Nuggets hope third time's a charm

Nikoloz Tskitishvili scored 27 points against the Celtics on 7-for-15 shooting with three triples, including 13 points in a tightly contested fourth quarter. He scored 26 points the next night against the Magic on 10-for-21 shooting with another three triples.

This is exactly what the Nuggets envisioned when they made the skinny Russian prodigy the No. 5 pick of the 2002 draft. They just didn't think that two years after the draft, he would be doing it in the month of July while participating in the Reebok Vegas Summer League.

This has turned into the Summer of Skita simply because after two NBA seasons with Denver, he has yet to validate his place on the Nuggets' bench. After averaging a meager 3.9 points per game as a rookie, his scoring fell to 2.7 points per game this past season and he was left off the playoff roster entirely.

The Nuggets attempted to dump Tskitishvili in the Kenyon Martin deal with the Nets, which probably would have been the best thing for him. Now, Tskitishvili is looking at a frontcourt of Martin, Nene and Carmelo Anthony, with Marcus Camby coming off the bench. Skita is nowhere to be found.

Tskitishvili is entering the third year of his rookie deal and most scouts will tell you that it takes about three years before they can tell how a player will fare in the NBA. First round picks are given exactly three years with their initial team before that franchise gets its first of two team options on a player.

Look at the rest of the league.

  • Kobe Bryant made his first All-NBA team in his third season.

  • Kevin Garnett registered his first triple-double in his third season.

  • Shaquille O'Neal made his first appearance in the NBA Finals in is third season.

  • Vince Carter scored the highest average of his career in his third season.

    That third year is crucial. Just ask Carlos Arroyo.

    During the 2001-02 season, Arroyo played in Spain, Toronto and Denver. The following summer, he averaged three assists per game during the Rocky Mountain Revue while playing for the Nuggets. The following season, the Utah Jazz took a chance on the hustling point guard and he averaged 2.8 points per game while playing 6.5 minutes per contest.

    Then came the third year.

    Arroyo not only became the starting point guard for the Jazz, he went on to average 12.6 points and five assists per game. The Florida International alum just signed a four-year, $16 million deal with the Jazz after receiving offers from several other NBA teams.

    Zach Randolph was rotting on the Trail Blazers' bench as a rookie, averaging only 2.8 points per game in 5.8 minutes of action. That summer, he tallied 18.7 points per game and 9.7 rebounds in the Rocky Mountain Revue. The following season, he was still stuck at 8.4 points per game in 16.9 minutes. The Blazers were looking to trade him. That summer, he scored even more points (20.5 per game) while grabbing 8 boards per game in the Rocky Mountain Revue as the Blazers showcase him for the rest of the league.

    Then came that third year.

    Randolph, still playing for the Blazers after they found no takers, went on to average 20.1 points and 10.5 rebounds per game and won the Most Improved Player of the Year.

    Is it any wonder Dajuan Wagner, selected No. 6 in the 2002 draft behind Skita, started the Pepsi Summer League in Orlando this July by scoring 23 points in his first game for the Cavaliers. He went on to average 20.7 points per game to lead the tournament. In his first two games of the Reebok Vegas Summer League, he tallied 41 points.

    The Suns' Casey Jacobson was drafted No. 22 in 2002 because of his ability to shoot the ball. However, he shot only 39 percent from the field. So far in the Reebok tournament, Jacobson has scored 40 points in two games.

    Yao Ming, Nene Hilario, Amare Stoudemire and Caron Butler aren't competing in any summer league games this year. They were also selected in the 2002 NBA draft, but have already made their marks on their respective teams.

    Nikoloz Tskitishvili and Dajuan Wagner are different.

    They play against each other tonight in the Reebok tournament at 5:30 p.m. EST on NBATV and you can expect a lot of scoring from both of them.