Pacers Post-Draft Notebook: Kevin Pritchard Talks Goga Bitadze, Free Agency, Playing Three Centers

Pacers Post-Draft Notebook: Kevin Pritchard Talks Goga Bitadze, Free Agency, Playing Three Centers

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Pacers Post-Draft Notebook: Kevin Pritchard Talks Goga Bitadze, Free Agency, Playing Three Centers

Here are some thoughts from Pacers president Kevin Pritchard on drafting Goga Bitadze, having 3 young centers on the roster and a free agency outlook.

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INDIANAPOLIS – Before Kevin Pritchard addressed the elephant(s) in the room on Thursday night, his disbelief was pretty obvious.

The Pacers definitely did not think center Goga Bitadze would be there at pick No. 18.

When Bitadze was still on the board, it was time to exercise the best player availability philosophy, no matter what the roster already looked like at the center position.

“To be honest with you, I’m sitting here and can’t believe he got to 18,” Pritchard said after taking Bitadze on Thursday night. “We had him really high on our board, really high on our board. We didn’t see (this happening) in any Mock Draft we had. We had Goga in our top-10.

“(Goga) fits us perfectly in terms of his shot blocking. I think that’s one of the things that impressed us the most on Goga. We watched a lot of film, we saw him live (both Chad Buchanan and Pritchard). We looked at the stats as well and some of our analytics and he’s been the best Euro player since (Luka) Doncic. Now, Doncic is a rookie but in the last 4 or 5 years, (Goga’s) stats are up there with some of the best players. We felt like his shot blocking is really important. That’s something we base our defense off.”

Unlike the majority of international players that are drafted, Bitadze is a guy that the Pacers firmly believe can give them quality minutes in his rookie season.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt he can play next year,” Pritchard said. “What you have to understand is the league he plays in, and also the EuroLeague, is a league of men. That’s a no joke league. It’s better than a G-League. It’s a higher level, across the board, than a good college team. He’s getting it done against high-level players and high-level adults. One of the things we know and I know in past places, if they’ve played well in those places it really translates, especially rebounding and shot blocking. He’s becoming a better shooter. He’s becoming a better roll guy, dive guy. He’s got really good hands. Some people think he’s a little like (Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic), but I think he plays more above the rim. Some of the things we value is toughness and he’s going to come in and compete. He’s really long. He affects the game above the rim. When we set our defense, if you ask (assistant coach) Dan Burke, the No. 1 thing is a shot blocker, so we value that, we really value that. If you roster maneuver us and look at (Domantas Sabonis) at the 4, that gives us a lot of opportunity to even play Goga at the backup 5. I will say this about Goga, of any of the guys that I’ve drafted or we’ve drafted in the last few years, I think he’s more polished and ready to play in an NBA game than a normal kid coming out of college. Today was an important day to get a guy who we think can be special down the line.”

It was a busy Thursday for Pritchard.

Indiana acquired veteran forward T.J. Warren and traded a pair of second-round picks for four future second-round selections. Because of NBA rules, Pritchard cannot yet comment on those moves.

Pritchard did offer an update on Victor Oladipo, who could miss the start of the 2019-20 season.

Here are some other tidbits from Pritchard on Thursday night:


  • On playing 3 big guys together (Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis, Goga Bitadze) moving forward: “Everyone says, it’s another center. But the way we look at is, Sabonis is going to play a lot of 4, and Myles can play a lot of 4. This moves Domas or Myles over to the 4 a little bit more. But I don’t think that eliminates us from going after a 4 in free agency.”
  • On what the Pacers accomplished Thursday night: “We draft and one of the things that we didn’t want to do is add a bunch of players in the draft to take away our possibilities of acquiring a bunch of players in free agency. I wanted to get really one player who I felt could impact the team next year. I think Goga is perfect for us. I think down the line he can be much more than a backup. He affected the game, a really high-level game last year, as a 19-year-old.”
  • On free agency starting in less than 10 days: “We came into this draft wanting to draft a player and then look at accumulating some assets for the future. I think we did that. I think we did that actually in a big way. A lot of times, what happens is that asset you think is a draft pick, but really it’s a draft pick that can be used for a player, a veteran. It doesn’t always be have to be for the draft. If you can accumulate enough, then you can have packages, so our space comes very valuable. You can look at taking in a player, (into your cap space) for a draft pick. When you have multiple seconds or multiple firsts, the level of player you can look at is completely different. That was really important to us. The last two years we have overachieved and made the playoffs, but we’ve got a lot of holes to fill. We have a point guard, a three, a starting four and so what we are trying to do is balance having some youth, who can play a little bit and we can develop, but also bringing in some players that can help us win right now. Our goal won’t change. We will try to be a good team next year. We are not going to go young and try to start at the bottom. We want to win again next year. We are going to be active in free agency and that’s where you can get guys to step in and have a quick impact. In free agency, I think you always have to be willing to be aggressive. We have to be willing to call audibles and be quick to take advantage of a marketplace. I don’t know if that’s July 1 or July 4, or if it’s a big contract, or of it’s a bunch of good, solid players that we put out there and let our young guys grow. I think it’s something we have to be very open to see what happens in the marketplace.”
  • On having confidence entering July that they can acquire an All-Star: “I can tell you July 3rd or 4th a lot better than I can now, once I have a chance to talk to those guys. Again, one of the things that we like to pride ourselves in is just because you’re an All-Star doesn’t mean you are the right person. You become an All-Star and that usually means he’s a good player but sometimes he doesn’t fit with us. We will be active after some days, but like I said, if you are after a max guy and you have $43 million and you’ve got 3 or 4 open spots, if you give a max contract to that guy, what are you going to be doing with the rest of your roster? I think our tendency will be to look at really solid players at mid-levels, too. Whether that’s an All-Star, it’s probably too early (to say).”  
  • On trying to re-sign Bojan Bogdanovic: “He’s important for us. On July 1st, we have a few calls I think we are going to have to make at midnight. He will be a priority. You don’t know. I will say this, I think there’s going to be some high competition for him. I think the way he ended the year, kind of took the load offensively for us, the league has gone to such an offensive league in scoring and shooting, especially with his size, he’s going to have some offers. But we are going to do our best to keep him.”
  • On what this move means for re-signing Thaddeus Young: “Well, Thad has meant a lot to us the last couple of years. I don’t think it rules him out. But the thing about Thad is he’s an unrestricted free agent. It’s his choice. We will have conversations but at the end of the day it’s his choice.”
  • On approaching the point guard situation this summer with Darren Collison and Cory Joseph as free agents: “The truth is you don’t really know until you start talking July 1. I think Darren had a good run here for two years. I think he’s shown that he’s still a starter. But just like Thad and Bojan and Cory, they all had really good years last year, so they are going to have options. I don’t know if I’ve been a part of a team that has had so much free agency (decisions) and so much room to go after players, but yet when you look at the room and you say, ‘Yeah, but $43 million dollars, now a max contract is $32 million.’ You think it’s a lot but it can go pretty quickly…I’ve never been a part of anything that is this complex.”

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