Pacers See Early Rim Protection From Rookie Goga Bitadze


Pacers See Early Rim Protection From Rookie Goga Bitadze

Blog > Kevin's Corner > Pacers Coverage > Pacers See Early Rim Protection From Rookie Goga Bitadze

Pacers See Early Rim Protection From Rookie Goga Bitadze

When the Pacers talk about rookie Goga Bitadze transitioning to the NBA, they are very high on his development, including one important Day One trait.

Joe Robbins | Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS – He comes off as kind, perhaps a bit timid, which isn’t the most shocking thing considering 20-year-old Goga Bitadze is living in the United States for the first time in his life.

But Bitadze promises that a switch is flipped once he takes the floor.

“I can be mean on the court,” the Pacers 7-0 rookie from the Republic of Georgia says.

We are definitely going to get a look at any sort of mean streak from Bitadze here in his rookie season.

Pacers general manager Chad Buchanan sees an immediate defensive presence coming from Bitadze as the first big man off the bench.

“That’s a skill that will translate from Day One, and translate to our level,” Buchanan says of Bitadze’s rim protection.

Bitadze led the Euro League in blocked shots last year, but the Pacers believe his skillset will eventually expand much further than just on the defensive end off the floor.

The early returns of Bitadze playing pickup with the Pacers---without going up against Myles Turner or Domantas Sabonis too often due to their respective national team obligations---appear to be pretty positive.

“After getting to know him and watching him play with our guys, we are thrilled,” Buchanan says of Bitadze. “There’s potential for a very, very good NBA player as his body matures.

“(Teammates) are surprised with his skill, deceptively mean, comes across as this kind, polite big man, but when he gets on the court he has a little mean streak to him. He blocks a lot of shots, gets to a lot of balls, great hands, can step out and shoot threes.”

When the 2019 NBA Draft began, the Pacers entertained the thought of moving into the top-10, or even the top-5, before deciding to stick at the 18th overall pick.

At that spot, they got a player who no one in the organization thought would be there.

“We just saw a young player with a lot of character, some toughness and the ability to protect the rim and shoot threes,” Buchanan says. “We thought this was the prototypical modern center, similar to Myles.

“I know we’ve got two centers, but you can’t pass on talent, especially in a small market.”

Head coach Nate McMillan is impressed by Bitadze’s talent, on both ends of the floor.

“He has a great feel for the game, both offensively and defensively,” McMillan says. “I really feel he’s going to be a really good 2-way player. A really high skill level, with his ability to score, post up, shoot the ball, pass the ball, dribble the ball. His feel for the game, he has all of that at a really young age. He has a beautiful body, comparing him to the other rookies coming out of college. You look at him his body, and you think about what he can become. The future is really bright for Goga, as well as the Pacers.”

The draft selection of Bitadze has brought up a few questions about Turner’s locked-in future with the Pacers.

But the incumbent at center is a big fan of the new young center with a similar skillset.

“He’s got all the skill in the world,” Myles Turner, who played with Bitadze a few times earlier in the summer says. “He’s stronger than he appears. He’s a bit taller than I think he’s listed. And he can play. He can shoot. He’s actually a pretty good shot blocker. But it’s one thing to do it in practice, and another thing to do it in a game. He can have all the upside in the world, but once you go through the grind of the NBA season, that’s where you get tested the most. I’ve been talking to him and I definitely have his back this year, being someone who has been in his shoes before. I think he’s actually someone we will need, and I think he’ll have a big role, as well.”

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