SAN ANTONIO — Nik Stauskas was the throw-in as part of the Nets’ trade with Philadelphia for center Jahlil Okafor, the afterthought. But as a three-point specialist, the truth is that Stauskas stood the best chance of making the transition to the Nets’ spread offense while Okafor not only must get in NBA game condition but adapt his inside game to fit the Nets’ offensive concepts.
While Okafor made just one appearance before it was decided he needed an extensive conditioning stint and practice in the system, Stauskas has come off the bench and lit it up a couple of times in five games while shooting a sizzling 52.2 percent from three-point range (12 of 23). It’s unlikely he can keep up that pace for the Nets, who faced the Spurs Tuesday night at AT&T Center, but Stauskas’ success is a reminder that he was a lottery pick, No. 8 overall by the Kings in 2014, and he might possess more upside than he ever showed with them or the 76ers.
Asked to explain why he has fit in easily with the Nets, Stauskas offered one key. “Freedom, a lot of freedom,” he said. “Nothing against Philly at all, but in Philly, my role was different. My role was to get the ball to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and then get out of the way and sit in the corner and, if the ball comes my way, then shoot it once in a while.
“Here, there’s a lot more movement in our offense, and there’s a lot more freedom. If you notice, a lot of the threes I’ve been shooting are off the dribble in pick-and-roll situations, but I never got to do that in Philly. That’s a strength of mine. When I came here and met with coach [Kenny] Atkinson the first day, my eyes lit up because I started realizing how they played and how well I’d fit in here.”
Atkinson smiled when told how much Stauskas enjoys shooting off the dribble as opposed to catch-and-shoot. “It’s funny he says that because we don’t love those shots,” Atkinson said. “We’d much prefer the catch-and-shoot. But he can play pick and roll.”
More importantly, Stauskas has shown he’s a quick learner. “I’m more pleased just with his overall understanding of what we’re doing on the offensive side of the ball and the defensive side of the ball,” Atkinson said. “A lot of new guys, you throw them in there and they’re just making mistakes. It’s been a pleasant surprise.”
One person who had some insight into the value Stauskas might bring is Caris LeVert, who roomed with Stauskas when both were sophomores at Michigan.
“He’s a really talented player,” LeVert said. “It’s just keeping his confidence high, getting it back up to where I know it can be and where I’m used to seeing him at . . . People forget he was the Big Ten player of the year as a sophomore and that’s a pretty good accomplishment. He had the ball in his hands most of the time. He was our go-to guy, our No. 1 scoring option, and I think people forget that.
“People kind of look at those numbers [in Philadelphia] and say, ‘Oh, he’s not as good as we thought he was.’ But in reality, if you’re playing two minutes and subbing out, you’re not getting into a rhythm. Now we see how good he is.”
If Stauskas can raise his career NBA three-point percentage from 34.8 to something approaching his college percentage of 44.1, the Nets might have something.
“From the moment I got here, I felt like I’d have an opportunity,” Stauskas said. “Every time I go out there, I’m trying to prove myself and show the coaches I’m worthy of the opportunity.”