When the Kings were at their best, that time so long ago and far away, team scouts and executives went global – to Serbia, Greece, France, Turkey - to accumulate much of their talent.
Oh, how times change.
Pete D’Alessandro’s search for passers and shooters – his plan to address at least one of his team’s major weaknesses in the annual NBA draft – took him just a few miles over the Canadian border. Ontario native Nik Stauskas, a 6-foot-6 guard coming off his own two-season detour to Michigan, was deemed “the best available player” and tabbed by the Kings with the No. 8 pick.
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Though the Stauskas selection was only a mild surprise, it added to the international intrigue of the evening. Andrew Wiggins, the No. 1 overall pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers, is also a Canadian; Joel Embiid (No. 3, Philadelphia), is from Cameroon; Dante Exum (No. 5, Utah) is from Australia; Dario Saric (No. 12, Philadelphia) is from Croatia.
Stauskas, who is of Lithuanian descent, attended prep school in Boston and has never been to California. But he knows a few things about the area. He knows Lithuanian icon Sarunas Marciulionis played briefly in Sacramento, hears the temperature will be blistering when he visits this weekend, and is familiar enough with the Kings’ roster to understand he is joining one of the worst passing and shooting teams in the league.
From a distance, he sounds like someone who sniffs a challenge and already loves the fit.
“To be honest, I feel I bring a skill set that not many people have and that’s needed in the NBA,” Stauskas said after the draft proceedings at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. “I really take pride in being the eighth pick in the draft and I’m not going to let them down. As much as I’ve expanded my game over the last couple years, shooting is definitely the thing I do best.”
So there it is. One down and how many more weaknesses to go? As the draft approached, Stauskas was among a handful of prospects prominently displayed on the Kings’ whiteboard. Arizona power forward Aaron Gordon – who was coveted by everyone in the front office – was taken by Orlando at No. 4. Combo guard Marcus Smart went to Boston at No. 6. At that point, the choices came down to Stauskas, slick-shooting Creighton small forward Doug McDermott, or Louisiana-Lafayette point guard Elfrid Payton, an electric open-court playmaker and all-conference defender.
But Stauskas, 20, makes senses for a number of reasons, including the fact that small forward Rudy Gay exercised his $19 million option to remain with the Kings. His selection also begs questions, namely, whether his presence helps or harms Ben McLemore’s development. And the while the organization hopes to retain restricted free agent Isaiah Thomas, team officials envision the veteran point guard as a backup.
Shooters and passers. Passers and shooters. This remains D’Alessandro’s wish-list mantra. The GM is insistent about the need to obtain a primary facilitator to direct a faster-paced, more fluid offense. According to league sources Thursday night, the Kings attempted to obtain an additional first-round pick to draft the wiry, dynamic Payton, and later, contacted the 76ers and attempted to acquire him via trade.
Instead, the Kings’ haul began and ended with Stauskas, with the mood inside the downtown XC sports center upbeat, with the sense that the Kings got their guy. D’Alessandro referred to a recent workout in Chicago that featured McDermott and Stauskas, the Michigan sophomore who in recent weeks was quietly moving up in many mock drafts.
“We were blown away (by Stauskas),” admitted D’Alessandro, adding that he was impressed with the rookie’s ability to create off the dribble, catch and shoot, and pass.
Several scouting reports on the Big Ten Player of the Year read something like this: Terrific shooter. Good size for a two-guard. Better handle and much better athlete than people think. Comes off screens, hits the pullup, and can create his own shot. Improves spacing for everyone on the floor.
After NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced the Kings’ selection, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas proclaimed Stauskas “the best shooter in this draft. He has a complete game. He is cocky, confident, unwavering. He can get his own shot, put the ball on the floor, can dunk on people, and he can also pass. He’s got a total offensive game.”
ESPN sidekick Jalen Rose added: “My comparison is old school. I’m going Drazen Petrovic.”
Comparing anyone to the late Croatian star, of course, is more than a bit of a stretch. Kings advisor Chris Mullin lists Larry Bird, Reggie Miller, Ray Allen and Petrovic as the greatest shooters of his generation, so let’s pause here for a little perspective. But Stauskus has his own lofty expectations. Before ending the teleconference, he was asked to rate his shooting abilities.
There was no hesitation, no hedging his bet.
The best shooter in this draft? That would be him, he said.