Nik Stauskas, drafted No. 8 by Kings, exceeds everyone’s expectations but his own

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BROOKLYN – Nik Stauskas, upon being drafted No. 8 by the Sacramento Kings, completed an elaborate handshake with his dad. They slapped hands three times, and both did Stauskas’ signature 3-point goggles. “It was a little pressure, but he got it right,” Stauskas would later say.

Then Stauskas poked John Beilein in the  nose.

A little awkward remains as Michigan ascends back among the premier NBA-player-producing college programs under Beilein, and nobody signifies the rapid change more than Stauskas, who extended his arms a bit too quickly while hugging his coach.

Few, even just before the draft began last night, predicted Stauskas would go so high. When he committed to Michigan, it would have seemed impossible.

The six college players drafted ahead of Stauskas Thursday all ranked significantly higher in their recruiting class, according to rivals.com:

PK Player Rivals
1 Andrew Wiggins 1
2 Jabari Parker 4
3 Joel Embiid 25
4 Aaron Gordon 3
6 Marcus Smart 10
7 Julius Randle 2
8 Nik Stauskas 71

Stauskas is the fourth Michigan player drafted in the first round the last two years, joining Mitch McGary (No. 21 to the Thunder this year), Trey Burke (No. 9 to the Jazz after trade last year) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (No. 24 to the Knicks last year). No college program has produced more first rounders in that span.

Beilein is clearly doing something right.

When Michigan hired Beilein in 2007 – full disclosure, I’m a Michigan alum and was on campus at the time – one of the biggest concerns was his ability to attract top recruits. His history had been at small colleges, and he never sent anyone directly to the NBA while at West Virginia.

But Beilein has developed players better than his peers. Burke ranked No. 142 in his recruiting class, and Hardaway wasn’t rated at all. (McGary, the No. 30 recruit, was a blue-chipper unlike any Beilein had ever landed.)

Maybe Beilein has also identified players primed for development. Burke and Hardaway sure didn’t stop growing once they reached the NBA.

Burke, the No. 9 pick, finished third in Rookie of the Year voting. Hardaway, the No. 24 pick, made the All-Rookie first team.

And that should give the Kings confidence in Stauskas.

Despite his humble roots, at least relative to the quick path taken by his top-10 counterparts, Stauskas is extremely confident. He wore the lottery’s most outlandish suit this side of No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins and was asked who chose it.

“This is all me right here,” Stauskas said, grabbing the jacket.

Nobody, including Beilein, deserves more credit for Stauskas’ development than Stauskas himself.

He famously shot long-distance jumpers on his backyard hoop in his native Canada, and that earned him a college scholarship. In the last year, he’s transformed his body and gotten more athletic. Stronger and quicker, he’s expanded his game far beyond spot-up shooting.

No. 8 might have been the top of his range, but Stauskas was a bona fide lottery-level prospect.

“I always believed it,” Stauskas said. “I believed in myself, and I don’t think many other people did.”

It’s time to believe in Stauskas and, even more firmly, Beilein’s ability to send players to the NBA.

Only Kentucky and UCLA have matched Michigan’s first-round output during the last two years, but they’re accustomed to producing NBA talent like this. In the 12 prior years, Michigan had no first-round picks. Kentucky had 12, and UCLA had six.

Beilein, whose name is now being mentioned in wide NBA coaching searches, will likely return to the draft next year, making it three straight for him. Caris LeVert is pegged as a potential 2015 lottery pick, and the way things have gone, another Wolverine – Zak Irvin? – could emerge. If you’re an NBA draft fan, Michigan is a program to watch for the first time since the Fab Five and the aftershock recruiting classes the legendary five-some produced.

In addition to Stauskas and McGary, Beilein also gave a standing ovation for Glen Robinson III, picked No. 40 by the Timberwolves. Beilein even stuck around into the 50s in the hopes of Jordan Morgan – an undersized fifth-year power forward – getting drafted, even though that seemed like a huge longshot.

Beilein never stopped believing, and Stauskas has always believed.

I don’t know what will become of Stauskas in the NBA, but the Kings are getting a confident player who was taught well by a confident coach.

Big nights for Ben Simmons (32 points), Joel Embiid good sign for Sixers

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It was a dramatic win — because Philadelphia’s two best players stepped up.

Down one with eight seconds left and Chicago having the ball, Joel Embiid forced a turnover, Ben Simmons scooped up the ball and was fouled, then drained a pair of free throws with 5.6 seconds to play and the Sixers got their sixth straight victory, 116-115.

It wasn’t just that play. Simmons had a career-high 32 points, along with 11 assists and eight rebounds, while Joel Embiid had 30 points and 13 rebounds. Coach Brett Brown said after the game the pair carried Philly on the night — and the Sixers are going to need more of that to end their playoff drought.

Check out their highlights above.

Three Things to Know: Russell Westbrook was clutch; Curry was vintage Curry

Associated Press
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The NBA is back, and every day around the league there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Russell Westbrook rescues Thunder with game-winner vs. Kings. It wasn’t just averaging a triple-double for a season, when it came time to vote for MVP last season one of the reasons Russell Westbrook came out on top was how clutch he had been. He hadn’t just willed his team into games they probably should have lost, he got them the wins — in the final three minutes of games within three points last season (something that happened 32 times for the Thunder), Westbrook averaged 4.4 points scored (best in the NBA of anyone who played in more than five such games) and shot 38.7 percent from three.

That Westbrook was back on Thursday. With the game tied 107-107 and one second left, the Thunder ran an out-of-bounds play where Westbrook got surprisingly open coming off a double screen and had room for a clean look catch-and-shoot three. Do we need to tell you what happened?

OKC needs the wins for playoff seeding through its final 22 games — the Thunder are now just 1.5 games out of being the three seed in the West, or 2.5 games away from falling out of the playoffs entirely. The West is that bunched up. They should make the playoffs (fivethirtyeight.com gives them an 89 percent chance of being in) but where they fall will determine how tough a run through the playoffs they will face.

2) Stephen Curry was hitting Stephen Curry shots, drops 44 on Clippers. If Stephen Curry’s shot chart looks like this, it’s going to be a long night for the opposition.

Curry had 44 points on 19 shots and just could not seem to miss, even nailing a buzzer-beater from the center-court logo.

Credit the Clippers here, who put up points (22 from Tobias Harris) and made this a contest, falling 134-127. Los Angeles is fighting for a spot in the playoffs (they are currently one game back of New Orleans for the eight spot) and have found ways all season despite a rash of injuries and Blake Griffin being traded. They should be appreciated for their play this season. There’s just not much you can do when Curry and the Warriors are going off.

3) New look Cavaliers suffer first loss, fall to Wizards. The newfound energy was there in Cleveland. LeBron James was playing at an MVP level. The versatility of the new-look Cavaliers roster was on full display.

Cleveland just couldn’t shoot Thursday night. To be more specific, Cavaliers not named LeBron James (32 points on 18 shots) couldn’t buy a bucket. Cleveland was 8-of-35 from three and in the final nine minutes of the game the non-LeBrons were 0-of-10 shooting. The Wizards went small and were +17 with that lineup as the Cavs had no answers (the lineup was Bradley Beal, Tomas Satoransky, Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre, Markieff Morris). The Wizards got the win 110-103.

Cleveland can chalk this up to an off night, and it was. It was also a reminder of why this Cleveland team isn’t as good as a year ago — they don’t have a reliable second shot creator and scorer who can just get buckets and lift the team up. Kyrie Irving is an elite scorer, but he’s in Boston. George Hill, Jordan Clarkson and the new guys are not on that level. Some nights that will be an issue.

The Wizards are now 8-2 since John Wall went down and are scoring 4.2 points per 100 possessions above their season average in that stretch. The ball is moving and the players are moving off it, Beal has been brilliant, Satoransky has stepped up, and the Wizards are securing their spot in the top half of the East. When Wall returns he has to figure out how to fit in with this offensive style, not come in and dominate it with the ball in his hands.

The Wizards need more wins like this as they enter a tough stretch of their schedule (14 of the next 16 are against teams currently in the playoffs).

Russell Westbrook hits game-winning 3-pointer to beat Kings (VIDEO)

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Welp, looks like Russell Westbrook is re-energized after All-Star Weekend.

As the first night of games after the break got underway on Thursday night, it was Westbrook who gave us a jolt as he helped the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Sacramento Kings on the road.

With just a second to go, Sacramento’s Justin Jackson had tied the game up at 107-107. This came after Vince Carter pulled up confidently from nearly 30 feet out, missing badly. Sacramento missed another follow, and then Jackson put home the final try.

Via Twitter:

That left the Thunder to advance the ball with just one second left.

Oklahoma City ran a simple play with Westbrook running near-to-far across the arc from the inbounder, eventually settling at the top of the 3-point line.

He let it fly, and that allowed OKC to come away with a win, 110-107.

Bulls find way to lose despite being up by 5 with 35 seconds left

AP
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CHICAGO (AP) Ben Simmons scored 32 points, making two free throws with 5.6 seconds left to complete Philadelphia’s rally from five points down in the final minute, and the 76ers beat the Chicago Bulls 116-115 on Thursday night.

Joel Embiid had 30 points and 13 rebounds, and Simmons added 11 assists and seven rebounds as Philadelphia won its sixth straight and snapped a four-game road losing streak.

Bobby Portis had a career-high 38 points and Zach LaVine added 23 for the Bulls, who were 18 for 34 on 3-pointers.

Chicago had a 115-114 lead and the ball with 8 seconds to go before Embiid deflected an inbounds pass to create a turnover. Simmons came up with the ball near half court and was fouled by Denzel Valentine. He made both free throws.

Portis had a chance for a game winner, but his short attempt – with Embiid defending – just missed.

The 76ers raced to a 25-7 lead midway through the first quarter before Portis got hot and Chicago started making 3s.

Philadelphia’s lead was down to 33-29 at the end of the quarter and the Bulls busted out for 40 points in the second to take a 69-67 halftime lead. Chicago was 9 of 12 on 3-pointers in the quarter, including 4 for 5 by Portis.

The 76ers were up by five early in the fourth before Portis scored six straight points – on a 3-pointer and a three-point play – to put the Bulls on top 101-100. A few minutes later, Portis dunked over Embiid to stretch the lead to 111-106 with just over four minutes to play.

LaVine hit a 3-pointer to make it 115-110 with 1:02 left.

TIP INS

76ers: C Embiid has nine straight double-doubles . Simmons has six triple-doubles this season, which ties him with Wilt Chamberlain (three times) and Billy Cunningham for most in a season in team history.

Bulls: To look at some younger players during the final 25 games, C Robin Lopez and G/F Justin Holiday were removed from the starting lineup. Both were inactive on Thursday as Cristiano Felicio and David Nwaba (21 points) started; Also, Cameron Payne – who played in his first game on Thursday – will replace Jerian Grant as the backup point guard.

“It really is hard,” coach Fred Hoiberg said. “It’s hard for Robin, it’s hard for Justin and it’s hard for Jerian, who’s probably making as big a sacrifice as anybody.”

UP NEXT

76ers: Host Orlando on Saturday.

Bulls: Visit Minnesota Saturday night.