Nik Stauskas has never had a driver’s license. He celebrated his 21st birthday Tuesday with a short trip to the drugstore for some candy, a bottle of aspirin and a bag of cough drops. He is still searching for an apartment that his mother, who is a huge fan of HGTV, will design and furnish after he signs the lease.
But first impressions can be deceiving. This is no Little Boy Blue. Yes, Stauskas has light blue eyes and carries himself with an almost innocent appeal. He blurts comments that leave his Kings teammates rolling their eyes and sharing bemused, knowing glances. Think of the younger sibling who always tags along, though not the one in need of protection; Stauskas is the precocious, occasionally irritating kid who hangs around and refuses to sit quietly in the background.
Two games into his rookie NBA season, he hardly seems like a rookie.
“I love his attack mentality,” Kings guard Darren Collison said after Tuesday’s preseason home opener at Sleep Train Arena. “He doesn’t care who he’s guarding or who’s guarding him. And, of course, he shoots the ball extremely well. I knew he could play, but I just didn’t think (the adjustment) would come this early.”
Legitimate scorers tend to reveal themselves quickly in this league. The 6-foot-6 Stauskas, who was selected eighth in he draft, has wasted little time showing off his abilities as an elite shooter. He has made 9 of 14 field-goal attempts and 4 of 7 three-point tries in two preseason games against the Toronto Raptors.
In his home debut Tuesday, he cut backdoor and gathered a nifty pass from DeMarcus Cousins for a layup; sank a deep three from the left corner while drawing contact from a defender, then hit the free throw; added another jumper from the elbow; used a one-dribble escape for a shot from the foul line to remain perfect at 3 for 3; and didn’t miss his first shot until early in the fourth quarter.
His defense is another matter. In that sense, he is every bit a first-year player. The Raptors went at him from the opening tip, with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan taking turns posting him, squaring up on him, driving around him, exploiting both his lack of familiarity and his lack of bulk.
“He came to me during the game and said, ‘Coach, they’re going to me on every play,’ ” coach Michael Ma-lone said. “I said, ‘Welcome to the NBA. They’re going to.’ He’ll get better as he gets stronger and adjusts to the physicality of the league.”
But back to the edgy side of the 205-pound Stauskas. As the game progressed, he began anticipating his opponent’s moves, staying in front of his man and utilizing his long arms to poke balls loose and deflect passes. And on occasions when he was exploited, he owned it.
Once, after losing his man along the baseline, Cousins barked at him. The conversation continued in the huddle and ended with Cousins putting his arm around the rookie and the two sharing a nod.
“In the past, we had a tendency to make excuses,” Cousins explained later, “saying we didn’t hear me or someone calling out the defense. I blatantly screamed it out. Nik just missed the assignment. But, hey, I really like this kid. You can already see he can play, and he’s smart.”
Stauskas is a rookie with the old soul. But he has prepped for this moment since his mid-teens. At 15, he left his hometown outside Toronto to attend prep schools, first in Connecticut and then in Massachusetts. He played two seasons at Michigan, and after experiencing a surprising growth spurt as a sophomore – earning numerous All-American honors and the Big 10 Player of the Year award – opted for the NBA.
Citing a need for passing and shooting, and intrigued by his offensive versatility, the Kings selected him ahead of the several high-profile candidates, including Doug McDermott. And the early reviews are encouraging.
“If he’s open for a three, he’s going to knock it down,” Kings special adviser Chris Mullin said. “But that said, the worst thing is for him to be just a shooter. He can put the ball on the floor, make plays for other people, get to the line. He needs to be an all-around player because he has that kind of talent.”
Then there’s the personality. In a Kings locker room that oozes charisma, Stauskas, a social networking fiend, already has found his comfort zone. He just needs to find an apartment before his mother flies into town and take his driving test so he can buy his first car.
“Because I went away to school so young, I never needed a car,” he said, grinning. “But I know what I’m getting. I wanted an Escalade, but everybody on the team has one of those. I’m getting a Range Rover. Something different.”