A few things about freshman guard Nik Stauskas: Though Canadian, he doesn’t watch hockey. He doesn’t know who Alanis Morrisette is but he’s a big Justin Bieber fan. He particularly likes the Canadian popstar’s new stuff, and appreciated his biopic, “Never Say Never.”
Oh, and Stauskas has also emerged as the Michigan basketball team’s new dynamic offensive threat. The 6-foot-6 Ontario native scored a career-high and game-high 20 points on just 10 shots, fueling Michigan in its 79-72 win over North Carolina State on Tuesday.
Flashing his inveterate shooting ability while also punishing Wolfpack defenders off the dribble, Stauskas makes it hard for Michigan coach John Beilein to keep him out of the starting lineup.
“He’s a pure shooter,” said sophomore point guard Trey Burke. “And when you have a guy like that that can shoot and put the ball on the ground and get to the paint and create for others, it’s a big plus because he can open the defense up.”
Senior guard Matt Vogrich started, but was yanked by Beilein after two fouls, which came on the heels of an errant pass that led to the game’s first points.
On his first possession, Stauskas took the pass, took his defender off the dribble into the paint and curled out to the block, scooping the ball in with his left hand.
Then came the 3-point barrage. He made three straight from range, including one as he was falling down and nearly 25 feet away from the basket.
It doesn’t come as a surprise to Burke, though. Stauskas has been doing that since he arrived in Ann Arbor this summer.
“That’s probably the best shooter I’ve played with,” Burke said. “He shoots like a pro. Just gotta be honest.”
The head coach followed with similar honesty.
“If he’s open, he believes the ball is going in,” Beilein said. “And he has as clean a stroke as you can have. I love what he gives us.”
Stauskas finished the game 6-for-10 from the field and made four of his seven 3-point attempts. He’s shooting 60 percent from the field on the season and has a nearly identical 3-point make rate. Despite coming off the bench, he’s scored in double figures the last five games and finds himself third on the team in scoring.
“Shooting is what I do,” Stauskas said. “I’m comfortable with it. I’ve probably taken a million shots in my life. That’s pretty much all I did when I was a kid, just go outside and shoot.”
But when he just went outside to shoot, he wasn’t being closely defended. Stauskas’s three misses from 3-point range all came on uncontested shots. It was the tough ones, with a hand in his face, which he was burying.
“I think I shoot better when I have people running at me,” Stauskas said. “I don’t think about it as much when people are running at me. I just shoot it quicker.”
It may prove difficult, then, to make sense of Stauskas’s free-throw shooting. No defenders running at him there.
Stauskas made all four of his attempts from the line, making him 20-for-21 on the season — a knock-down 95-percent clip. That may prove decisive in close games later in the season. With strong free-throw shooters needed to close out opponents who foul late in a tight contest, Stauskas could become the Wolverines’ biggest weapon.
“I wouldn’t say he replaced Zack (Novak) on defense, because we don’t have a replacement for that,” Burke said. “But he replaced Zack in free-throw shooting because he’s just as good if not better than Zack at shooting free throws.”
The only thing left to figure out is why Stauskas isn’t starting yet. According to Beilein, it could have something to do with the superstition of keeping things the same on an unbeaten team — but change may be on the horizon.
“I want to see Matt have some success in there, but Nick’s adapted so well in it,” Beilein said. “It is something you have to consider down the line.”