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.

Teams forced into difficult choices to trim traveling parties for restart

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — The 22 teams participating in the NBA restart were all at the Disney campus together for the first time Friday.

None of them, however, made it to the Orlando, Florida, area with their usual travel party.

Leaving families behind for several weeks — or maybe even three months, depending on how deep a team goes in the playoffs — during a pandemic isn’t the only hardship that teams are dealing with during this restart. Space limitations within the quasi-bubble at Disney also meant that teams had to cut their official traveling parties down to 37, including players, so many people who usually travel with a club aren’t on this trip.

“We’re not able to take everybody — and that stinks, because of the amount of work that they all put in every single day,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “We’ve tried to identify how to be the most efficient we can be with people that can be excellent remotely as well. I think that that’s one of the things that we’ve had to identify. In some cases, their excellence remotely probably hurt their chances of going initially.”

It’s expected that as the bubble population shrinks after six teams are eliminated from playoff contention and then eight more are ousted in the first postseason round, teams will be allowed to bring in more staff.

But until then, while teams are playing games on-site at Disney, there will be plenty of work done back in home markets and home arenas as well. Some teams left player development coaches behind, some even left assistant coaches, and all teams traveled with only one media relations staffer and one equipment manager. In normal circumstances, some teams travel with as many as three people to handle media requirements and two for equipment.

“You know, it’s tough,” Orlando President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman said. “We kind of shied away from some of the language that was being thrown around — the whole idea of essential (staff) and non-essential (staff). It’s not about that. This is a very narrowly defined circumstance, and it requires certain skill sets to address this circumstance.”

Players counted against the list of 37, and most teams brought the full complement of 17 players. That left 20 spots for coaches, assistant coaches, player development, video, security, strength and conditioning, athletic training, media relations and content creators.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said the process of figuring out who goes and who doesn’t was brutal.

“We already have had a model of everybody sharing responsibilities,” Spoelstra said. “We already had a meeting about this where there’s an absolute understanding that this is an ‘all hands on deck’ situation. And that means bags, laundry, cleanup, everything … that’s not just for equipment managers, that’s everybody — coaches, trainers, weight room staff, head coach, coaches, we’re all going to be involved in every aspect of it.”

Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan also expressed disappointment that tough decisions had to be made on the staffing end.

He completely understands the NBA perspective. Keeping the number of people in the bubble manageable is a key part of the NBA’s plan for being able to finish the season; the more people in the bubble, the more risk there is of something going wrong.

“Everybody deserves the opportunity, but for the safety of the league and the players we can’t do that,” Donovan said. “So, what we’ve got to do is understand, whether it’s myself or assistant coaches, we may have to be setting up video equipment, we may have to have one of our coaches filming practice in Orlando. There’s things that we’re going to have to do that are going to be outside the box that will normally been taken care of.”

Chris Paul playing cornhole. Luka Doncic trick shots. Welcome to life in the NBA bubble.

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Teams have emerged from quarantine in the Walt Disney World campus in Orlando, getting some run in on the court, and are starting to explore life in the NBA bubble.

Then they are documenting it on social media.

For example, Chris Paul and Darius Bazley played some cornhole.

Dallas’ Luka Doncic was hitting trick shots on the court.

Then Doncic and Boban Marjanovic were doing Disney Channel ads.

Complaints about the food by players have died down, in part because they are out of quarantine and get a choice of restaurants, in part because they saw the backlash and realized the complaints looked elitist. Or maybe it’s just the Mickey pancakes.

Everyone is out and exploring the campus and having fun…

Well, except for Robin Lopez, who sees no reason to leave his room.

Zion Williamson “just went back to square one” with quarantine workouts

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Zion Williamson looks cut — like he spent the entire quarantine doing workouts — and ready to be a force at the NBA restart in Orlando.

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Built for this 💪

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What workouts did Zion Williamson do during the break to get that look? He took everything back down to step one and built it up again working out with his stepfather Lee Anderson, Williamson told reporters on Friday (hat tip Andrew Lopez of ESPN):

“It just felt like I was 5 years old again,” Williamson said Friday. “Just went back to square one, tried to get my body where it needs to be, get my fundamentals back to square one and start from there. So yeah, it was just like starting over at 5 again. It was a great process to learn it all over.”

Williamson did a little more than that. He also had approval from the league to go to the Pelicans practice facility throughout the quarantine and get treatment on his knee, the one that kept him out the first 45 games of the season. So he stayed healthy.

He also worked on other aspects of this game, such as his jump shot. Williamson took 76.7% of his shot attempts at the rim this season, and while getting to the rim is critical to his game, he’s going to have confidence in his shot and knock down jumpers to reach higher levels in the league.

The Pelicans enter the bubble 3.5 games back of Memphis for the eighth seed in the West, and with the softest schedule of any team in Orlando (matching their schedule before the interruption), they have a legitimate chance of forcing a two-game play-in series. It’s not easy, but there is a path to the playoffs for New Orleans (setting up a Zion vs. LeBron James first-round showdown that league broadcast partners are drooling over).

A stronger, improved Zion could help get the Pelicans there.

Paul George: “I feel great again,” says Clippers finally fully healthy

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Paul George symbolized the Clippers’ health all season long. George missed the first 11 games of the season recovering from shoulder surgery, then all season long it was still a lingering issue — until the suspension of play gave him time to heal.

“The whole season, all the way up until maybe a month or two ago, I had to always do shoulder rehab stuff, warming the shoulder up,” George said Friday on a conference call with reporters. “Just so much went into stuff I had to do before I actually took a foot on the floor. Now I feel great again.”

It wasn’t just Paul George, the Clippers had Kawhi Leonard managing his knee/thigh issue and an assortment of other injuries that didn’t give Doc Rivers the full arsenal at his disposal. That was until around the All-Star break — after that break Los Angeles went 7-2 with a +11.5 net rating that was best in the league by far.

The season being shut down may have halted that momentum, but it also gave a banged-up Los Angeles roster a chance to get healthy.

“For this team, man, I think our aspirations, again, this time off has given us what we needed,” George said. “We had some guys that was banged up, nagging injuries. The more time gave us more time for us to aid those injuries and to get back to 100.”

Health matters — which is why Montrez Harrell brought his own personal, portable sauna, a secret Reggie Jackson let out of the bag.

Health matters to Rivers, too, but what he wants more is that team chemistry back — and the Clippers have a long way to go on that end in Rivers’ eyes.

“This is not a normal way of starting back,” Rivers said of the mini-training camp all 22 teams at the NBA restart will get in Orlando. “Usually going into training camp, guys have been scrimmaging for three and four weeks, they’ve been playing, shooting on hoops. That’s not happening. This is a group, some of the guys have not touched a basketball or seen a gym until two weeks ago. We got a lot of work to do on both ends.”

The Clippers are not alone, every team is going to take time to find its rhythm again. Pick-and-roll combos need to get used to reading each other (and the defense) again at full speed, defensive rotations will be a step slow, and a few passes are going to head into the bench rather than the player in the corner.

When the Clippers get that rhythm back, with a healthy roster — finally — they again become a legitimate threat to win it all.

First, they just need to navigate the bubble. And maybe borrow Harrell’s sauna.