• Leading up to the Portland Trail Blazers’ season-opener against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers at Moda Center on October 18, HoopBall is profiling the team’s 15 players with guaranteed contracts, in reverse order of price.

    Prior entries: Jake Layman, Gary Trent, Jr.

    Player: Nik Stauskas

    2018-19 salary: $1,512,601

    Position: off-ball guard

    Age, experience: 24, fifth year

    Measureables: 6-foot-6, 205 pounds (6-foot-7 and 3/4 inch wingspan)

    Strengths: spot-up shooting, passing

    Weaknesses: individual defense, ball handling, finishing, overall versatility

    Swing factor: team defense

    Likely role: shooting specialist, spot minutes

    From the forced perspective of a team’s most obvious need and a player’s most reliable skill, the Portland Trail Blazers and Nik Stauskas form a near-perfect union – especially when taking into account salary. Finding a long-range shooter of his caliber, size and price was a coup for Neil Olshey, which is why news’ of Stauskas’ deal was announced shortly after free agency began on July 1.

    The Blazers’ bench shot 8-of-37 from deep while getting swept out of the first round by the New Orleans Pelicans. Evan Turner, Shabazz Napier and Pat Connaughton combined to make just four of the 20 3-pointers they took without a defender within four feet, per NBA.com/stats. The Pelicans suffocated Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum on the ball by pressuring pick-and-rolls, sloughing off role players away from the play, and Portland’s awaiting shooters consistently failed to make them pay.

    Stauskas, under the same level of non-duress, almost certainly would have. He shot an even 40 percent from beyond the arc last season, reaching that telling threshold for the first time in his career after being billed as a true marksman leading up to the 2014 draft. What was supposed to set Stauskas apart from other shooting specialists and made him a lottery pick in the first place, though, was the nascent playmaking ability he flashed between splashing threes en route to winning Big 10 Player of the Year.

    Through three stops in four seasons, Stauskas has been completely unable to translate that skill to the NBA, instead settling in as the one-dimensional shooter pre-draft analysts were confident he would avoid becoming. In 2015-16, he joined the likes of Channing Frye and Quinn Cook as one of 10 players in basketball with a usage rate of 15 or higher who attempted less than 30 free throws, according to basketball-reference. Any hope Stauskas will become something more than a specialist has pretty much evaporated by this point, but that doesn’t explain why Portland was able to sign him for the minimum at a time in the league floor spacing has never loomed larger. At 6-foot-6, he has the height all teams covet from from guards, and still possesses enough natural feel and understanding to keep the offense flowing in ball screens or hand-offs on the second side of the floor.

    Unfortunately, Stauskas’ jumper lacks the versatility necessary to make him an imminently threatening weapon. He’s certainly not J.J. Redick or Wayne Ellington, comfortable sprinting around screens and launching with accuracy no matter how his feet are aligned, and his release isn’t nearly as quick as Kyle Korver‘s. Even if Stauskas mastered the ability to move without the ball, he isn’t a strong enough shooter to be unmoved by defensive pressure. A whopping 96 of his 100 3-point tries last season were open, per NBA.com/stats. Stauskas’ shooting ability doesn’t bend the will of an entire defense; his presence simply ensures the man guarding him won’t be able to abandon his assignment to muck up the action elsewhere.

    To be sure, the addition of a player who provides that element is important for the Blazers, particularly in wake of New Orleans providing the league a blueprint for how to slow down Lillard and McCollum. In a pinch, Terry Stotts can feel confident turning to Stauskas would give Portland a jolt offensively, whether he’s knocking down shots or just standing on the weak side of the floor. The problem is that Stauskas is too big a defensive liability for him to wield that influence as part of a good team’s rotation. He doesn’t have the short-area quickness to keep the ball in front of him or the speed to keep up with opposing guards weaving through screens, and more generally, hasn’t shown the engagement necessary to account for his relative physical deficiencies. Entering his fifth NBA season, Stauskas is still sometimes prone to the simple mistakes that plague rookies.

    The hope is that the Blazers’ staff coaches those lapses out of his game, helping Stauskas emerge as a dependable thread of the defensive string. Stotts and company have worked wonders on that side of the ball with Jusuf Nurkic over the past 18 months, and helped Lillard emerge as something close to an average defender last season. It’s not like Redick and Korver are stoppers; they avoid being routinely exploited by superior athletes through hustle, physicality and understanding.

    Stauskas, with additional time and patience, can perhaps develop a sense of that mental toughness. Unless it comes with continued improvement from beyond the arc, though, he’ll likely be relegated to spot minutes in 2018-19, being called upon for specific situations and possessions that reflect the single strength and many limits of his game.

Fantasy News

  • Kyle Kuzma
    PF, Los Angeles Lakers

    Kyle Kuzma (sore left ankle) will not take part in the FIBA World Cup as Team USA announces its final roster.

    Kuzma sat out Team USA's final tuneup against Australia on Saturday as Marc Stein reports that he is flying back to Los Angeles to get treatment. We should still expect him to be ready for training and congrats to Mason Plumlee for making the team as many speculated that he would be the final cut.

    Source: Marc Stein on Twitter

  • Kemba Walker
    PG, Boston Celtics

    Walker scored 22 points on 7-of-15 shooting with four rebounds with two assists as USA Basketball had it's 78-game winning streak in tournament and exhibition games snapped on Saturday.

    Walker continues to assert himself as the team's best player but USA losing to Australia was the much bigger story in this one. Harrison Barnes also played well as he chipped in 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting to go with six rebounds. USA will take on Canada on Monday in their last exhibition before taking on the Czech Republic in the first official match of the tournament on September 1.

    Source: USAB.com

  • Derrick White
    PG, San Antonio Spurs

    Derrick White left Saturday’s game after tripping and hitting his head on the floor.

    White left without help but there is no word yet on whether he is dealing with a concussion. He finished with eight points, hitting 6-of-7 three throws in nine minutes with another update sure to come. The third-year guard put up top-125 per-game value, playing 25.8 minutes in his second season. Even with the return of Dejounte Murray, White should still be worth a roster spot in most standard leagues.

    Source: Jeff Garcia on Twitter

  • Marcus Smart
    PG, Boston Celtics

    Marcus Smart, sidelined for almost three weeks with calf tightness, returned to action on Saturday as USA lost to Australia in their exhibition.

    Smart only played nine minutes in this one but still managed to score 7 points with three assists days after being named one of the team’s co-captains. Coming off an NBA All-Defensive First Team selection, he produced top-100 per game fantasy value as it seems he may have finally fixed his shot after shooting under 40 percent from the field in his first four seasons. He also produced a career-high in both steals and triples with 1.8 and 1.6 respectively as his career seems to be on the up and up.

    Source: USAB.com

  • Patty Mills
    PG, San Antonio Spurs

    Patty Mills went off in the fourth quarter and finished with 30 points as Australia beat USA 98-94.

    Although it was only an exhibition, it was still a huge moment for Mills and the Australian team in front of a huge crowd as they handed the US team it's first loss since 2006. Mills was serenaded with MVP chants as Joe Ingles also played well with 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting with four rebounds and seven assists while Andrew Bogut came off the bench for 16 points, nine rebounds and four assists in 20 minutes, shooting 7-of-8 from the field.

    Source: USAB.com

  • Kyle Kuzma
    PF, Los Angeles Lakers

    Kyle Kuzma is out for Team USA's tuneup up game vs. Australia with a sore left ankle.

    Kuzma is being held out of this one for precautionary reasons. There's clearly no need for USA Basketball to risk him further injuring the sore ankle. This does not sound like a serious injury and should not affect his fantasy ADP on draft day.

    Source: USA Basketball on Twitter

  • Dwight Howard
    C, Memphis Grizzlies

    Dwight Howard has agreed with the Grizzlies on a buyout, and will sign a non-guaranteed contract with the Lakers.

    The Lakers are giving Howard an opportunity to be fantasy relevant. When given minutes, Dwight can produce double-doubles with the best of them, but he has been changing teams for years now. He will be worth a gamble at the end of your draft if camp with the Lakers goes well, but this is a non-guaranteed deal, and he only played nine games last season.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • Marcus Derrickson
    PF, Atlanta Hawks

    The Hawks signed Marcus Derrickson to an Exhibit 10 contract on Friday.

    It looks like Derrickson will be a G-League option for the Hawks, so there's nothing to see here. At one point he was competing for the last roster spot on the team. We don't need to keep of track of every computer-generated player.

    Source: Chris Vivlamore on Twitter

  • Marreese Speights
    C, Free Agent

    Marreese Speights will work out for the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday according to Alex Kennedy of Hoopshype.

    Speights spent last year playing in China and will attempt his NBA comeback with the Lakers. who are in desperate need of an additional center. He is among three centers the Lakers are looking into, the others being Dwight Howard and Joakim Noah. Of those three, Speights unquestionably has the best floor spacing ability, which would be his strongest bet to eke out those other two for the job.

    Source: Alex Kennedy on Twitter

  • Trevor Booker
    PF, International

    Trevor Booker has worked out for the Nuggets and has workouts planned with the Bucks and Clippers, according to Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype.

    Booker was out of the NBA in 2018-19, spending the season in China after he didn't get any offers in free agency. He did return to the US to undergo a procedure on his foot but is apparently fully recovered. The last time we saw Booker he split 68 games between the Nets, Sixers and Pacers in 2017-18. If he does make a successful comeback he'll have no fantasy relevance.

    Source: Alex Kennedy on Twitter