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Trade Candidate: Nik Stauskas

When Adam Silver read aloud the name on the card denoting the Kings’ first-round draft selection last June, it was a bit of a surprise when Nik Stauskas‘ name was the one the commissioner intoned. This wasn’t due to Stauskas lacking lottery-level talent, but rather because Sacramento had previously selected Ben McLemore, another shooting guard, in 2013’s draft lottery. McLemore certainly didn’t set the league on fire during his rookie season, averaging only 8.8 points on 37.6% shooting, but a single season seemed like a rather brief trial period for such a significant investment. Now it would appear that the Kings’ patience may have withered to only half of a season’s time for their younger players with the report from Ken Berger of that the team has been willing to deal Stauskas.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Los Angeles LakersFrom all outward appearances, the Kings organization as a whole currently seems rife with dysfunction, and their apparent willingness to deal Stauskas only reinforces this viewpoint. One would think that seeing how McLemore has improved in year two of his NBA career would make Sacramento think twice about parting with a player it selected with the No. 8 overall pick after just 48 games, but that isn’t necessarily the case.

The Kings appear to have soured just a bit on the rookie since the beginning of the season. This summer, Sacramento GM Pete D’Alessandro spoke about Stauskas, saying, “We have high hopes for Nik. He’s very young so we’re not going to put a lot of pressure on him this year, but I don’t think we don’t need to. He puts a lot of pressure on himself. We have very high hopes for him as a player, as a shooter, and as a guy who can help us to stretch the floor, so there’s a lot of opportunities for him. What stands out about him right now is confidence. If he gets three shots, he feels like he’s going to make all three. If he gets 20 shots, he feels like he’s going to make 20. He’s not a guy that will ever have the ball in his hands and feel like he’s not going to succeed with it and you saw that in Summer League. We didn’t go to him as often as we might have, but nothing really fazed him. He continued to shoot the ball well and do what he does. So we’re looking forward to his development.” 

Berger’s report relayed that the Kings had fielded numerous calls regarding the 21-year-old Stauskas since the beginning of the season, but that Sacramento had initially declined to deal him. The Nets were reportedly requesting the rookie out of Michigan during trade talks that potentially had Deron Williams heading west to join Sacramento, but D’Alessandro was hesitant to give him up at the time. This was likely a very wise move by the GM, considering how far Williams’ game has slipped, and the veteran still having two years, and approximately $43MM, remaining on his contract after this season.

At some point, Sacramento changed its stance on holding onto its young guard. Either the Kings have seen enough of Stauskas to believe that he isn’t going to be a player in the league, and decided to try and deal him while his value is still relatively high, or Sacramento feels that dealing the rookie is its best chance to nab the parts that the franchise feels that it is missing. Berger’s report also noted that Sacramento was seeking to upgrade its frontcourt, and that in any deal involving Stauskas the Kings sought either a stretch four or an above-the-rim defender to pair alongside star center DeMarcus Cousins.

It was to be expected that Stauskas would struggle on the defensive end; most rookies do. But what the Kings didn’t expect is for the rookie to average a meager 3.5 points per game while shooting a dreary 33.1% from the field and an anemic 26.4% from beyond the arc. Personally, I’m not sold on Stauskas as a long-term NBA star, nor was I ever. He’s not quick enough or strong enough to guard the upper-level two guards in the league, and he hasn’t demonstrated the ability to be able to create his own shots consistently. Stauskas’ ceiling is likely as a situational shooter off of the bench. While that is a valuable asset to have in the league, it’s hardly what the goal is when selecting a player in the top 10. The best case scenario I see for Stauskas is him becoming a shorter version of Steve Novak.

If my read on Stauskas’ potential is correct, then it may in fact be wise for the Kings to kick the tires on dealing the player. While his value isn’t at a premium right now, his youth and upside can be used to net Sacramento a player who could help the team immediately. In today’s NBA, where players eschew multiple years of college development in favor of an early NBA payday, a steep learning curve encompassing multiple seasons is no longer an outlier and is now the norm. D’Alessandro could use that in his sales pitch and try to entice another GM to overpay for a recent lottery pick like Stauskas. But I can’t help thinking that if the team wanted a stretch four, it should have tried to trade down in last year’s draft and simply selected a player like Adreian Payne, who was taken by Atlanta with the No. 15 overall pick, and who was recently dealt to Minnesota. Payne has been  showing steady improvement in the D-League as the season wears on, and he’s exactly the kind of player the Kings could use.

The current market for Stauskas is difficult to gauge. He’s a young player with upside, which could make him attractive to a rebuilding franchise, but playoff contenders wouldn’t likely see him as a missing piece in their pursuit of a postseason berth. In addition, Sacramento’s desire to obtain a stretch four or a rim protector isn’t a unique need, and this is definitely a case of the demand far exceeding the supply around the league. There are a few potential trading partners for Stauskas that could be fits. But these teams are merely my speculation, and not based on current reports.

  1. Heat: The offseason signing of Josh McRoberts hasn’t quite worked out the way Miami had hoped. “McBob” hasn’t found his niche with the Heat, and injuries have limited him to just 17 appearances this season. But the 27-year-old has shown the ability to nail three’s and would certainly fit the bill as the stretch four the Kings desire. McRoberts is out for the remainder of the season, but Sacramento could acquire him with an eye on 2015/16. Additional players would need to be included to make the trade work under the cap, but with both teams in need of a makeover, that isn’t necessarily an issue.
  2. Lakers: The Lakers are in a state of flux as a franchise, and with the future of Kobe Bryant unclear, acquiring a young shooting guard like Stauskas could be a wise move. While Los Angeles doesn’t have the stretch four the Kings desire, it does have Jordan Hill, who would fit the bill as a rim protector. Hill possesses a $9MM team option for next season, which could make him a valuable trade chip this summer for the Kings if they didn’t feel he was the proper fit.
  3. Bulls: While Chicago may not have an immediate need at shooting guard, it wouldn’t hurt for them to nab a young shooter whom the team could groom for the future. For Sacramento, Bulls forward Taj Gibson would be the ideal trade target. The 29-year-old would bring a solid work ethic, stout defense and rebounding, as well as add some scoring punch from the four spot for Sacramento. With the rise of rookie Nikola Mirotic and the presence of Pau Gasol, Gibson has become somewhat expendable in Chicago. Though, with Arron Afflalo reportedly on the market, Chicago would almost certainly be better served to add the veteran for the stretch run than Stauskas.
  4. Nuggets: As I just mentioned, with Afflalo a trade candidate, Stauskas could be included in a deal to nab the veteran shooting guard. The sticking point in any deal between Denver and Sacramento would be the Nuggets’ desire to obtain a first-rounder in return for Afflalo. The Kings owe this year’s first round pick to the Bulls, though it is top-10 protected through 2017. The Nuggets also have a young swingman in Gary Harris already, and they may not want to add more youth to that spot on the floor.

When the dust settles and the NBA trade deadline has passed, there’s a better-than-average chance that Stauskas remains a member of the Kings. I also believe that if the Kings indeed trade him, they would include him as the sweetener necessary either to nab a player who can help the Kings long-term or, in a more likely scenario, to entice another team to take on a less desirable contract. I don’t think that the Kings simply wish to rid themselves of his presence. Stauskas hasn’t shown that he was worthy of being a top-10 pick yet, but there is still plenty of time for him to develop into a serviceable pro. Unless the Kings can significantly improve their roster, they would be better served to see how Stauskas progresses over the summer and through a second NBA training camp.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

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