CHICAGO - In the worst way, Brett Brown wanted to start Nik Stauskas at the shooting guard Sunday in the arena where Stauskas watched NBA games so many times.
Stauskas grew up in nearby Mississauga and, as a kid, would make the trek to Toronto's Air Canada Centre to see the players he idolized and hoped one day to emulate in the world's greatest league.
But Stauskas, 22, who was hindered early in the season with a leg injury, isn't there, yet. Brown hasn't developed the trust in the 6-6 guard to have him out there starting games. Though the record is what it is, 1-25 after Monday night's 115-96 loss to the Bulls, Brown is desperately trying to win games. Putting Stauskas out there to begin games doesn't appeal to him right now.
"I think we're always challenging Nik to guard, to play defense," Brown said. "I want to grow him into a two-way player. I feel like he's getting better. He's doing everything that we're asking of him. We're challenging him every day to guard. Two-way players are the buzzwords flying around the NBA. You have to be a two-way player. He's getting better defensively. I think I'm seeing from him that he can be a pick-and-roll player. He's versatile. He's skilled with the ball in a pick-and-roll, maybe our best off-ball nonpoint guard pick-and-roll guy. I like him also coming off the bench as anything where he can score and be a lightning-in-a-bottle type of guy, as well. He's young. Every time I look at him and I talk to him I realize just how young he is and just how much upside he has."
Stauskas shows his youth probably more than Brown wants him to. If his shot isn't falling, his head is. It's not hard to read from Stauskas' body language when his offense is struggling. Brown wants him to rectify it in a different way.
"Let it be generated through defense. It's not all about making a three, because lately we haven't been making threes at the rate that we need to," Brown said. "If we do anything, and we talk about it all the time, Philadelphia is unforgiving. It's a blue-collar city and we better come with our stick and our hard hat. He's got to lead us with that way. It's his future. He's got to be a two-way player. He's been great. He gets it. He truly gets it. A few years ago I coached (Manu) Ginobili. There are things I see in Nik that you hope can be brought from what Manu taught me. That's a bouncy two-guard who plays defense and is skilled. I think Nik is highly, highly skilled, but we need him to be a two-way player."
"I'm always listening to coach and trying to get better on defense," Stauskas said. "I just go out there and work hard instead of focusing on scoring. If you focus on other stuff, then scoring will come, a rhythm will come. I just have to be patient with it."
Nerlens Noel missed Monday's game against Chicago after getting elbowed on Sunday in Toronto by Kyle Lowry. Noel left the game in the third quarter and didn't return. He was taken to a local hospital after being diagnosed with a corneal abrasion. After being cleared to fly, he met the team on the charter flight and flew to Chicago. He met with an eye doctor Monday and stayed at the team hotel during the game.
"It's not as significant as we guessed," Brett Brown said. "We don't expect him to play in Atlanta (Wednesday). We'll learn more about that. Evidently, you learn more after 24 hours.
"That is good news (that it isn't more than an abrasion). We did what we should have and didn't put him immediately on a plane. We checked all that. Looking at light and lights in arenas bothers him.''
Brown said he asked Noel to send him a text at halftime and give him some coaching instructions.
To say Lowry's elbow was intentional might not be far off base. At the least, it was a very well-placed movement. He received a technical foul on the play. No word yet from the league whether there will be more disciplinary action against the Villanova product.