As the Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 128-119 on opening night of their 2018-19 NBA season, an unlikely hero emerged. On a night when LeBron James posted a triple-double and Damian Lillard scored 28, all eyes fell on journeyman shooting guard Nik Stauskas. His three-point shooting powered Portland to the 120+ effort they’d need to overcome a tough defensive night in the paint. Blazers fans are reacting, too, as submissions like this one to the Blazer’s Edge Mailbag show.
STAUSKAS!!! The Lakers went down in a Blaze of Sauce! Tell me [the Blazers] are looking at their next bench superstar!
Stauskas had a heck of an outing for sure! What a way to say hello. Even Jusuf Nurkic in all his Nurk-Fever glory needed a few games to settle in. Nik came in like a wrecking ball, causing many Blazers fans to fall under his spell with a love no one could deny.
(The question above was the briefest of the Mailbag submissions this morning. People are waxing poetic about last night!)
Stepping back, Stauskas did exactly as advertised. In the first half of the game, the Lakers closed out on him with all the urgency of a drunk manatee. The results were dramatic. Check out the highlight reel here:
Lonzo Ball makes a good-faith effort on Nik’s first three-point attempt, but he starts too far away to bridge the gap defensively. After that, through a combination of a couple nice Portland screens, slow reactions from L.A., and half-hearted arm extensions, nobody ends up anywhere near Stauskas on his jumpers. That’s a baaaaaad idea. This is exactly what the Blazers envisioned when they signed Nik. He ended up delivering 24 points in 27 minutes, which adds up to one point for every $62,500 of salary. (Damian Lillard would need to score 448 points to keep pace.)
Luke Walton got his charges to rectify the situation a little in the second half. Stauskas got up fewer shots after halftime, though he got fouled on a couple attempts. But the attention that he drew kept the defense honest and allowed teammates better looks.
Basically, the Lakers were content to obliterate the Blazers in the paint, allowing a marginal amount of three-point shooting while gaining the advantage through consistent, high-percentage scoring. Until Stauskas went crazy, their plan worked. Nik ended up shooting 5-8 from distance for the game (62.5%); the rest of the team went 8-29 (27.6%). The extra points and open floor that followed them turned the game for Portland.
The caveats here are obvious. The Lakers didn’t look coordinated. When they got their act together, they bothered Stauskas more. Stauskas’ own defense didn’t look strong.
Other teams will exploit Nik’s weaknesses and compensate for his strengths. Still, absent a slump, which is certainly possible, the threat of his shooting should make a difference whether or not he scores big in a given game. The question will be how long Terry Stotts can leave him on the floor to provide that threat.
But those are issues for another day. Right now, we know the bench gelled against the Lakers, that Stauskas was a huge part of it, and that Blazers fans are celebrating an opening night win against LeBron James because of a guy making a veteran’s minimum salary. That’s worth lifting up at the moment whether or not Stauskas ends up a “bench superstar”, or even a long-term difference-maker.
Send all your Mailbag questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get to as many as we can! Thanks, Polly!