Sixers coach Brett Brown believes he has the remedy for Nik Stauskas’ shooting slump and it’s not what anyone would expect.
“Guard,” Brown said. “We have to play defense.”
In a season in which the Sixers’ newcomer has struggled to find any kind of rhythm on the court between nagging injuries and roster changes, Stauskas has been used like a yo-yo. Some games he starts, but in others he is on the back end of the rotation, clocking minutes at the end of the quarter.
Stauskas says there is something to Brown’s notion that his defense can make his offense better.
“If you’re knocking down shots and feeling good about yourself, it’s easier to put your mindset on defense,” Stauskas said. “I look at it the other way around: if I work really hard on defense, then that gets me involved in the game and I don’t think as much about my offense. The offense just comes.”
It hasn’t come with much consistency this season for Stauskas. Whether it’s because of the nagging injuries or simply a matter of inconsistent play, the second-year guard is trying to get something going in the second half of the season.
Brown is still optimistic Stauskas can do it.
“His shot will fall and he will run his lanes and get kick-aheads from a willing point guard and he dunks it and plays with a bounce and a cocky side he has,” Brown said. “But it all has to be delivered from our defense and let’s run out of it.”
In Tuesday night’s 113-103 victory over the Phoenix Suns at the Wells Fargo Center, Stauskas got his offensive game going by logging a game-high 38 minutes to go with 15 points on 4 for 7 shooting, including 6 for 7 from the line with a three-pointer (see Instant Replay). After sitting out three of the last four games with an injured shoulder, Stauskas took baby steps in reassembling his scoring.
Stauskas had a bounce and swagger in Tuesday’s game even though he attempted just two shots beyond the paint. In fact, the three-point shot is an aspect of Stauskas’ game he uses discriminately these days. After jacking up 42 three-point attempts in his first four games of the season, Stauskas averages just 3.9 three-point attempts per game, though a healthy 63 percent of all his shots have been from beyond the arc.
Maybe Stauskas’ game would be better served without relying so much on the three-pointer?
“When people think of my game they think of me as a shooter and someone who needs to get open threes,” Stauskas said. “I don’t necessarily need to get open threes to get myself involved in the game. I can get in the paint, I can make plays for the other guys on the team, I can tough it out on defense, I can rebound and all of those things can help us win games. It doesn’t have to be just shooting threes.”
He did just that on Tuesday night, getting to the line for a career-high seven free throws. However, Stauskas is an unimpressive 15 for 43 on shots longer between three and 24 feet this season.
Plus, 51 of his 56 three-pointers this season have come on catch-and-shoot plays.
With Jahlil Okafor and JaKarr Sampson out with an illness and Isaiah Canaan’s and Jerami Grant’s minutes limited because of colds, Stauskas had the opportunity to show off other dimensions of his game and he didn’t squander it.
“He had a bounce to his game,” Brown said. “He had a bit of a swagger.”
Time will tell if his workmanlike effort on Tuesday night will open up the rest of his offense and get those shots to fall from long range. Either way, Stauskas says he’s going to keep firing up open shots and looking for chances to get points for his teammates.
“The way I like to think of it is if I went into the gym right now and took shots by myself and I missed four in a row, would I think about it at all?” Stauskas said. “But if you go into a game and miss four shots in a row, you think, ‘Oh my God! What’s going on!’ It shouldn’t work like that. Those are just four shots and I’ve shot a million in my life and that’s the mindset I’ve tried to adapt.”