APPARENTLY, NIKOLOZ TSKITISHVILI NEVER LEARNED THAT BAD THINGS HAPPEN
WHEN BIG MEN KEEP THE BALL TOO LOW
Synopsis: As a 19-year old from Georgia (the former Soviet Republic, not the state), Nikoloz Tskitishvili was drafted by the Denver Nuggets with the 5th overall pick in the 2002 NBA Draft. With six foreign players taken in the first round that year, the NBA’s evolution into an international league hit another gear. Relative to draft position, that group included three very productive players (Yao Ming at #1, Nene Hilario at #7, and Nenad Krstic at #24), two under-productive players (Bostjan Nachbar at #15 and Jiri Welsch at #16), and one unproductive player (Nikoloz Tskitishvili). Based on a combination of horrendous shooting and abysmal production, Tskitishvili earned the title of #8 NBA Draft Bust.
#8 NBA DRAFT BUST: NIKOLOZ TSKITISHVILI
With over 100 foreign-born players on opening day rosters for the 2014-15 season, the NBA passed a meaningful milestone for the first time. More impressively, almost 15% of the league (63 out of 447 players) never even played organized basketball in the U.S. before joining the league. At this point, the NBA is no longer dominated solely by American players. While the internationalization of the NBA is far from over, it has gone through a few important stages along the way. The following tables highlight those stages.
INTERNATIONALIZATION OF THE NBA
Stage 1: Mid to Late 1980s
Initially, foreign players needed to move to the U.S. before getting drafted. Specifically, they went to an American college for at least three years in order to gain exposure to professional scouts. Once in college, they didn’t appear to be treated any differently. Teams could treat them equally because they played against the same competition.
Hakeem Olajuwon: #1 pick in 1984 after three stellar years at the University of Houston.
Detlef Schrempf: #8 pick in 1985 after four years at the University of Washington.
Stage 2: Late 1980s to Mid 1990s
Starting in the late 1980s, NBA teams drafted players directly from foreign leagues. Often, there was a delay between the draft and the player’s NBA debut because of extended buyout negotiations. During this period, foreign players rarely got drafted or made their NBA debut before the age of 21.
Drazen Petrovic: 3rd round pick in 1986 (drafted at 21 but debuted in NBA at 25)
Vlade Divac: #26 pick in 1989 (drafted and debuted in NBA at 21)
Peja Stojakovic: #14 in pick 1996 (drafted at 19 but debuted in NBA at 21)
Stage 3: Late 1990s to Early 200s
Starting in the late 1990s, NBA teams showed a willingness to gamble on less experienced foreign players. This trend was supported by the ability of international players to transition to the NBA. Also, teams changed their risk/reward profiles given the number of players getting drafted directly out of high school.
Dirk Nowitzki: #8 pick in 1998 (drafted and debuted in NBA at 20)
Pau Gasol: #3 pick in 2001. (drafted at 20 but turned 21 before NBA debut)
Nikoloz Tskitishvili: #5 pick in 2002 (drafted and debuted in NBA at 19)
Darko Milicic: #2 pick in 2003 (drafted and debuted in NBA at 18)
Stage 4: Mid 200s and beyond
Perhaps as a indication of their full immersion, international players no longer follow a single path into the NBA. Of note, recent drafts have included foreign players who reflect each of the prior trends.
In addition, these players reflect the full spectrum of success.
Andrea Bargnani: #1 pick in 2006 (drafted at 20 and made NBA debut after turning 21)
Yi Jianlian: #6 pick in 2007 (drafted at 19 and debuted in NBA after turning 20) – Bust
Ricky Rubio: #5 pick in 2009 (drafted at 18 but made NBA debut at 21)
Andrew Wiggins: #1 pick in 2014. Moved to the U.S. to play at Kansas for one year. Drafted and debuted in NBA at 19.
With respect to each of these stages, the period in the early 2000s proved to be the riskiest for NBA teams. As described in the table, there were two major trends occurring in the draft at that time. First, teams showed that they were willing to use high draft picks on unproven players given the success of Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant. Second, they were willing to use high draft picks on international players given the success of Nowitzki and Gasol. The confluence of these trends led to the selection of unproven foreign players like Tskitishvili and Milicic. Unfortunately, neither player delivered as a high draft pick.
In an earlier post regarding the Pistons’ selection of Darko Milicic with the 2nd overall pick in the 2003 Draft, I discussed the breakdown that occurred because the team had limited information on the 17-year-old who played 5,000 miles away. One year earlier, the Nuggets made a similar mistake by taking Nikoloz Tskitishvili with the 5th overall pick. Tskitishvili had a more exposure based on his appearances in the FIBA European Championships from 1999-2001, but the additional information didn’t help Denver make a better decision. The following table shows his stats from those three tournaments as well as the 2002 tournament, which took place after the draft but before the start of the 2002-03 NBA season.
Nikoloz Tskitishvili – FIBA Stats
|Shooting %||Per Game Averages|
|2001||17||Men (all ages)||3||50.0%||75.0%||1.3||0.0||0.0||3.7|
|2002||18||Young Men (21U)||5||40.8%||66.7%||8.8||1.0||1.0||16.2|
As the previous table shows, Tskitishvili put up some impressive numbers when competing against similar aged players. After two strong performances in the 16 and under group (i.e. Cadets), he moved up to the unrestricted Men’s group as a 17-year old. Unfortunately, the heightened competition was too much for him so he moved down to the 21 and under group for the 2002 tournament. While his totals of 16 points and nine rebounds per game were commendable that year, his field goal percentage of 41% was not. Of concern, Tskitishvili attempted over 1/3 of his shots from behind the 3-point arc and made only 28% of them. The concern was not so much the poor shooting percentage as it was the poor shot selection.
Prior to the 2002 Draft, the Nuggets also were able to evaluate Tskitivili based on his performance with Benetton Treviso of the Italian League. Of note, that team was coached by former Denver Nuggets coach and future Phoenix Suns coach Mike D’Antoni.
Nikoloz Tskitishvili Stats – Benetton Treviso
|Shooting %||Per Game Averages|
While Tskitishvili’s per game averages don’t appear to be noteworthy, he had limited minutes coming off the bench for the eventual league champions. If his stats were adjusted to 36 minutes per game (i.e. starter minutes), he would have averaged 19 points and six rebounds. Apparently, Tskitishvilli did enough to impress his coach because D’Antoni publicly stated before the draft, “He’s a Gasol type with better outside shooting.” Gasol, who won the NBA’s 2001-02 Rookie of the Year Award, recorded 18 points, nine rebounds and three assists per game in his first season in the league. Furthermore, he shot 50% from the floor that year so D’Antoni’s comparison was quite bold.
As the following table shows, the coach was either overly complimentary toward his former player or grossly mistaken.
Nikoloz Tskitishvili – NBA Stats
|Shooting Percentage||Per Game Averages|
|2004-05||DEN / GSW||21||35||29.7%||11.8%||35.1%||0.6||1.2||0.3||1.4|
Given Tskitishvili’s poor production, D’Antoni’s statement ultimately was a gross exaggeration. In fact,the former Top 5 overall pick statistically was the worst shooter in the NBA from 2002-2006. How much more bad could he have been as a shooter? The answer is none. None more bad. Just like, how much more black could the following album cover be? And the answer is none. None more black.
If you don’t get the previous reference, the following link might help.
2002-03 NBA’S WORST 2-PT SHOOTERS
|Rank*||Player||Team||Games||Made||Attempts||FG%||Next Year Rank*|
|405/419||Ryan Humphrey||ORL/MEM||48||35||120||29.2%||Only played in 2 games|
|400/419||Jeryl Sasser||ORL||75||51||163||31.3%||Out of league|
|398/419||John Amaechi||UTA||50||37||118||31.4%||Out of league|
|397/419||Kenny Satterfield||DEN/PHI||39||50||155||32.3%||Out of league|
*Ranks determined by the number of players who made at least one shot in an NBA game during the year. Given these ranks, Tskitishvili surpassed only 23 players out of 419 players who made at least one shot during the 2002-03 season and 33 players out of 435 players who made at least one shot during the 2003-04 season.
Whereas the overall ranking is based on all players hitting at least one shot during the season, the table is a better reflection of the worst shooters. In particular, it eliminates players with fewer than 100 shot attempts in order to add statistical relevance to the field goal percentage calculation. Based on this restriction, Tskitishvili had a better shooting percentage than only four players during the 2002-03 season. Three of those four players never played in the NBA again and the fourth only played in two games during the following season. In other words, a field goal percentage that low was as good as a ticket out of the league. With respect to players with at least 200 2-pt field goal attempts (i.e. approximately 2.5 shots per game), Tskitishvili had the lowest shooting percentage in the entire league.
2002-03 NBA’S WORST 3-PT SHOOTERS
|3P FG% Rank*||Player||Team||Games||Made||Attempts||FG %||2P FG% Rank*|
* Ranks based on the total number of players who made at least one 2-point or 3-point shot in an NBA game. There were 274 players who made at least one 3-point shot and 419 players who made at least one 2-point shot for the 2002-03 season.
** Denver’s two players on this list accounted for over 1/3 of the team’s 3-point attempts so it should be no surprise that the Nuggets ranked last in the league by shooting under 28% from beyond the arc.
With respect to players with at least 80 3-point attempts, Tskitishvili had the fourth worst shooting percentage in the league. Out of the four, Tskitishvili was the only one who also was one of the worse 2-point shooters. While it’s fair to question why someone shooting less than 25% from behind the arc would be allowed to heave almost two 3-pointers per game, his effective shooting percentage of 36% from long range actually was better than his 32% shooting percentage from inside the arc. Furthermore, the team was trying its best to get as many entries as possible in the LeBron James Sweepstakes so his poor shooting wasn’t the worst thing. With Tskitishvili’s help, Denver tied with Cleveland for the worst record in 2002-03. However, the team had to settle for Carmelo Anthony after finishing third in the lottery for the 2003 Draft.
Based on the two previous tables, it’s clear that Tskitishvili was the least effective shooter in the NBA for the 2002-03 season. Then again, he was only a 19-year old rookie so perhaps that season was an aberration. Well, it wasn’t.
2003-04 NBA’S WORST 2-PT SHOOTERS
|Rank*||Player||Team||Games||Shots Made||Attempts||FG %||Next Year Rank*|
* Ranks based on the total number of players who made at least one shot in an NBA game during the respective seasons. There were 435 such players for the 2003-04 season and 458 for the 2004-05 season.
As shown by the table, Tskitishvili had a better 2-point field goal percentage than only two players with at least 100 shot attempts during the 2003-04 season. By looking at the last column on the right, you can see that the other two improved dramatically whereas Tskitishvili was ineffective again in 2004-05. In fact, he didn’t get much better in his fourth (and final) NBA season by ranking 423rd out of 449 players who hit at least one 2-point shot during the 2005-06 season. To summarize, Tskitishvili’s field goal percentage from inside the arc ranked in the bottom 8% for each year he played in the league. After the elimination of low-volume shooters, he undeniably was the worst shooter during his four-year career.
For those of you who have followed my other posts, you might have realized that Tskitishvili is the third 5th overall pick to be recognized by this site. As a “None-and-Done” player, Jonathan Bender (#5 in 1999) was given a Top 10 Bust exemption because he lacked the experience to be worthy of such a high pick. On the other hand, James Ray (#5 in 1980) didn’t earn an exemption. Instead, he began the countdown of Top 10 Busts at #10. Lest you think that there are any more all-time busts drafted with a 5th overall pick, the following table should end any conversation
Least Productive #5 Overall Picks since 1970
|Draft Year||Team||Player||Position||Games||Points||Rebounds||Assists||PPG||RPG||APG||Win Shares|
Perhaps the most interesting stat from the table involves the negative win share totals for both Nikoloz Tskitishvili and James Ray. In essence, teams would have been better off keeping them on the bench. Overall, Tskitishvili (-1.6 win shares) was worse than Ray (-0.3 win shares) because he had more opportunities to hurt his team. As additional support for ranking Tskitishvili as a bigger bust, he was drafted before the best player from the 2002 Draft (ie. Amar’e Stoudemire) whereas Ray was drafted after the best player from the 1980 draft (i.e. Kevin McHale).
Notable Picks from 2002 NBA Draft (updated after 2015-16 season)
|Draft Pick||Team||Player||Pos.||Games||Points||Rebounds||Assists||PPG||RPG||APG||Win Shares|
Clearly, there were several hits (e.g Ming, Stoudemire, and Boozer) and misses (e.g. Williams, Tskitishvili, and Wagner) from the 2002 Draft. Williams (motorcycle accident) and Wagner (knee injuries and ulcerative colitis) had their careers cut short so their lack of production can be explained. In contrast, Tskitishvili had no such excuse. Instead, he deserves being named as the #8 NBA Draft Bust.