this point; that doesn't mean it's not fitting.

For further examination of how Stauskas is this outrageously productive, hit the jump.



Some of the clips filed under "transition" in the video could also be filed under ball screens or handoffs, but I wanted to stay consistent with how hoop-math and other advanced stat sites track transition baskets—any shot occurring within the first ten seconds of the shot clock after a steal, defensive rebound, or opponent score.

This is how Stauskas most reliably got good looks from the outside, a credit to his knack for finding the open spot and his teammates' ability to get him the ball at the right time. Four of his 12 three-pointers came in transition, right about in line with his season numbers—on the year, 38.8% of his made threes have occurred in transition, per hoop-math.

Stauskas also got a generous portion of his assists on the fast break—five of his 13—and a couple of them were simply magnificent: namely, the jump-pass to Jon Horford in the second clip and the perfect lead outlet to Derrick Walton that led to an and-one. His court vision and passing ability are nearly on par with his shooting acumen, which also shows up in the next category...

On-Ball Screens

We've known since last year that Stauskas is extremely effective working the pick-and-roll; regardless of how Wisconsin/Iowa/MSU attempted to defend it, Stauskas found a way to produce points in these situations. A full rundown of this section:

1. After Stauskas takes a handoff from Horford on elbow, Horford flips the pick, Frank Kaminski is forced to help on Stauskas, who hits Horford with a running jump-pass for an open dunk.

2. Stauskas fakes left, spins back right into a high middle screen from Max Bielfeldt, spins back left into the paint, and hits a fadaway from just inside the free-throw line over Josh Gasser.

3. Stauskas resets offense, gets a high middle screen from Jordan Morgan, takes advantage of a soft hedge by Kaminski with a quick pull-up jumper from 18 feet.

4. Stauskas works around a high middle screen from Morgan, backs out when Kaminski switches onto him, then blows by Kaminski—drawing in Gasser—and deftly avoids a charge with a quick shovel pass to Morgan for a layup.

5. Stauskas resets offense, gets a high middle screen from Glenn Robinson III, nails a three over Zach McCabe after Iowa switched.

6. Iowa hedges hard against a high middle screen from Morgan, Adam Woodbury gets back to Morgan while Stauskas is still matched up on Aaron White; Stauskas creates a Morgan and-one after a filthy crossover gets him by White and draws in Woodbury. (GIF'd above.)

7. Stauskas gets pass on wing, dribbles around a high screen from Morgan; Iowa is playing zone(!), Mike Gesell gets caught on the pick, leaving Stauskas open for a pull-up 18-footer.

8. Same action as #7 except on the other end of the court. Iowa still playing zone. This time Gesell gets over the pick and Roy Devyn Marble helps aggressively, so Stauskas immediately passes off to Spike Albrecht, who's wide open for a triple.

9. Stauskas starts in the left corner (aka Stauskas Corner), gets a dribble handoff from Albrecht, crosses over and declines the pick just as Gesell is working over Morgan's high screen—blowing past Gesell in the process—and flies in for the and-one finish between Jarred Uthoff and Melsahn Basabe.

10. Stauskas resets offense as shot clock starts to wind down, Gary Harris runs smack into the high screen from Morgan, Matt Costello (Morgan's defender) inexplicably sags into the paint, Stauskas pulls up for a three-pointer.

11. Stauskas is well-defended by Harris, who gets over Horford's screen, and Alex Gauna, who cuts off the drive while also taking away the interior passing lane, so Stauskas just stops on a dime and drills a pull-up from just inside the arc.

Stauskas burned Wisconsin's soft hedging with pull-up jumpers, worked off the dribble against hard hedges by Iowa and MSU, obliterated Iowa's zone with his three-point shooting and quick passing, and punished State with a three when they screwed up their defense. Even when MSU played both the drive and the rolling big perfectly in the last clip, Stauskas simply pulled up and shot right over them. There's no consistently correct answer for how to defend Stauskas off the high screen; his combination of shooting, passing, and ball-handling is near-impossible to slow down at this level.


John Beilein's offense contains a lot of built-in handoffs for players cutting off the ball; not only are these a good way to get Stauskas the ball with a full head of steam (and hopefully a step on his defender), they also often double as a screen by the player handing the ball off—and sometimes Beilein builds in a screen after the handoff, which just seems unfair.

Two of Stauskas' second-half threes against State came on near-identical handoffs on the left elbow; the third came on a little flip from LeVert in transition. One thing I noticed about Stauskas while going through the film that makes these plays work so well: when he's spotting up in the corner, he goes from a complete standstill to jetting around the corner in such a short period of time that it's very difficult for his defender to react quickly enough to keep up with him. That usually provides the one-step advantage Stauskas needs to get off a shot.

Off-Ball Screens

I ended up filing just one play under this category, in which Stauskas gets a side off-ball screen from Morgan, who flips the pick to force Woodbury to defend the baseline—Stauskas threads a pass between Woodbury and a recovering White (his initial defender) and Morgan rattles home a 15-foot jumper(!).


Only three makes fell under this category; all showed off Stauskas' impeccable shooting form when he pulls up, especially the above dagger against Wisconsin—being able to stop on a dime, cross over against his body's momentum, and rise up with the same form as his normal spot-up shot is just ridiculous.

Spot Up

Now that he's the number one offensive option, Stauskas gets far fewer spot-up opportunities than he did with Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. drawing much of the defensive attention last season. He only had two catch-and-shoot makes in these three games; one came when Iowa rotated late while playing their ill-advised zone, the other occurred right after a chaotic sequence featuring a Spike Albrecht offensive rebound. The brevity of this section makes his numbers even more remarkable.

Free Throws

He made them. The "Stauskas/Michigan can't hit free throws in the clutch" belief is officially dead, yes?

*Based on play-by-play data



January 29th, 2014 at 4:55 PM ^

Which is why you have to expect him to be a top-15 draftee, right? His shot and his hard-sell on cuts to the basket, which allows him to either pull back and find an open shot or attract a defender to create the open pass, make him undoubtedly valuable. The Chris Mullin comparisons are hardly off the mark with this kid.

The fact that "every time he shoots it you expect it to go in" is star power in a nutshell; not everybody has it, and every time I watch Stauskas he's adding more and more swagger to his game.

I'm excited for the kid. He clearly works very hard, and he's destined for a bright future.


January 30th, 2014 at 1:31 PM ^

Ugh, Reggie Miller. As a forever Knicks fan, that comparison is painful...and I hate to admit spot on.

But if you ever have a chance to watch Mullin SJU highlights, pay attention to how he'd get his assists. He'd take a pass at the top of the key and draw a defender, then see over the top to hit an open man under the basket. His ability to draw defenders with jab steps was also similar. 

But Mullin was a spot up shooter foremost, so the systems are incomparable. Neither was he a strong finisher. If Mullin was playing for Michigan now, I don't know if anyone would say he's " not just a shooter".

Reggie compares favorably on swagger alone, but his Indiana system was also similar: he was always coming off screens, not just spotting up or working in iso. 


January 30th, 2014 at 3:39 PM ^

Mullin was slow, but  he was the king of changing speeds to shake a defender and get open for a pass and a pull-up jumper.  The entire time Nik was being shut down by Harris and the Duke guy who's name I can't remember I was thinking if Nik wants to make it in the pros he needs to watch some Chris Mullin tape and learn how to get open even when he's being blanketed by a faster, more athletic defender.


January 29th, 2014 at 4:15 PM ^

Though I do with we could all just silently appreciate all of the awesomeness that comes from having Nik Stauskas on our team. I don't want anyone else to know just yet... 


January 29th, 2014 at 4:17 PM ^

Hello, I'm an NBA scout (not for the Pistons) and I wanted to thank you for the wonderful compilation of videos on this player I hadn't really been looking at until now.

This has been eye opening!

The Denarding

January 29th, 2014 at 4:19 PM ^

Imagine if steph curry was six inches taller and had a 3:1 assist to turnover ratio in college at the highest level of play. That's nick he won't be a lottery pick is impossible for me to see.


January 29th, 2014 at 4:26 PM ^

This really shows the improvement from year 1 to 2. Last year his off-ball screen play was shaky and he barely got any on ball screens. His spot up and transition game has always been good, and that has continued. FT wise, I dont get why it fell 5% but 80% is still really good. 


January 29th, 2014 at 5:00 PM ^

What I love abou the Beilein offense is how efficient it is against pretty much every defense.  In a world where "defense wins championships", last years tourny run, and this years latest 10 game run, have shown that this offense isn't stifled by any defense.  Full court presses, 2-3 long zones, up-tempos, man to man, all the experts felt it would eventually slow or stifle this offense because "defense wins championships".

Nik's efficiency against these three teams is a smal (or large) microcism of this fact. Just as Nik has shut down the "not just a shooter" meme, Beilein is strongly challenging that defense is always more consitant than offense.


January 29th, 2014 at 5:01 PM ^

There have been 197 possessions in the past three games, per KenPom.  If Stauskas used 74 of them, that leaves 123 others.  Michigan has scored 232 points in those games.  Eliminating the 96 points Nik has generated leaves 136.

136 points on 123 possessions is 1.105 points per possession.

@ Wisconsin, vs. Iowa, and @Staee.

In other words, if we eliminate the best player on the team entirely, the offense drops from outstanding to merely very good.  Against two top 20 defenses and one that's in the top 50, and with two of those games on the road. (!)

What can I say?  These guys are just fun to watch. :-)

The Team. The Team. The Team.  Go Blue!


January 29th, 2014 at 5:02 PM ^

Not sure what it is about guards under John Beilein, but pretty much all of them, with the exception of Hardaway Jr, make big leaps in their sophomore season. LeVert has also taken a jump forward


January 29th, 2014 at 5:33 PM ^

We have yet to see how many of this year's freshman crop is coming out and how many other underclassmen are leaving.  If Nik is a projected lottery pick closer to the draft, he really has to leave.  But if his projection ends up closer to the end of the first round and isn't certain, he would be better off staying.

One of the great things about John Beilein is that he advises players honestly about their NBA chances and gives them a chance to develop if they come back.  To me, the "typical John Beilen player" isn't selfish enough to be a true superstar, but can have a long career in the NBA if they can stick for the first year or two due to a versatile skill-set.




January 29th, 2014 at 5:43 PM ^

"being able to stop on a dime, cross over against his body's momentum, and rise up with the same form as his normal spot-up shot is just ridiculous."

I was at the gym yesterday shooting hoops by my lonesome and I tried to imitate this move just to see how really difficult it is to pull off since he makes it look so damn easy. It wasn't pretty and no one was defending me. Dude is bad ass.


January 29th, 2014 at 6:39 PM ^

What is so great about his performance so far is that it is seemingly all in service of the offensive philosophy.  He's not hero balling much; he's just making plays within the offense and to the betterment of his teammates.  Hopefully it continues, but it's great to see Stauskas take over games like this against quality competition.


January 29th, 2014 at 6:50 PM ^

I meant to mention this in the isolation section and forgot—another remarkable part of this run by Stauskas is that his production (or non-transition production, at least) has come almost entirely within the flow of the offense. I expected to see a lot more late-clock heroics, but they weren't necessary; Michigan is generating shots so well in their halfcourt sets that he doesn't need to go end-of-clock Trey Burke all the time.


January 29th, 2014 at 8:08 PM ^

I don't have the skills. Someone PLEASE make a gif or something that zeros on to the guy wearing the Bob the Tomato looking costume on the left after Stauskas nails the big 3 against Wisconsin. IMO that's internet gold right there.


January 29th, 2014 at 10:45 PM ^

Excellent work, Ace.

One tip: I think it would have been more instructive to show the plays that led to Stauskas getting fouled, rather than showing his actual free throw makes.

But that was really excellent. The pick-and-roll section was great - you could really see how difficult it is to defend him on the P-and-R. He beat so many different types of P-and-R defense.


January 30th, 2014 at 1:42 PM ^

...and probably should've mentioned this in the post, but all the makes at the end came after off-ball/non-shooting fouls when Michigan was in the bonus or intentional hacks at the end of games.