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NBA execs, scouts agree Goga Bitadze was right NBA draft pick for Pacers

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Goga Bitadze, meet the newest Indiana Pacer.
Indianapolis Star

LAS VEGAS – The mystery around Goga Bitadze remains. He didn’t play at Las Vegas summer league for the Indiana Pacers because of issues obtaining a working visa. 

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He’s here working out at St. Vincent Center after missing four exhibitions in which the Pacers went 1-3.

The competition Bitadze faced in EuroLeague was much tougher anyway. He thrived against men, not one-and-done teenagers from the college ranks. 

Summer league isn’t the NBA. It’s mostly draft picks, some who’ll fail to make the cut after training camp begins in September, and free agents looking for invites, two-way contracts or G League spots. 

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Pacers president Kevin Prtichard says he couldn’t believe Goga Bitadze was available at 18th. ‘We had him really high on our board.’
Mike Williams, For IndyStar

When the Pacers took Bitadze in the NBA draft a month ago, they swore he was at the top of their draft board.

Then again, when has a team not said that about a pick? The Pacers tried to move up to get the No. 10 pick from the Atlanta Hawks as well as No. 4 from the New Orleans Pelicans on draft night, league sources told IndyStar. Surely they had other targets in mind. 

“Goga is a guy we had going in the lottery,” coach Nate McMillan said on draft night June 20. “A lot of people in the league had him as a top-10, top-12 pick.” 

He fell to 18th, in part because the Phoenix Suns surprisingly picked Cameron Johnson at No. 11 and Rui Hachimura went ninth to the Washington Wizards. That creates a ripple effect among the teams below.

IndyStar has surveyed the opinions of numerous NBA scouts who have seen the 6-11 Georgian play overseas as well as front-office executives via phone conversations and during Las Vegas summer league that wrapped up Monday night.

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Indiana Pacers select Goga Bitadze, a center from Georgia (the nation), on June 20, 2019
Mike Williams, For IndyStar

They were granted anonymity so they could speak candidly about another team’s player. 

For context, the scope of opinion on IU’s Romeo Langford entering the draft was all over the place since the draft combine in Chicago two months ago. Head nods, long sighs and eye rolls were common as they immediately questioned his toughness on the next level. But one head scout for a top Western Conference team raved about Langford’s upside. He went 14th to the Boston Celtics. 

No such negative body language greeted “What do you think of Bitadze?” inquiries. Everyone was surprised he was on the board that late and they were unanimous he’s a solid pick for the Pacers despite having two starting quality bigs in Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis under contract. 

The consensus on Bitadze:

>> A physical post player who seeks contact

>> Plays with a passion and motor that can’t be taught

>> Not the most athletic but has strong basketball IQ

>> More of a 5 than a 4 because of his shot blocking

>> Can shoot the Euro 3 (22 feet, 1.75 inches) and should be able to shoot the NBA 3 (23-9)

Goga Bitadze (center) competed in the EuroLeague prior to being selected No. 18 in the NBA draft by the Pacers. (Photo: Alexey Filippov, Sputnik via AP)

While talent-wise he’s the right pick, more than one executive said they wouldn’t have drafted Bitadze unless they plan on making a move with Turner or Sabonis (Note: Publicly, the Pacers insist they didn’t draft Bitadze with that in mind).

Turner will begin the first year of an $80 million extension that he signed before last season. The Pacers are trying to work out an extension with Sabonis as he enters the final year of his rookie scale contract.

If the Pacers are to trade one of them, all but one believes Sabonis would be on the move. 

Sabonis plays hard and posts more double-doubles than any player off the bench. But the backup 5, who is expected to see time at the 4 this season, is limited offensively. 

Turner offers better rim protection, is a better spread option from 3 and is better at switching defensively onto smaller players in space. 

One executive believes Sabonis is the keeper because of his toughness and suggests his limitations on offense (lack of 3-point shot, no right hand) are easily fixed with hard work. He sees Turner’s passive nature and aversion to posting up even small defenders as a bigger issue.

Three bigs aren’t too many for a 15-man roster as long as those players aren’t all one-dimensional. 

Bitadze isn’t expected to hit the ground running to force the Pacers’ hand.

The risk of drafting him is low. The reward could be extremely high.

As the players entering the NBA draft skew younger and have less experience there’s less information and data on which to judge them — No. 5 pick Darius Garland played just five games in his only season at Vanderbilt.

Getting a player with Bitadze’s potential in the middle of the first round is an easy call.

Bitadze will have to earn his spot first and then everyone can gauge if he’s just another guy, or if he can be the guy.

Follow IndyStar Pacers Insider J. Michael on Twitter at @ThisIsJMichael.

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