Michigan sophomore Nik Stauskas should probably send Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. a fruit basket or thank-you note or something.
When the two former Wolverines backcourt mates declared early for the 2013 NBA draft, it immediately catapulted Stauskas into a primary role for John Beilein's squad, and the young Canadian has responded by evolving into a complete player.
Labeled primarily a shooter during his freshmen season, Stauskas has shown the ability to handle the rock and distribute. In 35.2 minutes per game, he has averaged 17.4 points on 48.9 percent shooting to go with 3.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists, leading Michigan to Big Ten regular season title.
For his efforts, he was named the conference's player of the year by both coaches and media, an honor he discussed with the Big Ten Network:
Even with Mitch McGary sidelined, the Wolverines have featured an impressive amount of offensive depth. Caris LeVert has emerged in his sophomore season, Glenn Robinson III has shown glimpses of his burgeoning talent and Derrick Walton has produced well as a true freshman.
But most of the offense runs through Stauskas, who has seen his draft stock skyrocket into the first round, and as a result, you're going to be hearing his name a lot as we roll through March.
Before we learn a little bit about him, let's take a look at the overall bracket:
|Hometown||Mississauga, Ontario, Canada|
- For evidence of Stauskas' offensive transformation, look no further than his three-pointer-to-free-throw ratio, if that's actually a thing. As a freshman, he shot 182 three-pointers and 87 free-throws. As a sophomore, those numbers were 155 and 164, respectively. Moving from corner-three specialist to elite offensive combo guard, he has no problem getting to the rack .
- But, um, don't exactly go thinking long-distance shooting still isn't his strength. He drilled 45.8 percent of his threes this season—an improvement on his freshman numbers—and just so happens to become automatic when shooting on an outdoor hoop in the freakin' rain:
- Stauskas is Canadian. And he plays in the United States. That opens him up to plenty of heckling, but if you plan on doing so, chances are he's going to burn you. Sorry, Illinois:
- Speaking of player-crowd interactions, Stauskas has a tiny bit of Marshall Henderson in him. After dropping 19 in a road win against rival Michigan State, he made sure to show his affection for the Breslin crowd. Sorry, Michigan State:
- Despite growing up in Canada, Stauskas was never interested in hockey. Basketball was always his only love, and Vince Carter was a big reason for that. When Stauskas was nine, he played Carter in a one-on-one game at a Raptors open practice. He lost, but it was at that moment he knew basketball was in his future.
- When Stauskas shoots, flames literally ignite around him:
- But he isn't very good at any other sports. "He doesn't know anything about hockey, he doesn't know anything about football," said Beilein last March. "The other day we had him try to throw a baseball pass as a press breaker. And he had never thrown a baseball."
- The kid is crazy efficient. Despite the highest possession percentage (read: usage) on the team, per kenpom.com, he was the only qualified player in the top-15 in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage, three-point percentage and free-throw percentage. He finished the season 21st in America with a true-shooting percentage of 65.4.
It sure feels like the Wolverines are going as far as Stauskas will take them.
As we touched on, Michigan has a lot of offensive firepower, and its elite offensive efficiency (third in adjusted offensive efficiency, per kenpom.com, fourth in points per possession and sixth in true-shooting percentage, per bbstate.com) is a testament to that.
But again, Stauskas' evolution into a complete player has taken pressure off guys like Walton and Levert, who have been able to develop better as secondary options. Stauskas may not be your typical point guard, but so often in the halfcourt, the Wolverines will give him the ball at the top of the three-point line and let him go to work.
At the beginning of February, Stauskas hit a rough patch, averaging just 10.2 points on 37.1 percent shooting through five games. During that stretch, the Wolverines went 2-3, including a rare double-digit home defeat at the hands of Wisconsin.
This team has talent all over the ball, and it's not nearly this simple, but don't be surprised if a limited offensive day from Stauskas spells the Wolverines' tourney demise.
Predicted NCAA Tournament Stats: 18.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 50.2 FG%, 46.0 3PT%, 85.5 FT%