Nikita Mikhailovskii was born on September 10th, 2000 in the small Russian town of Pavlovo. His professional basketball career is directly connected with his current team Avtodor Saratov. Mikhailovskii made his pro debut in October of 2017. During that 2017-18 campaign he spent a game average of 7 minutes on the floor with the senior team, while he was a star of the VTB Youth League where he averaged over 20 points throughout 14 games.
Next year Nikita saw a significant increase in terms of playing time. He played in 26 games in the VTB and scored over 5 points per game during 15 minutes on the court. More importantly, he gained the trust of his coach, what resulted in 16 minutes on average in the FIBA Europe Cup competition throughout 14 games. In that tournament he averaged over 7 points.
The 2019-20 campaign was quite disappointing due to the fact that neither his stats nor playing time had a significant increase. That was one of the major reasons why he opted to keep his name out of the early entrants list of the 2020 NBA draft.
This season he was named VTB United League Young Player of the Year, as he contributed well to the team and helped Avtador finish the regular season at the ninth spot, just behind playoff qualification. Mikhailovskii took part in 24 games where he averaged over 8 points during 18 minutes. Even though his scoring output and playing time remain pretty similar as those of previous years, he was given a bigger role on offense – during past season he averaged nearly twice as many field goal attempts as two years earlier and 0.66 more than a season ago.
Standing at 6’7’’ Nikita is gifted with a really good size for a wing player. There are no official measurements of his wingspan, but from the eye test it can be definitely said that he has above-average length, which he often uses during ball deflections and steals. His legs are also long and Nikita takes advantage of that especially in transition offense, where he covers a lot of space without many dribbles. He is also so quick while running in a straight line. Of course, the length of his legs sometimes becomes a trouble for Nikita as he is not quick enough to consistently stay very close to shifty ball handlers. It is related mainly to pick-and-roll situations, which require many little swift steps in a small space. Mikhailovskii didn’t belong in the group of the strongest players in the VTB league this past season, even so he has been showing some flashes of his strength fighting on the boards and when driving as well. However, it was so visible that many teams tried to set a lot of plays against Nikita in the post, which means he’s not considered by coaches as a strong defender. That seems to be true, at least until he builds more muscular upper body.
Driving and finishing
The first thing that stands out in this area is his ability to read a defender’s feet. Straight after catching the ball, Nikita recognizes the position of his matchup and decides which direction will make his drive more effective.
As mentioned earlier, he is not extremely afraid of contact despite lack of upper body musculature, but he definitely doesn’t go to a defender’s chest nearly enough. Most of the troubles with finishing are usually related to being off balance rather than bad wrist work or poor touch. However, he often he tries to avoid defenders by using super long steps, which is doable for him thanks to his length. All in all, scoring at the rim against size is a huge question mark for his NBA evaluation.
It’s commonly known that players who are not the best athletes should find different weapons in the paint to score over stronger and taller opponents and Mikhailovskii should too. His floater game is definitely an aspect of his offense which needs a lot of polishing. According to InStat, he made only 2 out of 8 floaters attempts over the entire 2020-2021 VTB League season. This is not just a problem with his touch, but also with his floater selection, as he is not always aware of how close is his defender, which often leads to blocks from behind.
Spot-up threes are Nikita’s best weapon in terms of shooting – he finished the season with 47% in that area. Even though he shoots with unorthodox mechanics, there were no issues connected with time of release, deep range or the arc of a shot. Moreover, he is really good at relocating which allows him to find better spots for his 3 point shots.
The biggest drawback of this aspect is his shot creating. Mikhailovskii has not been able to find any rhythm while taking pull-up jumpers all year long – bad percentages (only 20% on pull-ups via InStat) are one thing, but more important is the way those shots were attempted. Rarely does he separate himself from defenders enough to call it a good shot – an evidence for that can be that after many isolation shots he doesn’t hold his followthrough as he does after spot-up shots. However, at the same time it has to be said that he’s quite comfortable with one dribble pull-ups, but every additional dribble usually makes his shot worse.
Playmaking and Passing
Overall, Mikhailovskii is a really smart player that knows how to cooperate with other teammates on offense, but he’s not a difference maker in pick-and-roll situations. Over the last couple of months he has shown many good basic P&R reads. However, the majority of those passes came from defensive miscommunications or bad positioning from his opponents. In many cases, where the opposing defense works well, his passes are too predictable and often end up in turnoevrs. Being able to make defenders pay for inaccuracy is obviously a good sign, but he nearly always dishes out the ball to a roll man, while he never uses any live dribble skip passes to a weak side. Moreover, there have been some situations where Nikita kills his dribble, which is so disruptive for an offensive flow of a team.
With that being said, he needs to work on his dribble, because it’s where the entire playmaking starts – being more confident with the ball in his hands could open way more ways to contribute on the offensive end for Mikhailovskii. It won’t be easy, but he has already shown some flashes of craftiness on ball, especially during FIBA U19 World Cup, where he displayed, for instance, few good counters before getting past really good defenders like Cade Cunningham or Jalen Suggs.
If it comes to situational passing, he does a great job there as he sees open teammates and reacts pretty quickly. It is visible, for instance, in drive-and-kick type of actions – if he draws the help defense, he automatically throws the ball to players on perimeter. Additionally, he also has a good touch and feeling, what can be seen while he dishes out tough assists to big men down low. Another area of passing Nikita excels at is his anticipation. When Avtodor forced opponents to rotate on defense, he was able to make it even more difficult due to passes in the air or pass-fakes – those types of plays only highlight how well he understands the game and that he doesn’t need much time to make a great decision.
Nikita is not a type of a wing player who only stays behind the 3 point line and waits for a kick-out. Thanks to being a shooting threat from distance, he forces defenders to stay relatively close to him. He takes advantage of that fact so often and cuts directly to the hoop. Mikhailovskii’s backdoor movement seems to be really fast which is one of the evidence for his good body coordination and agility.
To start with his 1-on-1 defensive presence, Mikhailovskii does not do a good job guarding players on the perimeter. He’s usually too slow on his feet and gets blown by too easily. Stats probably won’t show the extent of this issue, as many situations where the ball-hander got past Nikita didn’t end with a bucket thanks to the big men of Avtodor protecting the rim quite well as a help defenders.
Pick-and-roll defense is area of the game where he is, at best, average. As I mentioned earlier, his long limbs can sometimes be a two-edged sword. Nikita likes to disrupt opponents with his wingspan when he is chasing ball handler after going over the screen. Blocks and steals are promising things, but on the other hand he is not able to move quickly enough when P&R defense needs many direction changes and little steps in a small space. The lack of a muscular upper body is another issue that lowers his value as a P&R defender – it can be observed that he struggles to fight on the screens and gives his opponent the opportunity to shoot a pull-up jumper too frequently.
Team defense has been certainly a positive part of a great deal of Mikhailovskii’s performances. Rotations are always on time and closeouts seem to be okay. Furthermore, he showed the ability to foresee opponents’ moves on numerous occasions, which makes his rotations even more accurate. One negative thing related to his team defense, which occurred few times, was overhelping – he, for example, paid too much attention to a rolling center or driving guard and left a good shooter on the other side totally wide open. Anyway, it’s a tendency that should be easily reduced. A great sign, which also says something about his mentality, is the fact that Nikita even tries to defend on behalf of other teammates who sometimes make easy mistakes while rotating.
A really good presence on boards made a great contribution to many of Avtodor’s wins this year. On the defensive end, he shows appropriate box out tendency – knows where and how to put opponents on his back. What’s important, he does it even after some defensive rotations, which often results in boxing out centers and he’s still able to rebound the ball. His wingspan also helps here as he sometimes grabs the ball in the highest possible point and doesn’t even need to box out a player.
Mikhailovskii shows a great energy when he crashes the offensive glass. Even if he does not end up with a rebound, he impedes easy rebounds, giving his teammates have more time to get back to defense. He also displays great hustle when he follows other Avtodor’s players in transition and tips missed layups.
Taking everything into account, Nikita Mikhailovskii is an interesting prospect who is already quite experienced at a relatively high European level and has a bright future in front of him. Of course, being drafted and possibly staying in the NBA will be an extremely challenging task as he currently lacks crucial abilities like individual defense or advanced playmaking and polished finishing as well. However, there are also aspects of his game which can be attractive for some NBA teams – being a 3 point threat and a dangerous player in transition have always been a valuable skills. Moreover, a perspective of developing his physicals and athleticism by adding more strength to 6’7’’ player may make some executives willing to select Nikita in a late second-round. No matter how things go, he should have an opportunity to show his skillset against NBA competition in the Summer League, which would give us a better overview of Nikita. Even if his NBA dream does not come true, Mikhailovskii can still develop in Europe, where he has already built a strong reputation of a solid starter. In case where he becomes at least average 1-on-1 defender and a confident player in terms of dribbling the ball, then he could be given another chance to sign any type of contract in the association.