IT'S NOT OFTEN that Nik Stauskas only gets "the stare." But Tuesday night against Brooklyn, when the Sixers gave up an unfathomable 141 points and Stauskas played what he called the worst game of his career, the third-year pro got the look.

He had just been in a jump-ball situation against Brooklyn's Jeremy Lin. Stauskas didn't have himself fully prepared for the jump; his right hand was down by his side instead of up by his head. Lin stole the tap. The Nets scored. Sixers coach Brett Brown fumed. Instead of saying how he felt, Brown tried to melt Stauskas with his eyes.

Theirs is a relationship built on that. Stauskas plays, Brown barks. If a defensive assignment is missed, the Michigan product will hear about it immediately, and after the game, and the next day in practice. Brown's NBA life has centered around player development and he sees something in Stauskas. Something he feels warrants his full-time attention. That attention is often given in a raised voice, with terse words. Or sometimes a hard glare.

"We have had many conversations about where we see myself when I reach my potential," Stauskas said. "We both feel like I'd be shortchanging myself and he'd be shortchanging me if he didn't push me to get to that point.

"He's been open and honest with me and said that he was going to be on me about my defense and he's not going to just let me get by without guarding in this league. He says he knows I have more in me and all that kind of stuff. It's just been kind of a two-way street where we both understand that he's going to be on me a little bit. I'm OK with it because I know eventually it's going to be good for me."

Stauskas has that dreaded "nice" label, which some could translate into soft. He's aware of it, attacks it, and is trying to get rid of it as Brown does his best to extract some kind of inner toughness from the 6-6, 205-pounder.

"I absolutely go right after him," Brown said of how he handled Stauskas after his performance against Brooklyn when he went 1-for-9 from the floor with four turnovers and just four points. "Sometimes you think you have to walk on pins and needles. I went up to Timmy (Luwawu-Cabarrot) during the game and said, 'Hey, you come here.' And we started talking real and I could tell it genuinely hurt him. He knew he wasn't guarding well. In those moments there, your heart melts because I'm looking at him and thinking he doesn't need me pounding him more. He's prideful, he's a good kid. There are moments like that and it's just a gut feel you have as a coach.

"With Nik, my reaction always is to grind him, to really harden him up. When I feel like I'm going overboard, I'll back off. But that is rare with him. He's not a rookie. If I'm him, I would want that from me. I'm giving him everything I've got to toughen him up, to harden him up. Because we can see he is skilled. Gosh, he's got game - with the ball, straight-line drives, rocker step, make a three. It's going to be if he can get tougher, get bigger, guard his man. I stand by that we're going to look at him at 27 or 28 and I think you're going to see a hell of a player, and he's pretty damn good right now. But with Nik, I don't look at him like I look at Timmy."

While many look at Stauskas as being just what he is right now, Brown truly believes there is much more to him, and that screaming it out of the swingman is the best way to prove it.

"It's helpful for me because when I have a coach on me, constantly riding me, it motivates me," Stauskas said. "If he tells me something I did wrong, I'm going to do everything in my power not to make that same mistake again. It helps to have that guy pushing you and be behind you and letting you know that he's not going to settle for mediocrity.

"He always talks to me about there being a toughness and a confidence to me that I need to keep working on. A lot of that toughness has to come on the defensive end, just guarding my guy and not letting people get to the rim. Or if it's crashing the glass and throwing people out of the way to get a rebound or diving on the floor to get a loose ball, that's what he wants from me.

"He's been on me about it for the last two years and it's something that I need to embrace and something that needs to become part of my mindset moving forward. I know that he's not going to stop talking to me about that until I do it on a consistent basis."

Or, in some cases, not stop staring at him.

cooneyb@phillynews.com

@BobCooney76