For most of his rookie season, Nik Stauskas was a practice star and looked star-struck when games began.
He’d made only 29.7 percent of his shots heading into Monday’s game against the Utah Jazz at Sleep Train Arena. Stauskas was shooting an even more woeful 22 percent from three-point range after the Kings tabbed him as the best shooter in the draft.
Monday, Stauskas finally got all he “really needed.”
Stauskas had his best game as a pro with season-highs of 15 points and eight rebounds as the Kings defeated the Utah Jazz 101-92.
“Just going though a slump. I felt like pretty much the whole season I haven’t been able to put the ball in the basket,” Stauskas said. “And the most frustrating part for me is I’ve been shooting well in practice and I’ve just been coming into games struggling. I think it was more mental than anything.”
Stauskas shot 6 of 12, including 2 of 4 from three-point range. It was the kind of game Kings coach Michael Malone said was coming all along. It was the reason his teammates demanded he keep shooting in games even as shots didn’t fall.
“We see what he does everyday before practice, after practice,” Malone said. “I thought he’d have a chance to have a good game tonight because of favorable matchups, not knowing that (Alec) Burks was going to play. But there was nobody out there that was going to go at him and torch him. So I felt he could kind of hold his own on the defensive end and make plays offensively.”
Stauskas’ shooting was nice complement for Rudy Gay, who led the Kings with 29 points. Darren Collison added 16 points and six assists.
“Being the shooter that (Stauskas) is he just needed to see the ball go in a couple of times and he reverted back to who he is,” Gay said.
Stauskas took a different approach to overcome the mental block that has slowed him this season. It’s a reason he was so active rebounding.
“Coming into the game today I set a goal for myself to come in there and not think about scoring,” Stauskas said. “Not think about anything (offensively), but find a way to involve myself and get my hands on the ball and rebounding was one of those ways.”
It helped the Kings outrebound the Jazz 45-35. The Kings need that with center DeMarcus Cousins missing his sixth consecutive game because of viral meningitis.
The Kings are 2-4 without Cousins this season.
Stauskas performed so well, Malone played starting guard Ben McLemore 18 minutes, leaving the remaining 30 for Stauskas to finish the game.
Malone said it also didn’t hurt to get McLemore some rest before matching up with Kobe Bryant tonight.
“(Stauskas) earned that with the defense he played,” Malone said. “ ... when you get eight rebounds as a two guard in the NBA that’s pretty impressive with the minutes he had.”
Malone was pleased the Kings (11-10) recovered from a poor defensive first quarter to hold Utah (5-16) to 40.5 percent shooting for the game. The Jazz lost its ninth game in a row.
But the Kings also gave up a season-high 29 fast-break points and committed 17 turnovers.
Malone will continue to harp on those, but he, like the rest of the Kings were happy to see Stauskas’ success, or as Malone said he “became a man in the NBA.”
“Hopefully this is just the beginning of him taking a jump in the right direction,” Malone said.