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Nik Stauskas’ improved shooting leads to more playing time with Kings

Kings guard Nik Stauskas shoots during the second half against the Los Angeles Clippers in Los Angeles, Feb. 21.
Kings guard Nik Stauskas shoots during the second half against the Los Angeles Clippers in Los Angeles, Feb. 21. The Associated Press

Sitting on the bench proved difficult for Kings rookie Nik Stauskas, but he made the most of it by watching coach George Karl.

All that watching is paying off with more playing time in recent games.

“It’s crazy, but ... on the bench you start to see (Karl’s) reactions and what he thinks about certain shots,” Stauskas said. “So I kinda got a better feel for the shots he wanted and the shots and plays he didn’t want. And since I started getting out there, I know what he’s aiming for now. I think it helped me a little bit, for sure.”

Along with the usual difficulty of learning and adjusting to the NBA, Stauskas already has had three head coaches. And, until recently, he hadn’t been the outside shooter the Kings expected when they drafted him last June.

But Stauskas is shooting 45.7 percent from the field and 45.2 percent from three-point range in March, making it his best shooting month. In 12 games this month, he also is averaging 19.3 minutes and 7.8 points. Those are much better than his season averages (4.3 points, 36.3 percent shooting, 30.9 percent on three-pointers).

“He’s actually learning,” forward Rudy Gay said. “I’ve been on his (butt) all season to try to get better, to try to help him, and he’s starting to settle in, and he’s doing well.”

Stauskas scored 13 points in 18 minutes in Wednesday’s 108-99 victory over the Suns. It was the seventh consecutive game in which he’s played after getting in only six of Karl’s first 12 games.

Karl said he likes to keep his rotation at about nine players, which left Stauskas mostly watching, but Karl said he has grown to trust Stauskas, especially when he’s playing with veteran point guard Andre Miller.

“Andre will be good for Nik,” Karl said. “Andre helps guys get into the game, helps them get shots.”

Stauskas agreed.

“I love playing with ’Dre,” Stauskas said. “I feel he’s always got his head up, he’s always making the right play out there. Having him out there, I’ve gotten a lot of good shots just from him creating shots for me.”

Stauskas is a fan of Karl’s up-tempo pace. After looking uncomfortable much of the season, Stauskas appears more relaxed.

“I really like the system that we’ve got going on with Coach Karl here,” Stauskas said. “It kinda lets the guards play more freely. ... That’s a lot (of) how I played in college. I feel comfortable doing that and also getting consistent minutes.”

The Kings have been eager for consistency from their perimeter shooters, and Stauskas has been providing that in recent games.

When teams double center DeMarcus Cousins or Gay, Stauskas is an option who can hurt opposing teams with his shooting.

“He’s been playing well, hitting big shots for us,” Cousins said. “You can tell his confidence is growing. There are a lot of ups and downs as a rookie, and we all know that. He continues to work and stay positive, so he’ll be OK.”

Stauskas said he has been learning; he just needed playing time to show it.

“We’re 70 games in, so even with the coaching changes I’ve been getting more comfortable,” Stauskas said. “I’m just playing my game and not overthinking things too much.”

And even when he’s not in the game, he’s always paying attention.

Follow The Bee’s Jason Jones on Twitter @mr_jasonjones and read more about the team at www.sacbee.com/kings.

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