Nik Stauskas can't just settle for threes

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The Sixers' Nik Stauskas drives on the Jazz's Alec Burks in a game last season.

Nik Stauskas needs to say these words: "Life is good."

The 76ers reserve guard needs to realize that he's living out several of his critics' dreams. Instead of being stuck in an office, Stauskas will make $2.9 million this season playing a game. He already has made more than $5.6 million during his first two seasons in the NBA. And that doesn't include the money he has made for his Sauce Castillo hot sauce or being a recurring guest basketball analyst for the Sports Network of Canada or any of his other ventures.

Life truly is good for the 23-year-old Canadian.

He just doesn't always see in that way. That has hindered his game in the past. Instead of looking in the mirror and saying "Life is good," he would suffer from self-doubt when he was criticized. Stauskas has a knack for focusing too hard on the negatives and forgetting that he's actually being paid millions of dollars for playing a game.

To his credit, Stauskas is taking the proper steps to keep his confidence intact. He has been seeing a sport psychologist since September. A month ago, the former Michigan standout stopped using Twitter, where he is frequently the subject of criticism.

While he's been more relaxed, the early results have been inconsistent.

In the season opener Wednesday, Stauskas showed no signs of the guy who struggled to make shots in the preseason and during his first two seasons in the NBA.

The 6-foot-6, 215-pounder scored 13 points on 5-for-6 shooting in the 103-97 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Most of his points came from attacking the basket. Stauskas' lone miss came on his only three-point attempt.

However, he played differently and had distinctly different results Saturday in a 104-72 loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

This time, Stauskas had six points on 2-for-7 shooting. Both of his made baskets came on three-point attempts, of which he took three.

Five of his shots came in the first half. His first one was a made three-pointer. He followed that up by missing a two-foot layup and another three-point attempt in the first quarter. Stauskas had a 4-foot jumper blocked late in the second quarter before hitting a step-back jumper with 46.9 seconds before intermission.

He missed his two attempts after the break, a third-quarter, 11-foot jumper followed by a fourth-quarter layup.

Gone was the aggressive guy who attacked the basket in the first game. Gone was the "I'm the man" swagger he had against the Thunder.

He looked like someone trying to fit in instead of aggressively trying to make something happen. Even though he's known as a three-point specialist, Stauskas knows his overall game is better when he attacks the basket.

"It's crazy. I know I was a great shooter coming out of Michigan, but I don't consider myself a shooter," he said Thursday. "I consider myself a gamer. Like, I don't think I'm an effective NBA player when I just stand and spot up and shoot threes like that. That's really not my game.

"Although I feel like I can do that. It's not something I want to be doing, just staying out there. I feel like I can be a lot more effective for this team doing other things."

Stauskas' confidence grows when he goes to the basket and makes a spectacular play. That leads to his getting into the invincible zone that his teammates want him in.

When he settles for threes - and misses shots in doing so - his confidence starts to suffer. In the past, he took coaches' and fans' criticism to heart and was basically no good for the Sixers.

Sixers coach Brett Brown wants to see more of the player he saw against Oklahoma City in Tuesday's matchup against the Orlando Magic.

"He was cocky," Brown said of Stauskas on Wednesday. "He was in attack mode. He was not afraid to put it to the floor and get to the rim. I feel like he's good, a real chance to have a breakout year. We need him to have a breakout year."

Teammates T.J. McConnell and Gerald Henderson share Brown's sentiment that the Sixers (0-2) need Stauskas to have a breakout season.

"I think when Nik is playing with the confidence that he's playing with now, he's one of the better players that we have," McConnell said. "I always tell him, 'The swagger you had at Michigan, you play like that you are really, really good.' "

The Sixers need that from him. And he needs to remember life is good.

kpompey@phillynews.com

@PompeyOnSixers

www.philly.com/sixersblog