Nik Stauskas may have set the bar too high for himself by dropping 24 points against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Portland Trail Blazers’ season-opening win. After signing him to a minimum contract this summer, expectations weren’t high for the journeyman who’d been on three teams in the last four years.
Yet the season opener at least flashed the potential that teams fell for in the 2014 NBA Draft. Sauce Castillo took that success and transitioned it into a solid October overall, but has cooled in November. Portland doesn’t need Stauskas to be a bench star, but if he can present a shooting threat, his impact will be felt on the team.
In the seven games during the month of October Stauskas averaged 10.1 points on 46.4 percent shooting from 3-point land. He hit 2+ threes in four out of those seven games, including his herculean 5-of-8 performance against the Lakers. This scoring output from Stauskas, as well as players like Zach Collins and Evan Turner, helped propel Portland to the fifth-best scoring bench in the league at 42.1 points in October.
Stauskas’ early streak was never going to sustain over 82 games; a seven-game sample size is nothing to build season-long dreams on. But you’d hope it at least meant a sign of good things to come. That hasn’t quite been the case in November.
In the 11 games during the month of November Stauskas is only averaging 5.3 points on 30.3 percent shooting on 3-pointers. He has managed to hit 2+ threes in just two games during November as well.
The fall in scoring from Stauskas represents an overall trend with Portland’s bench. That bench was supposed to be the most complete bench the Blazers have had in years, making the departures of last year’s main bench contributors be forgotten. Yet November has brought the new bench back to Earth, as Portland fell from the fifth-best bench in October to 20th in bench scoring (34.5 ppg) in November.
Overall, they’re 13th in bench scoring with 37.4 points. That’s still a good mark, especially compared to last year’s team that ranked 28th overall in bench points (27.7 ppg).
Is the Bench Key?
A solid bench for Portland isn’t a necessity, exactly. They’re dependent on their main three (Lillard, McCollum, Nurkic) for a reason and it’s a great trio to rely on. But having a solid bench does lessen the main trio’s burden.
Lillard and McCollum shared earlier in the season how they enjoyed that they were playing together more often, a new focus from the team. The bench’s strong play made it reasonable to keep Lillard and McCollum together, which is a game-changing 1-2 punch. But if the bench continues on its downward trend, it’s likely the old staggering of the backcourt will come back more frequently.
Stauskas, specifically, can help the team with strong play off the bench. Evan Turner has drawn rave reviews for his play so far and that’s been credited to the Blazers surrounding him with the “right” pieces. For a facilitator like Turner, Stauskas represents a (hopefully) dependable passing option on drives. And even the mere threat of Stauskas as a shooter opens things up for Turner to operate inside the three-point line.
Stauskas has value as a threat beyond the arc. Opponents honoring his ability helps space the floor. But you have to make shots in order to maintain legit shooter status. Stauskas doesn’t need to score 10+ points off the bench, but he does need to make teams fear the possibility of him getting an open shot.
Hopefully with a near 20-game acclimation period almost complete, the Sauce Castillo we saw take down LeBron opening night can heat up again.