Nik Stauskas: “Playing without the ball is a big part of the game in Europe. After five years in the NBA, I was spoiled with the lifestyle and the luxuries”

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Canadian sharpshooter Nik Stauskas is exploring European basketball courts for the first time at the age of 26.

Born in Ontario, he was selected with the eighth pick in the 2014 NBA draft by the Sacramento Kings, where he initiated his professional career. However, it was in his first two seasons with the Sixers when Stauskas enjoyed his best time in the NBA, averaging 9 points over 26 minutes of action.

After 2017, despite improving his three-point-shooting percentage, the guard-forward with the Lithuanian roots, never really saw much playing time. Changing teams every year, moving from Brooklyn to Portland and lastly Cleveland surely didn’t help him leave his mark in the league, besides a few exceptions. Thus, the presence of Stauskas in the NBA came to an end after five seasons, 6.8 points on average in a total of 335 games.

So far, the Euroleague seems to be treating him a bit better than the NBA, but the same is not true for Kirolbet Baskonia as well. The Spanish side have lost sight of the play-off spots long ago, having won only 8 out of their 21 games and despite 9.5 points on 42% three-pointers by the former Michigan Wolverines player.

Nik Stauskas spoke to TalkBasket.net about the background of his decision to try European basketball, the changes in the NBA that have rendered players’ longevity harder than ever and the Canadian National Team that will host one of FIBA’s Olympic Qualifying Tournaments in Victoria, British Columbia. He also talked about three-point shooting, prominent shooters and the person that enlightened him on what playing overseas is all about.

Q: How has your whole overseas experience been until now? So far, you’ve referred many times to the differences between NBA and Europe.

A: Well, playing in the NBA was always a dream of mine. I played five years there, but obviously in the last couple of years I didn’t have the success in the NBA that I wanted to. So, it was a really good opportunity for me to come here and get better. That was the most important. Second of all, I think it was a good opportunity for me to find my confidence and that joy of playing the game again that I had lost in the NBA. Baskonia had a good amount of success in the past and I thought like I could be potentially the difference-maker here, helping the team win some games. That was really the goal coming in.

Q: What attracted you to Euroleague basketball?

A: A couple of things. Just the understanding of the game here, the I.Q. and the team aspect; learning how to play different styles and not just with the ball in your hands. I feel that playing without the ball is a big part of the game here and that’s something I feel I can improve on. Physically, I feel like it’s getting me in better shape here. You know: the running, the up and down, even just the intensity of the defence makes you work a little bit harder. I’m finding that confidence and that swagger that helps all players be successful.

Q: Is the NBA having difficulties in sustaining its workforce? Last summer, we saw the biggest migration of NBA players in recent history. It seems that even NBA veterans can’t get a contract in the league any more.

A: Yes, I think the league is changing a lot, not to mention that even when I was coming in five years ago, it was well known that the average NBA career is four years. At the end of the day, there’s only 450 jobs and think of how many players there are, not only in America but all over the world right now. With sixty new draft picks every year, that turnaround is so quick that I feel like if you’re not one of those top-100 or top-200 players but just a role player, it’s very easy to replace you. It’s one of those things, where everything depends on what you’ve done in your last year. If you’re not performing at the highest of levels, then you become replaceable. There’s always a new young guy or a guy from overseas that might come in and do your job just as well or even better. It’s very competitive.

Q: Was the situation like that when you first entered the NBA back in 2014?

A: I think the game is changing in the NBA, as shooting is becoming more and more valuable. The rosters have also changed, especially some teams are playing with less big men and if you’re “4” or “5” and you can’t shoot, it’s harder to have a role. It’s a big change, for sure.

Q: Do you agree with Shane Larkin who said that many NBA players wouldn’t be able to play in Europe?

A: It depends on the context of what he was saying. It is a different style of game, but talent wouldn’t be the issue. After five years in the NBA, I was spoiled with the lifestyle and the luxuries: traveling in a private plane and little things, like not being responsible for your own stuff. Those details could make an NBA player say: “Oh man, I can’t do that”. You get a little bit spoiled. Even for me, when I came here, it was a little bit of a shock: “Oh, they don’t do all the little things that NBA teams provide their players with”. In terms of talent, you see a lot of NBA guys come over here and have success.

Q: Do you miss those amenities that you had in the NBA?

A: Of course! It’s always nice to be a little bit spoiled and get taken care of, but it’s not that bad (in Europe). It’s nothing that you can’t handle.

Nik Stauskas
Photo: NBA

Q: What or who was your main source of information on European basketball?

A: It’s actually funny. Shane Larkin is represented by my agent and before I signed here, my agent put me in contact with him because he had played for Baskonia and in the NBA as well. I wanted to talk to someone who had played at both, get his opinion on life in the city, the practices, the travels, the games and he answered all those questions for me. I was really appreciative of the fact that he took the time to talk to me.

Q: Was Baskonia the only European option/offer in the summer for you?

A: Well, my agent towards the end of June asked me if playing in the Euroleague was something that I wanted to explore. At that time, I was kind of set on returning to the NBA. That was my focus. I said that I’d rather exhaust my options in the NBA before I commit to going overseas. So, I spent all of July not really talking with any Euroleague teams, but only with NBA teams. After that month, I realised that teams were ready to make a commitment to me that I wanted to see from them. Then, towards the end of July or early August, we made our decision to see which teams were available. Baskonia was the first team that my agent brought up to me and as I talked to Shane (Larkin) and to some other people, I started getting more comfortable making my decision.

Q: Was Real Madrid also after you, as some Spanish media reported?

A: My agent explained to me, in June and before free agency started, that if I wanted to explore Europe, he could get me to Madrid or Barcelona. “These are big cities and you’re going to like it”, he said.

Q: Did he suggest those teams to you because of the lifestyle or the basketball level that each team had to offer?

A: I think both. He said that they’re high-level teams and as a Canadian-American, I would love being in a big city. “If you don’t pursue that in June, those jobs are going to be gone until the end of July because each team has two spots for a foreign player”, he told me. At that time, I still had my mind set on the NBA and I passed up on those opportunities. When the end of July came, those jobs were all gone and we started looking for other options. I’m feeling very comfortable with the Baskonia decision.

Q: Do you believe that a good stint in Spain will give you a shot at getting more looks in the NBA?

A: Sure. The Spanish League is widely known as one of the best domestic leagues in Europe and has sent a lot of players to the NBA. Obviously Euroleague is high-level basketball. The level of the competition is great and there’s a lot of people watching these games because of the players. If it happens to return to the NBA, it happens. I won’t say “no” to it, but my focus right now is on having fun here and making the most of this opportunity. If the NBA doors are open in the future, it would be great. If not, I just got to make the most of it right now.

Q: Having suffered a series of blowout defeats, which team that beat Baskonia impressed you the most?

A: Maccabi was definitely a strong game for us because it was at our home. They came and beat us pretty good. We also have to tip our hats off to Panathinaikos. They were unbelievable against us and the atmosphere- I mean the fans- was something that I had never seen before either. Their fanbase is amazing and that surprised me too.

Nik Stauskas (right) facing Bayern Munich’s Paul Zipser (left) in a EuroLeague game. Photo Source: euroleague.net

Q: Will you be with the Canadian National Team next summer?

A: Potentially, yes. We’ll see how things go. 2015 was the last summer I played for them, but the last couple of summers it was just my body or prior commitments and I haven’t been able to make it work. I talked with Nick Nurse last summer about joining the team, but as the next one gets closer, I’m sure we’ll be in contact again. Before the World Cup, I had some tendonitis issues, which hurt me. At the same time with it being my first experience overseas and camp starting in August, I didn’t want to come in late September, not knowing anything (about basketball overseas). At first, coming to Europe, I didn’t know what to expect at all. I wanted to come early and start knowing my teammates, my coaches and learn the language (Spanish) a little bit. I’m not going to rule out Canada for this summer. Obviously, if I choose to do it, it will be a quick turnaround in terms of playing all the way until June with Baskonia and probably having to go right into the Qualifiers.

Q: Does Canada hosting the Tournament give you an additional motive to play?

A: It definitely plays a little bit into it. I read that some Canadian players, like RJ Barrett, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jamal Murray have already declared themselves available. I think that’s amazing, especially the fact that some of the top guys of our country have stepped forward, giving their commitment.

Q: Do you know that Rick Pitino will be the coach of the Greek team that will be in your bracket?

A: Yes. Rick Pitino actually coached the Louisville team that beat my Michigan team for the NCAA in 2013. I have experience playing against him. He’s a well respected coach and his resume speaks for itself. I’m happy that he’s doing well in Greece.

Q: In the 2019 World Cup, we saw that NBA basketball doesn’t translate directly to FIBA rules. Is this the main reason why Canada and also Team USA didn’t impress in China?

A: I think that the rest of the world has really caught up. They are on the same level now. Although the NBA still might have some of the top players in the world, it’s so close right now that I feel like Team USA don’t have an advantage unless they send LeBron, Westbrook, Harden and Steph Curry. But if Team USA are sending out their B-list of guys, I think that they don’t have a clear advantage. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens next.

Q: I’ve got some questions for you, regarding the shooting department: A) What does it take to become a great shooter? B) Who’s the best shooter ever and the best you’ve played against? C) Whose shooting style have you tried to emulate?

A: The one key to shooting is practice and confidence. My confidence comes from getting the repetitions up. Best shooter of all time? Steph Curry, not even close. But I would also say that I respect Klay Thompson as much because he has put up some big games against me personally. I think JJ Redick is someone in the NBA that I respect in terms of how hard he’s worked and how he’s made a career for himself in the role of the guy who comes in and knocks down shots, whether it’s off the ball, on the ball, off the dribble, coming off screens. He’s someone that I got to play with in Philadelphia for a little bit.

Q: Is it true that you and Steph Curry were about to have a televised three-point-shooting contest? Did you take it any further?

A: No, we didn’t, but I would love it. Unfortunately, it was an NCAA rule. At the time, I was an amateur and he was a professional. There were rules against such a showdown and NCAA had to shut it down. It would have been a dream come true. I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon, unless I go back to the NBA and do three-point shootout and All-Star Weekend. That would be the only way.

Q: Is there any player in Europe that you’d like to have a three-point showdown with?

A: Matt Janning. I would love to have a showdown with him. Jimmer Fredette as well. He’s an unbelievable shooter and a guy that I respect as well. He has had a great career.

Q: Did you actually play a one-on-one with Vince Carter?

A: Yes, when I was maybe nine years old. I got asked to come on the court and play against him. That was one of my favourite childhood memories. I’m still a Toronto Raptors fan.