Before the 2019 NBA Draft arrives, Peachtree Hoops will break down more than 70 available prospects with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks may look to do in late June.
This edition examines Georgian center Goga Bitadze.
It’s been what you could call a crazy season for 19-year-old Georgian center Goga Bitadze.
Having started out the season in the Adriatic League with Mega Bemax in Serbia — the same club as draft hopeful Adam Mokoka plays for — Bitadze received an opportunity to move to Buducnost in Montenegro mid-season on loan.
While Buducnost also play in the Adriatic League — where Bitadze stood out all season long for both teams — they also play in EuroLeague and it was there that Bitadze put many on notice with solid performances, as he averaged 12 points on 55% shooting from the field on over seven attempts, 31% from three on one attempt, 71% from three on over five attempts, six rebounds, one assist and 2.3 blocks per game in an average of 24 minutes in 13 games, per RealGM.
This strong showing in Europe’s elite competition earned Bitadze the honor of being named the EuroLeague’s Rising Star for 2018-19, an award shared with the likes of Danilo Gallinari, Nikola Mirotic (twice a winner), Bogdan Bogdanovic (also twice a winner) and Luka Doncic (...also twice a winner!).
While Bitadze’s EuroLeague showing has only helped his draft stock, he enjoyed a fine season across all competitions averaging 14 points per game on 58% shooting from the field on eight field goal attempts, 39.5% from three on 1.5 attempts, 68% from the free throw line on six attempts per game, six rebounds, 1.9 offensive rebounds and 1.9 blocks in an average of 23 minutes per game across 48 games, 26 of which he started in all competitions with both Buducnost and Mega Bemax.
Bitadze now plans to enter the NBA Draft, where he’s seen as a first round lock, and for some a lock for the lottery.
When you look at mock drafts from major outlets, however, it’s a bit of a mixed bag.
The Athletic have Bitadze 17th in their mock, Sports Illustrated have him just inside the lottery at 14th overall while ESPN have gone to the other end of the spectrum and have Bitadze at 26th overall.
Bitadze is a very popular player amongst the internet/NBA Twitter and there’s definitely a lot to like.
Starting with his physical tools, Bitadze is listed as 7’0 with a 7’2 wingspan and weighs nearly 250 pounds at age 19 (turning 20 in July). With the exception of a few matchups, Bitadze held a physical advantage over most opponents with his size and body, often proving himself to be a handful for defenders and I think this is reflective when you consider his offensive rebounding and his free throw attempts per game (which we’ll look at soon). I wouldn’t call Bitadze supremely athletic but he is certainly athletic and I think has more to tap into with his athleticism.
Offensively, there’s already a lot that Bitadze has already tapped into.
The offensive end is certainly the best aspect of Bitadze’s game right now and when you look at the numbers, they really are very impressive — 58% from the field, 40% from three, an effective field goal percentage of 62%, a true shooting of 66% and an average of 1.7 points per possession.
Around the rim is where Bitadze is most effective — it just felt like every time he got there it was either a made basket or he drew free throws. Obviously, he missed every now and then but more often than not, there were points to be had in one way or another.
Pick-and-roll seems to be a good place to start, it’s where Bitadze was certainly active.
(Note: Bitadze wears number 11, and if you recognize a few familiar faces, such as Norris Cole, that Bitadze plays with, congratulations)
Here, Bitadze sets the screen, rolls, receives the ball and attacks the driving lane hard and there’s no defense that’s going to prevent him dunking this ball:
This time Bitadze slips the screen, drifts towards the rim, receives the ball and finishes at the rim with the layup:
Here, he receives the pass out of the pick-and-roll and finishes with a dunk at the rim:
A bit of a travel but, hey, refs didn’t call it.
It felt as though Bitadze drew the majority of his fouls and free throws in pick-and-roll situations.
Some side pick-and-roll action this time as Bitadze spins out of the pick-and-roll, receives the ball, takes it towards the rim, uses his body, goes up and draws the foul and free throws, the ball rolling off the rim denying him the three-point play:
We’ll be looking at a few more instances I’m sure, but this is one area that Bitadze could improve on to take him to the next level — just a little more than you’d like, he wasn’t able to convert these opportunities and convert the play, to finish the play after the foul takes place. Being a 67% free throw shooter, he sometimes leaves some points at the line but finishing the play would help limit this, by reducing the free throw number from two to one. Sometimes maths is easy...
But carrying on with the pick-and-roll/free throw stuff, Bitadze sets the screen, rolls, receives the ball and puts down a strong drive to get to the rim, drawing contact and free throws:
A bit of a quicker action this time as a quick exchange takes place between the ball-handler and Bitzade, who takes it strongly to the rim and draws free throws:
Again, Bitadze sets the screen, rolls, receives the ball and takes it inside with intent, drawing the foul and free throws:
Obviously success in pick-and-roll situations has as much to do with the roller as it does the ball-handler/the pass, and Bitadze was often the beneficiary of good, sometimes great, playmaking — pick-and-roll or otherwise — and Bitadze was able to just finish the job.
Here, Bitadze receives the pocket-pass and he takes the ball to the rim, finishing despite a lot of contact:
Again, baseline, Bitadze catches and finishes at the rim despite the contact and draws the foul:
On this possession, Bitadze receives the drop-off pass and has the simple task of dunking it home:
This is a good example of comparison for Bitadze’s athleticism, which you could call inconsistent at times? If you were to look at just that clip, you wouldn’t think he was especially athletic.
However, when you look at this play — where Bitadze trails the play and receives the pass — he explodes:
Some transition stuff — you can get an idea for how he runs the floor — as Bitadze (at the top of the picture) is rewarded for running the floor as he is found for the oop:
You don’t get to see him run on that play but you can get another dose of some athleticism.
Same game, he runs the floor in transition off of a miss, receives the pass and finishes with the dunk:
Though he is a very effective pick-and-roll player but Bitadze is able to do damage without the benefit of screens and platter set-ups from his teammates.
In the post — where he is able to do some work and it’s arguably something he should probably do more of (and the counter-argument to that is that he often looked for the ball in the low-post but didn’t always get it) — Bitadze spins, fades and scores:
Here, Bitadze hits his defender with a jab-step, gets to the rim and finishes despite the crowd:
On this play, Bitadze jostles for position, catches the ball down-low, spins and drives to the rim, powering his way to the bucket for the score:
This is a great example of Bitadze using his body/physicality to his advantage.
Bitadze also used this advantage on the boards, grabbing nearly two offensive rebounds per game, and this — as you can imagine — led to second chance scoring.
Off of the miss, Bitadze secures the offensive rebound and muscles his way to score:
On this play, Bitadze somehow one-hands this offensive rebound and despite the crowd, muscles his way to score the second chance opportunity at the rim:
This next play didn’t result in second chance points this time around but Bitadze’s activity here did lead to another possession out of basically nothing:
As you can see, Bitadze can score in a variety of ways and it’s capped off with a three-point shot, shooting 40% from three on the season on 1.5 attempts — which is important, because though the percentage is good, Bitadze is not a volume three-point shooter.
Instead of rolling after the pick-and-roll, Bitadze looms on the perimeter, receives the ball and hits the three:
Here’s a three I enjoyed as Bitadze trails the play, is found at the top of the perimeter and hits the three:
Let’s move briefly onto some Bitadze passing stuff...
There’s not a lot to say here, just some clips to show.
He is capable of making the extra pass, doing so on this possession out of the pick-and-roll to an open teammate:
Here was a possession where Bitadze could easily chosen to take the mid-range shot but finds his teammate for three:
On this play, he makes a nice touch pass — the idea was good but it was deflected out of bounds:
Not a ton to say here, Bitadze averages less than an assist per game, isn’t placed in the high-post to make passes to cutters etc. He can make a few passes, make the extra can be unselfish at times — it’s enough.
Let’s move onto the defense, which the one polarizing aspect of Bitadze’s game.
For all the ups he brings offensively, the general consensus is that the defense is where the stock begins to fall.
I’m in two minds about this as a whole...
It’s definitely fair to say that Bitadze’s defense is behind his offense but it’s hard to make a proper judgement on his defense because with Buducnost, they played in a 2-3 zone for the most part, which meant that when he was on the floor, Bitadze was often camped in the paint guarding no one unless they came to him and guarding the rim. This meant it was hard to get a true measure of Bitadze as a one-on-one defender.
While he was parked in front of rim more often than not, he at least protected it well as he averaged 1.9 blocks per game.
Again, less so in one-on-one situations and more so on drives where he’s there to snuff out shots either as the pick-and-roll defender or help defender.
To open the second quarter in this game, Mega Bemax run a pick-and-roll action and not only is Bitadze able to prevent the ball-handler from making a layup, he’s also able to turn in time to block the shot of the roller who received the ball at the rim:
On the rotation, Bitadze contests the first attempt before blocking the second chance opportunity:
Again, Bitadze gets back to the roller blocks the shot, blocks it off of his opponent and out of bounds:
If he isn’t blocking shots at the rim, Bitadze is certainly contesting them and altering them, such as this possession here:
You can debate the effective of the actual contest here but the shot itself was definitely altered by Bitadze’s presence.
On this possession, Bitadze rotates over after the pass to the wing and forces a very wild shot near the rim which misses:
Here, Bitadze again deters a shot at the rim following the pick-and-roll:
And even if he’s not blocking or contesting shots, there’s no doubt that even simply his presence in the paint can have an effect, such as on this possession where the offensive player is put off by the presence of Bitadze:
You can understand why there would be hesitancy to drive with Bitadze is close proximity — his size and his length as well as his athleticism are more than enough for someone to think twice.
This is such an instance, as his length literally closes off the driving lane:
Bitadze contested decently to end that possession, and it’s something he decent at in general — his size and length certainly help him contest, both at his own position and occasionally on switches.
Here on the pick-and-roll switch, he gets a good contest in to help force a miss:
On this play, Bitadze does a good job sticking with the switch before contesting well:
But don’t get too excited. While this is all good, it’s not always good.
Here, Bitadze moves well initially but ends up being beaten on the switch this time:
On this play, his length isn’t enough to prevent the score at the basket:
There were just other times in general where Bitadze just kind of lumbered off-ball defensively — these didn’t really lead to baskets I saw but he just dragged around at times, which I still think is partly due to the zone meaning he is just planted in the middle, guarding an area more so than man.
The other issue — and this is my main issue — is defensive discipline. He draws nearly four fouls a game and that’s with a limit of five fouls per game — it’s a problem. And these came just in every shape and size.
At the rim:
Going for an offensive rebound:
Etc. Etc. He just breathes fouls and this is a big problem.
Let’s bring this home, and I’ll summarize the defensive stuff...
Defensively, I don’t think Bitadze is as bad as advertised but I don’t think he’s stellar either. His rim protection is good, I don’t think that can really be denied but it there’s another element you could argue. You could make the argument that the fact he did play in that zone — and the being planted near the rim — actually helped him and his reputation a shot blocker, that it put him in positions to succeed and look better than maybe he actually is.
The physical tools are great building blocks to work with defensively. Good size, good body, good length and good athleticism — there’s lots to work with for whatever team drafts him. As a help defender, he’s pretty decent — knows when to rotate and is usually effective. As a pick-and-roll defender, I like what I see but switches are an issue at times — as you can imagine when someone smaller goes to take a seven footer off of the dribble.
As a one-on-one defender, I’d say it’s still inconclusive — the zone defense really adds an unknown element with Bitadze heading into the draft and leaves a giant question mark over his individual defense. The fouls are an issue, the discipline an issue and effort at times are also an issue. I think if you’re thinking about drafting him, you’ll just have to take the gamble on Bitadze defensively.
Offensively, there’s so much to like. Good athlete, great body to carve out space, causes havoc on the boards, he can score both inside and outside and he’s so good around the rim in so many different situations and scenarios — and he’s only about to turn 20 years old. There’s a lot of upside here.
For the Atlanta Hawks with the No. 8 and No. 10 overall picks... if they want to get ahead of the curve with Bitadze, they’re going to have to get in the action at 10. It could be a little too high to spend that pick but if they really like him and want him to be apart of their squad, that’s probably what it’s going to take. Sure, they could trade down but it’s risky but there’s surely going to be a team in the lottery who are going to be in on Bitadze — and why shouldn’t they be? He’s very talented with a ton of room to grow.
Will it be ‘Go-go-Goga’ ringing from the 6th man section at State Farm Arena next season?
Time will tell...