The transformation he's undergone has been dramatic.
Last season, Nik Stauskas seemingly played a catch-and-shoot role behind Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.
He's now the 2014 Big Ten Player of Year and the go-to guy for the No. 2 seed Michigan Wolverines.
It kind of just happened out of nowhere. Stauskas came back as a sophomore with an extra 16 pounds of muscle on his frame and a completely revamped offensive arsenal.
He's averaging 17.5 points a game. His assist rate has nearly tripled, while he's sustained his scalding hot 44 percent three-point clip, only he's making more of them per game.
Stauskas has also already taken 96 more free-throw attempts than he did last year, which is a telling reflection of the all-around threat he's become with the ball in his hands.
However, his second-year track record isn't completely clean. Stauskas has had a few slip-ups along the way, including in Michigan's loss to Michigan State in the finals of the Big Ten tournament, when he shot just 4-of-14 from the floor.
He also put up a few duds in February—he shot just 1-of-6 against Nebraska, 3-of-6 against Iowa and 4-of-11 against Wisconsin. And given his importance to the team, all three resulted in losses.
Stauskas hasn't convinced everyone yet he's the scorer his average suggests he might be. But the window of opportunity to do so hasn't closed yet.
This NCAA tournament should actually be a terrific chance for Stauskas to really complete his sales pitch to the NBA.
I'm one of the guys who's already bought into it. Many others have too. But not everybody. Some still think of him as more of a shooter whose upside isn't high enough to justify looks in the lotto.
With scouts on the fence, March Madness is the perfect opportunity for Stauskas to push them over to his side.
He's taken over games before. It wasn't too long ago he went for 25 points and five assists in a win over Michigan State.
But scouts will want to see steady dominance, and not just a big game followed by a stinker. Because stinkers raise questions, like how come he was able to get off only two shots in 36 minutes against Duke? Or were his nine missed jumpers in the conference tournament final a reflection of his inability to get to the hoop?
Stauskas has had a couple of impressive individual runs this year—he went for at least 20 points in five straight games back in November. He went for at least 19 in four straight in January, which included wins over Wisconsin, Iowa, Penn State and Nebraska. And he averaged around 21 points over a four-game stretch earlier this month.
If Michigan wants a chance at advancing into April, and if Stauskas wants to maximize his draft stock, he'll need to put together one of those runs starting with the Wofford game in the Round of 64.
He apparently likes to compare himself to Golden State Warriors' guard Klay Thompson. And though it might seem like a stretch, I kind of dig the idea of it.
There's no denying just how lethal of a shooter he is. Stauskas is 160-of-360 from downtown since throwing on a Michigan Jersey. That's a big enough sample size to conclude that Stauskas' shooting stroke is elite.
But this year, he's shown he can create and make jumpers one-on-one, as opposed to having to rely on ball movement or a passer to find him.
Michigan has been able to give him the rock from 27 feet away, where he can generate offense without the need of a designed play.
Pull-ups, step-backs, jab steps—Stauskas has developed the ability to separate into jumpers from just about anywhere on the floor.
He's also a much better athlete than given credit for. Stauskas has shown he can attack driving lanes off the dribble or by making a quick first step to the rack. And he can finish strong or above the rim in the half court.
He's even finishing around 71 percent at the rim, per Hoop-Math. He's got the body control, flexibility and touch to make some pretty tough layups in traffic.
“That’s a shot I work on all the time, just a little reverse lay-up with some spin on it,” Stauskas said of the sweet reverse he hit shown above, via Brendan Quinn of Mlive.com. “I was pretty confident going into that one.”
Stauskas has also done a lot more ball-handling for Michigan this year. It's an area he's improved in dramatically—he's become tough to stay in front of thanks to a mean hesitation dribble and shifty change-of-direction ability.
He's also an excellent passer. This season, we've seen him dish out a number of dimes on the move, whether he's driving and kicking or facilitating on the pick-and-roll.
Defense is where Stauskas struggles the most. He's not overly quick laterally, nor does he have the upper or lower body strength to provide a physical enough presence on the ball. Stauskas registered a 108.2 defensive rating this season—not exactly a number to be proud of.
Still, his offensive game just might be potent enough to help make up for his defensive limitations.
With the size, shooting range and basketball IQ, Stauskas should be able to make an impact as a supporting member at the least. But based on the deep and advanced scoring repertoire he's put together as a sophomore, there should be a whole lot more potential reward here.
|2014 NBA Draft Big Board|
|6||Marcus Smart||Oklahoma State||PG/SG||Sophomore|
|8||Gary Harris||Michigan State||SG||Sophomore|
|21||T.J. Warren||N.C. State||SF||Sophomore|
|23||P.J. Hairston||Texas Legends||SG||Junior|
|27||Adreian Payne||Michigan State||PF||Senior|
K.J. McDaniels, Clemson, 6'6", SF, Junior
McDaniels erupted for 30 points, 14 boards and five blocks in Clemson's first NIT game against Georgia State. Those are just some numbers that can't be ignored regardless of what tournament it comes in. He also held Georgia's State's top scoring threat, R.J. Hunter, to just 4-of-16 shooting.
One of the most electric athletes in the country, McDaniels has really added to his game this year, as he's become a more complete wing at both ends of the floor. He's averaging over 17 points a game, and he led the ACC in blocks this regular season, which at 6'6", tells you all you need to know about his activity level and athleticism.
Kyle Anderson, UCLA, 6'9", PG/SF, Sophomore
Anderson was sensational in UCLA's win over Arizona in the Pac-12 conference tournament, finishing with 21 points, 15 boards and five assists.
His production, along with the unique versatility he brings to the table, has generated lots of conversation over whether or not his game will ultimately translate to the pros. Anderson is averaging nearly 15 points, 8.8 boards and 6.6 assists—really terrific numbers at the college level.
Some scouts think he's the real deal—a 6'9" point guard and unbelievable mismatch. Others believes he's a tweener without a defensive position.
Still, given how effective he's been, along with his unteachable instincts as a passer, I'd like to think someone is salivating at the thought of Anderson slipping into their laps, but a successful NCAA tournament might mean you'll have to reach to get him.
Julius Randle, Kentucky, 6'9", PF, Freshman
Julius Randle was a no-show for Kentucky in its loss to Florida in the SEC tournament. He finished with just four points and seven boards on 1-of-7 shooting from the floor, after shooting just 4-of-10 against Georgia and 4-of-12 against LSU.
Defenses have figured Randle out, and he's struggling to respond. Randle will ultimately have to find a way to counter length, double-teams and traffic in the paint—because they've bothered him as a freshman.
Glenn Robinson III, Michigan, 6'6", SF, Sophomore
We were talking lottery at one point with Glenn Robinson III. Now I'm not even sure he should declare.
Robinson didn't show up in Michigan's loss to Michigan State in the finals of the Big Ten tournament. He finished with just six points on 2-of-8 shooting. Robinson was pretty quiet the game prior against Ohio State, when he went for 11 points and two boards in 36 minutes.
He just hasn't done anything to stand out or differentiate himself from the pack, something many were expecting him to do as a sophomore. Robinson will need a big NCAA tournament if he wants to reenter the first-round conversation.
Jusuf Nurkic, Cedevita, 6'11", C, (b. 1994)
Nurkic continues to produce in limited action, most recently going for 16 points, nine boards and a block in 22 minutes. He leads the Adriatic League in PER; his massive 280-pound frame and slick inside game have just been too much for opposing bigs abroad.
Now draft eligible, expect to hear the buzz grow louder as we get closer to April and May.
Clint Capela, Chalon, 6'10", PF, (b. 1994)
Clint Capela hit radars early this season, and it appears like he's here to stay. He's coming off a 19-point, 10-rebound double-double on one missed shot.
Capela is shooting around 66 percent from the floor this season. He plays strictly around the rim, where he can use his crazy length and athleticism to finish pick-and-rolls, putbacks, lobs and dump passes.
He's a clear-cut first-round prospect assuming he declares. Capela might not be NBA-ready, but his physical tools, along with his production overseas, should land him in the first-round conversation.
- Michigan State's Adreian Payne went for 41 points against Delaware in the Round of 64. He did it on 15 shots. Payne shot four-of-five from downtown and 17-of-17 from the line. It's the type of performance that can turn some heads and generate conversation. At 6'10", Payne's inside-outside game is going to attract plenty of teams looking for an NBA-ready body.
- Sean Kilpatrick's career has come to an end at Cincinnati. It was a good one, and he finished strong, having averaged over 20 points as a senior. Kilpatrick probably won't get many first-round looks, given his age and lack of one standout strength, but he'll get a crack at Round 2 or as an undrafted free agent.