As Michigan shooting guard Nik Stauskas embarks on the 2014 postseason, he encounters a golden opportunity to prove he belongs among the best NBA draft prospects in the land.
The Big Ten Player of the Year showed drastic improvement from his freshman to sophomore campaigns, and he accordingly climbed into first-round territory. His scoring versatility, passing skills and finishing ability catapulted him from intriguing shooter to potential NBA standout.
But he can be even more than a mid-first round pick.
As of right now, he's slated to go anywhere from 14th to 32nd, based on prominent draft analysts who have access to scouts. Draft Express has him going 16th, NBADraft.net has him going 32nd, Chad Ford of ESPN.com (subscription required) has him going 15th and B/R's Jonathan Wasserman has him going 14th.
In a matter of days, his draft status could be greater than simply flirting with the lottery. He will cement his place in the top 14 and make a run at the top 10 if he dominates the Big Ten bracket.
Stauskas wasn't much more than a sharp-shooting role player as a freshman. As a sophomore, he unleashed a diverse repertoire of offensive weaponry.
He can initiate offense from the perimeter, executing superb pick-and-roll attacks or penetrating himself. Once he gets in the paint, he can deftly dish to teammates, hit a step-back or go all the way to the tin with his 6'6" frame and ample athleticism.
Stauskas also exhibits a terrific feel for the game away from the ball. He works hard to slide into shooting pockets, makes great use of screens and craftily sets his defenders up for failure.
Nik Stauskas skipped about three stages in the developmental process. Went from one-dimensional shooter to an offensive Swiss Army knife.— Jonathan Wasserman (@NBADraftWass) March 9, 2014
As a lengthy swingman, he's dishing 3.4 assists per game and generating a healthy portion of the Wolverines' offense. He's also earning 6.4 free-throw attempts per 40 minutes. It shows that he's going to be a highly useful shooting guard in the NBA, with the ability to serve as a team's second scoring option.
And despite his increased responsibilities and heightened attention from opponents, he's still shooting the lights out. Stauskas is hitting 49 percent from the field and 46 percent from beyond the arc. Whether it's off a screen, off the dribble or a spot-up opportunity, Stauskas' stroke looks ready for the Association.
So what can the Big Ten tourney do for him?
Stauskas' draft value is pretty good right now, and he's one of the safest options in the draft. All it's going to take is a few more standout performances for pro scouts to realize he's better than a mid-first-round prospect.
His usual offensive brilliance coupled with a respectable showing on defense would move the needle.
The Big Ten is one of the best conferences in the country, and it's littered with NBA-caliber talent. If he can rise above this crowd on the league's biggest stage, it could go a long way to convince pro executives that he's the real deal.
Strong performances against defenses like Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State would validate his growing reputation and illustrate how effective his size is. After all, Stauskas' height as a playmaking 2-guard is "what makes him unique," as Illiniois head coach John Groce told SNY.tv.
Just a few days ago, one veteran NBA scout told Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv that Stauskas has a chance to improve his draft status based on his March fruitfulness: "He could rise depending on the rest of the year and who else comes out."
Prospects like Tyler Ennis, Dario Saric and James Young are all worthy of the late-lottery consideration they've received this year. But don't be surprised if Michigan's main man leapfrogs them and lands in the top dozen. Mid-to-early first-round clubs such as the Charlotte Bobcats, Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets could certainly use his physical tools and burgeoning talent.
Stauskas has been on an upward trend all season, and a Big Ten bonanza would propel him even higher.
Dan O'Brien covers the NBA draft for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter: @DanielO_BR