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Shooting guard who didn't cut it in Sacramento and elsewhere hopes he has found a home in NBA

TRIBUNE PHOTO: DAVID BLAIR - New addition Nik Stauskas has bolstered the Trail Blazers' long-range shooting and joined a productive Portland bench, but there is more to his game than 3-pointers.Nik Stauskas has cooled off after a hot shooting start to his season with the Trail Blazers.

But the 6-6, 205-pound shooting guard still has the makings of one of the better free-agent deals in the NBA last summer.

Though he has made only 4 of his 17 shots from 3-point range over the past five games, Stauskas is shooting .400 for the season from beyond the arc and averaging 8.3 points in 19.5 minutes off the bench for Portland.

Not bad for a player who signed a one-year, $1.62-million contract on July 8, the first day of free agency. That's the minimum salary for a player with Stauskas' four years of experience.

"A lot of times, the NBA is about opportunity," teammate Meyers Leonard says, "and he is showing right now this is a very good situation for Nik."

Stauskas, 25, wasn't on the career path expected of him after being chosen by Sacramento with the eighth pick in the 2014 draft. The native of Mississauga, Ontario — his family is of Lithuanian descent — seemed headed for "bust" status, in fact, after averaging 4.4 points in 41 games while splitting the 2017-18 season with Philadelphia and Brooklyn.

As a sophomore at Michigan in 2013-14, Stauskas averaged 17.5 points, fired at a .442 clip from beyond the arc and was named Big Ten Player of the Year and a consensus first-team All-American. That success didn't repeat during his first four NBA seasons with the Kings, then Philadelphia and finally with Brooklyn after a Dec. 5, 2017, trade from the 76ers.

Stauskas had his most success during his third season and his second in Philadelphia, averaging 9.5 points while starting 27 of his 80 games games and shooting .368 on 3-point attempts, though only .396 overall.

Stauskas had been an afterthought during his final half-season with Philly in 2017-18; at the time of his acquisition by Brooklyn, he hadn't scored a point since Oct. 28 and had tallied only four points all season.

On Dec. 15, Stauskas scored 22 points in 28 minutes against Toronto. He scored 15 points in 15 minutes against Washington and 21 points — going 7 for 10 from 3-point range — in 24 minutes against New Orleans, both in December. But Stauskas played only sporadically the rest of the season for the Nets, who showed no interest in retaining him via free agency.

"They didn't want me back; otherwise, I'd probably still be there," Stauskas says. "When I first got traded there, there were a number of guys who were injured, and I stepped right into an opportunity to play. I thought things were going decent. It came to a point in the season where everybody was healthy, and they told me I wouldn't be a part of their rotation. That was disappointing. I loved being in New York. It was a fun experience. I guess I learned from it."

Stauskas and agent Mark Bartelstein agreed to a contract with Portland during the first hour of free agency.

"I talked a little with the Lakers, and Mark talked to other teams as well," Stauskas says. "But from the get-go, Mark was like, 'I don't think we're going to find an opportunity as good as Portland — somewhere where they're winning, where you're going to get a chance to play, where the style of play is right.' We decided it wasn't worth waiting for another opportunity for more money. We thought this would be the right opportunity for my career."

Portland president/general manager Neil Olshey and his scouts had liked Stauskas as they were evaluating talent for the 2014 draft. Four years later, Olshey and coach Terry Stotts were willing to take a chance.

"We watched (video) of him, and what I saw was more than just a shooter," Stotts says. "I liked the way he moved with and without the ball. He had a good sense to be able to pass. We tried to keep an open mind about his past.

"Sometimes players get over-evaluated because of the situation they're in. That's where you do your homework and trust your judgment. We focused on what we felt he could do when he played for us."

Stauskas admits he had begun to question himself after four unfulfilling NBA seasons.

"It was confusing, not knowing what your role is a lot of times," he says. "It's tough playing for a lot of different coaches and having a lot of different teammates. You don't really get into a rhythm.

"Meyers and Damian (Lillard) have been here for seven years. They have a core that has played together, and they know each other. I felt like everywhere I was going, I was trying to adjust to something new. That's NBA life for some people, so I can't really complain about it. But it was a lot different than what I had expected coming into the NBA a few years ago."

Stauskas couldn't have gotten off to a better start in Portland. He lit it up for the hometown fans on opening night, matching his career high with 24 points while sinking 7 of 11 shots from the field and 5 of 8 from 3-point range in the Blazers' 128-119 win over the L.A. Lakers.

Stauskas has displayed an all-around game on other nights, grabbing eight rebounds against Washington, handing out five assists in 24 minutes against Indiana and going to the well for scene-stealing dunks on occasion.

"We got him because he could help us spread the court with his 3-point shooting," Lillard says, "and that's been an important weapon for us off the bench. But Nik has shown he can do a lot more than that."

"People in Portland have had a chance now to see him do a lot of different things," Stotts says. "He got on a roll shooting the ball in the first game, but he has made plenty of drives and dump-off passes, drives and dunks since then. He's a versatile offensive player."

The brother of Leonard's wife, Elle, is Max Bielfeldt, who played two seasons with Stauskas at Michigan before finishing his college career at Indiana.

"I knew about Nik, what a good athlete he is," Leonard says. "He can play above the rim, which helps him. He's not just a standstill shooter. In our offense, there are a lot of pin-downs, a lot of movement, and a guard who can shoot and do multiple things — what I call a 'plug-and-play' player — is going to be successful."

Stauskas' first three NBA stops came with non-playoff teams.

"He's in a different culture now — a winning culture," Leonard says. "The players have trust in each other. It helps that he is around 'Dame' and CJ (McCollum) and guys who have been very successful but have had to work hard to get there.

"Nik has freedom with us. As long as it's a good shot, take it. He can knock down shots, and he can do a lot of other things."

Thirteen games is a small sample size, but Stauskas hopes he has finally found an NBA home.

"It's been great being with this team," he says. "I've had a lot of fun. We have a good locker room. It's been enjoyable. I'm excited for the rest of the year and really happy I made the decision to come here."

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