International flavour has been seasoning the NBA now more than ever and the next superstar from overseas could very well be 6'11", 250-pound scoring big Goga Bitadze.
Hailing from the small eastern European country of Georgia, it was his professional debut at the age of 16 in the VTB United League (making him the youngest player in league history) that put his name on the map and all over NBA Draft circles.
What solidified Bitadze as one of the top big men in the 2019 draft class was his play this season for Serbian club Buducnost. After dominating in the Adriatic league, Buducnost and Bitadze qualified for the Euroleague, the pinnacle every European team is trying to reach.
Playing in the Euroleague, the second best league in the world after the NBA, Bitadze looked more than comfortable playing with and against established veterans and put up solid numbers of 12.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game. In doing so, the 19-year old won the Euroleague Rising Star award, an honour given to the league's best player under the age of 22.
If you're wondering what kind of company that puts him in, it was Luka Doncic that won the award the season prior.
Seeing Bitadze contributing in the Euroleague in a fashion similar to what Doncic did should help frame just how good of a talent he is and how translatable his game should be to the NBA. At 19 years old he was competing and dominating in some cases, competition that would have trounced the best NCAA teams and he should be more than ready for the NBA stage.
Bitadze is already extremely polished offensively at 19 years old and the pick and roll is where he can do the most damage.
An underrated skill for big men is the ability to set screens and Bitadze is tremendous with his screening angles allowing for his teammate handling the ball to turn the corner and get into space. From there Bitadze has a great understanding of timing which allows him to roll at the exact moment the defence shifts, allowing him clear lanes the basket.
What makes Bitadze so talented as the roll man is that he can catch the ball while at full sprint and take a dribble or two before finishing or he can elevate and use his 7'2" wingspan to be a lob threat. Almost every NBA team's offence is predicated on some variation of the pick and roll and Bitadze is one of the best rolling bigs in the class giving him a lot of intrigue.
When he's involved in a primary action as a screener Bitadze offers great value as a floor spacer. He's a career 36 percent three-point shooter in his time in Europe and when thinking of that number remember the fact that it's the FIBA three-point line he's launching from, which is further back than the NCAA line that most other players in the draft class were shooting from. It won't be as big of an adjustment for Bitadze to step back to the NBA line as it will be for college players and that should help with the transition.
In the switch-heavy defences of the NBA, you need offensive players that can exploit mismatches and if a guard is going to get cross-matched onto Bitadze he can take them down to the block and get a bucket. The footwork exhibited by Bitadze is tremendous and he can use pivots and reverse pivots with the best of them to find space, shield defenders, and finish. He can cover a ton of ground with only one dribble and that allows him to protect the ball from help defenders and get layups before he gets converged upon.
Defensively Bitadze offers value as an elite shot blocker. While he's not a monster athlete that leaps through the gym, he's got top-level anticipation that allows him to swat away shots with ease. His recovery speed is pretty good for a player of his size and that allows him to rotate over and be a weak side shot blocker and not just someone who needs to stay anchored near the paint at all times.
It isn't the flashiest of skills but Bitadze is a menace on the glass and his rebounding ability helps end defensive possessions on his side of the floor and create extra opportunities on the other. Many young players get caught staring at the ball once it comes off the rim but, Bitadze is different, always making sure to find a body and box out.
When he gets a defensive rebound he has the handle to start leading the break the other way and that could offer value to a team looking to get out and run. Rebounding alone might not be a quality worth launching a player up draft boards, but it adds to the well-rounded and mature nature of Bitadze's game.
Bitadze struggled at times with the physicality of some of the tougher post players in the Euroleague. When facing bigger and stronger players he would often resort to floaters and off-balanced finishes instead of stronger two-handed layup attempts and that resulted in some bad misses on the interior. In the NBA he's going to see some physical frontcourt players and going to floaters and softer finishes will result in a less efficiency inside.
An area Bitadze needs work is when it comes to passing. While he's excellent at finishing out of the pick and roll a lot of times in the NBA teams want a big who can catch the ball on the short roll and make reads and that isn't Bitadze's game. He'll need to learn to catch the ball around the free throw line before squaring up, reading the floor, and then delivering a pass to a shooter. He didn't always handle double teams well when they were able to trap him and he'll see a double nearly every time he catches the ball down low in the NBA and that could be trouble. Most of Bitadze's value comes from his offensive game and to be the best offensive player he can be he'll need to develop as a playmaker.
Bitadze plays with a lot of emotion and while that can be a good thing at times it has also resulted in some bad plays throughout his Euroleague career. When games got frantic he would often start gambling for steals or rushing tough shots instead of settling the game down, and if he ever makes a mistake his body language is unmistakably poor and he has a tendency to let mistakes compound such as letting frustration from a bad turnover lead him to commit a bad foul running back in transition. He'll need to learn to play more under control and not let the ebbs and flows of a basketball game get to him.
Projected NBA Draft Range: 14-22
Projected NBA Role: Pick and roll center and shot blocking anchor.
NBA Comparison: Myles Turner
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