Expectations surrounding the Sixers team have shifted greatly over the past few seasons but it is important to remember how they got there. The Process is one of the most widely controversial eras in sports history, but it is tough to deny the Sixers are in a better place as a franchise because of it.
One of the true cornerstones of this era was Nik Stauskas who spent three seasons with the Sixers where he averaged 8.7 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 2.1 assists. The former Michigan standout also climbed to 19th all-time in made three-pointers in Sixers franchise history. The current Celtics guard was able to sit down with me (virtually) to reflect on his time with the Sixers and experiences in the NBA so far.
You came to the Sixers at a very interesting time in franchise history. It was all about “The Process” which was very widely critiqued and controversial. What were your expectations coming to Philadelphia and did they live up to this?
To be honest, I didn’t really have many expectations coming into Philadelphia. After my rookie year when I got traded there, I very much was aware of the situation in terms of like it being The Process, and even just looking at the roster at that time, I didn’t even know all the players on the roster. So you know, I knew that it was going to be a developmental phase for all of us, and like at that time we didn’t really have any guys over 21 or 22 years old.
So we were super young, super inexperienced, but I enjoyed my time there. Philly was my longest tenure with any team, I was there for three seasons and I created some great friendships on and off the court. Even throughout the losing, we were still able to have fun like I said, we had such a young group that at times even though we were struggling we kind of embraced the situation we were in and just tried to make the most of it.
Still to this day, some of those guys that were on that team such as TJ (McConnell), Robert Covington, like they are some of my closest friends that I have in the league. So I definitely cherish those relationships and those times that we shared together.
That’s awesome the hear. The Process is so criticized obviously because of all the losses, but just watching the Sixers back then with you on the team at that time, there was something just like pure and fun about the way everybody was competing and playing. How did you feel about the culture, in general, surrounding the team at that time?
You know the culture was good, the problem for us really was, especially my first year there which was 2015-2016, we just were so young that we didn’t know how to close games. I’d say there were probably 15-20 games that season where we’d go into the fourth quarter with a two or three point lead and we would just find a way to lose games.
As a competitor that’s always frustrating because losing is tough for all of us, but I feel like that just that situation that we were in made it tougher. Just knowing how close we were to kind of like getting over the hump but not being able to reach it, you know, this was obviously before we had Ben (Simmons) out there before we had Joel (Embiid) out there so it really was a bunch of role players trying to figure it out on our own at such a young stage of our careers.
But like I said we cherish those moments and I was able to build some good friendships, and more than anything as a young guy you just gained experience getting to play through mistakes getting to play in those late-game scenarios where you’re down 2 or up 2- they are valuable for any player. Nonetheless, I think we all enjoyed having that opportunity to go prove ourselves and play in those situations.
A guy you brought up there was Joel Embiid. Obviously, he has been making mainstream news for the performances he has been putting up and the star he has developed into. He was drafted in 2014 and you were there for the first two seasons of him actually being on the court. What was it like being a part of the process of Joel joining the team and the unique aspects surrounding him?
Yeah I think, and you know, I’m not as I’m not around as much now with Joel but from afar it seems like he’s like really matured. You know earlier in his career he was so vocal on Twitter and he was always joking around with people, and he’s definitely become a little more serious about things which is good to see. But yeah I feel like when Joel first came in he was so naturally talented, so big and strong, and at that point he didn’t even really- he wasn’t thinking the game.
He was just going out there and playing off of pure instinct. So you could see that raw talent and like for me now it’s cool to fast forward six years later and to see him like put it all together in terms of like he may win the MVP this year, and you’re like “Damn he really figured it out mentally and physically.” Like he’s been able to overcome all the naysayers that said that he was always hurt that he wasn’t gonna be healthy enough to play like he overcame that and just the mental side of things in terms of like being able to lead a team and have that kind of poise and that maturity that he shows now.
It shows growth and I’m proud of him for sure because he’s come a really long way to get to this point. From someone who is so goofy and so laid back early on in his career to see what he’s become now- it’s fun and I’m proud of him and happy for him as well. He deserves this.
Yeah definitely that’s awesome. Obviously, it was such a unique experience as a head coach at the time and I feel as if Brett Brown was one of the few guys that would have been able to handle it as well as he did. What was your experience being coached by Brett?
I loved Coach Brown and I think there are not many coaches that could have been able to properly coach that team for that many years going through the situations that we had gone through. I know for him there were probably a lot of days where you want to pull his hair out and he was super frustrated, but he always came in with a smile on his face and was upbeat, and was always trying to rally us and get us to buy-in. I think he did a great job with that.
Obviously, in the long run it didn’t work out for him and the franchise decided to go in a different direction in terms of coaching, but I cherish my time with him and still to this day is one of my favorite coaches I’ve played for. I really enjoyed my time with Brett Brown and I got nothing but good things to say about him. I know most of the guys on the team, most of the guys from The Process days, feel the same way. He gave us the opportunity, which as a young guy is all you can ask for, and he encouraged us and gave us confidence, all those different kinds of things so I definitely love him.
That’s awesome to hear I was a big Brett Brown fan as well and hope he gets another chance in the league somewhere soon. A question I’ve been dying to ask you for a while is how did the nickname “Sauce Castillo” happen?
That happened during my rookie year when I was in Sacramento. It was during a game, there was a closed captioning error and I hit a three-pointer and instead of it saying “Nik Stauskas for three” it said “Sauce Castillo for three.” For whatever reason, that was like the AutoCorrect or mistake that was made and I guess the fans just ran with it. lt became like one of those viral things on Twitter where people took a screenshot of it and then it just stuck and people kept calling me it.
Then next thing I know, I’m like only “Sauce”. So still to this day, like when I’m back in Philly and people see me on the street, I don’t think anyone calls me Nik. Philly fans only call me “Sauce”. So if the people like it, I’m all for it.
Totally awesome nickname. To fast forward a bit from your time in Philly, you recently made news by setting a franchise record for the Grand Rapids Gold by scoring 57 points in a game on 11 of 15 shooting from beyond the arc and also followed it up the next night with a 43 point performance. What was your time in the G-league like and these impressive performances in general?
So I played in the G League the last two seasons and it was definitely, I would say it was a positive experience for me. You know, a lot of guys kind of spend time in the G League earlier in their career, and for me, it kind of came towards like my late 20s as a chance to get back into the league.
It was definitely tough at times, but for me personally, I feel like there were a lot of positives to take away from it, especially in terms of just gaining confidence and being able to just like play freely and not necessarily have to be worried about a shot going in or out or being taken out of the game because I did this. For me, it gave me a chance to kind of like gain my confidence back and just play basketball again and that’s something that I didn’t always get to do in the NBA.
In terms of whether when I was on the court my role was more to space the floor and like stand in the corner and sometimes not getting the opportunity to play at all. As a player, it’s tough to kind of find your rhythm when you know you’re not getting those opportunities. So in the G league like playing for Jason Terry this year, it gave me a lot of confidence. He gave me a lot of opportunities on the court and over the course of this season, I just found myself getting more and more comfortable out there in terms of like finding my spots and knowing where my opportunities were gonna come from.
We had Isaiah Thomas for maybe like the previous three or four games with us and IT was going on a tear in the G League like he was putting up 40-balls and whatnot. Then the first game of March IT had just gotten called up to Charlotte, so all of a sudden there was like this big chunk of shots or possessions that he had been kind of using that was kind of up for grabs.
It was one of those things where the game started and the team was going under some dribble handoffs and some ball screens and I think in the first two minutes they went under three separate dribble handoffs and each time I stopped behind, shot a three, and hit it.
Then it’s just one of those things as a player, you know, you make your first three threes in the first two minutes and you’re like “Alright, I got it going tonight.” I kind of just fed off of that and my teammates kept finding me that game and next thing I knew like started off the first quarter and I had like 30 something and I was like “Alright, well shoot, maybe tonight’s my night and, I just gotta keep going with it.”
Then like you said the next night, I kind of just playing off that same thing just in my head just being like, “Hey, I’m in a great rhythm now. I feel good. Let’s just keep it going.” It was a crazy 48 hours because in some ways it changed my life. You know, I’ve been out of the league for three years, and in some senses felt like man, maybe I’m not going to ever get back. Because I’d been playing well throughout the G League season this year and I got a 10 day with Miami earlier in the year, but still there wasn’t really as much interest as I would have liked.
Having those two games back-to-back obviously opened some eyes in terms of, you know, my performance this year and thankfully I was able to lock down a deal with the Celtics. Just crazy how you never know when your time is coming in terms of these opportunities and when things are going to kind of come full circle and for me, it happened to be those two games where years of hard work and training and whatever kind of like all came together in one moment which is sometimes hard to find in life.
Sometimes you go years kind of like waiting for that one degree where things kind of tipped the other way and for me, that’s kind of what it was. So I’m happy I stuck with it.
Wow, that’s awesome to hear and very cool to see you open up like that. Congratulations on the deal with the Celtics which is a two-year deal. What has it been like getting settled in Boston and has it been difficult at this stage of the season to find your stride?
It’s been great. It’s been great being with this team, especially just the timing of when I came in. After the trade deadline, the team had shaken things up a little bit in terms of moving some players and bringing new guys in, and just from what the guys have told me that just the chemistry and the whole vibe in the locker room has kind of changed up over the last two months. So just as I came in, the team started going on a pretty big winning streak and they’ve kind of never looked back since.
I think since I got here we’ve only lost maybe like three or four games and the team is just playing incredible basketball right now. So for me, it’s been fun to watch this, but coming in late to the season, we’ve run probably an eight or nine guy rotation depending on the game and right now I’m not in that rotation. So for me coming in, the challenge is like every day just keeping myself as ready as possible at practice like continuing to play three-on-three in practice and keeping myself as sharp as possible just because you never know when those opportunities are gonna come, especially in the playoffs.
But yeah, as of now, we’re playing some incredible basketball as a team. The defense has been like the number one thing that stood out to me in terms of guys like Marcus Smart on the perimeter just hounding the other guards and making things tough for them and then you know, having a backline of Rob Williams and Al Horford and just seeing this team rotate and communicate on defense. It’s by far the best defense that I’ve been a part of, in terms of teams that I’ve played on.
So that’s been kind of like the main thing that I’ve noticed as I’ve been here and even on offense too, guys like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are just really playing at a superstar level- both of them right now. So everyone’s playing with a lot of confidence coming into playoffs, the team’s kind of firing on all cylinders and clicking at the right time.
So I think we’re all very excited to see how far we can go on this postseason run. You know, these last two years it kind of feels like the West and the East things are way more open than they have been in like the past like eight to ten years as there’s always kind of been like clear favorites.
So I think that mentality for all of us is right now like why not us you know, why not us come out to East and you know, play for an NBA championship. So, the next two or three months are going to be very exciting for us.
Yeah, definitely the Celtics are playing some terrific basketball as you said. It has been crazy from the start of the year until now just how much things have shifted in terms of stylistically and the results of this have shown. Obviously, you still have plenty more time to go in your career, but to this point what are some of the biggest takeaways from just being around the NBA and in professional basketball so far?
I guess over the last couple of years the thing that I’ve realized more than anything is like this truly is the best job in the world. Playing professional basketball at this level, it’s unmatched. It’s the best job in the entire world and it’s very easy to take it for granted, which I have at many points throughout my career.
Over the last couple of seasons being out of the league and then having to work harder to get back in, even in this current role of not being in the rotation and watching games from the bench, I truly do have a new appreciation for things and just holding one of these 450 jobs because you start to realize how replaceable we all are.
You know, there’s a select group of guys at the very top whether it’s Jayson Tatum, Joel Embiid, Steph Curry, LeBron James, or Kevin Durant, you name it, those guys are talents that are far superior than the rest of the league. But once you go down that shortlist of guys, you start realizing that everyone’s very interchangeable and if not interchangeable, replaceable, and that’s where you start to find the beauty in not just making it to the NBA, but how can you maintain that position, year after year after year.
As I’m now in my eighth year of my career, it’s really started to hit me in terms of, you know, how precious these opportunities and jobs are. So for me, I’m super grateful to be in this position, and now that I’m back and it’s one of those things where it’s like, man I want to do everything I possibly can to keep myself in this position of playing for championships, playing in the playoffs and playing meaningful minutes. Like you said, I hope to still have a long career ahead of me and there are still so many things that personally I would like to achieve and experience so I’m really grateful to be back.
I think my journey throughout the league is just really showing me not to take these opportunities for granted because it’s easy to sit here and not be happy with not playing or not playing as well as you want to, but the realization that these jobs are so hard to come by and they’re the best jobs in the entire world. You know, we play basketball, like a game that we grow grew up playing for fun and we get paid to do it at this level- there’s nothing like it. So that’s probably the perspective that has changed for me the most over this time.
That’s awesome to hear and very cool to see your perspective on that. Super grateful to you for talking with me. Do you have any final words on what’s next with Nik Stauskas?
Hopefully, I can win a ring here this year. That’d be kind of a crazy turn of events in terms of starting the year in the G League and then winning a championship but I’m super excited to be a part of this team here and in terms of the playoffs moving forward. I appreciate you having me on.
I always have love for all of Philadelphia, I live in Philly still in the offseason, me and my wife, we live there. So Philly has become home for me and I still have love for all Philly fans. So it really means a lot for you to have me on here. I would say Trust the Process, but those days are all over, and at this point, I don’t think I can say Trust the Process because we might be seeing you guys in the playoffs.
Very True. I will always live by Trusting the Process no matter how far down the line we go. Thank you so much for coming on. Philly fans will always appreciate you for your time here, you were always a fan favorite, always somebody that we have rooted for and it’s great to see you doing well in the league.
You can also watch the interview below: