Most of the attention in the 2019 NBA Draft will be captured by the Duke guys: Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cameron Reddish. But, as usual, there’ll be a lot of international talent too. From French talent Sekou Doumbouya to Croatian wing Luka Samanic, the 2019 Draft will have plenty of international flavor. But if we’re talking about big men, well… Georgian Goga Bitadze is definitely one of the most interesting guys to watch in the next draft. I spoke to several scouts around Europe to introduce you who may become the next high-level international big in a league where overseas big men are already thriving.
Goga Bitadze grew up in his hometown club Vita Tbilisi. Born in 1999, the Georgian big man quickly attracted the attention of several teams around Europe, and in 2015, he moved to Mega Bemax, a Serbian team controlled by Misko Raznatovic, probably the most powerful agent in Europe, who represents important NBA clients like Nikola Jokic and Dario Saric. On a team specialized in developing potential NBA prospects, Bitadze has improved a lot his game, and in this season he’s really showing all his potential. In 11 games in ABA Liga, Bitadze averaged 20.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 1.2 assists per game while shooting 64.5 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from 3-point territory. His season in Serbia was so good that Bitazde received interest from several Euroleague teams and moved to Buducnost VOLI, a team based in Montenegro that won the ABA Liga last season and is now playing in Euroleague. This kind of move is not exactly new for Bitadze’s agent Misko Raznatovic; a couple years ago, he basically made the same move with Ante Zizic, who joined Turkish club Darussafaka to play in Euroleague and have a better stage to showcase his talent before the NBA Draft.
Standing at 6 feet 11 inches, Bitadze is a very skilled big man who has a very soft touch from the midrange. He’s also starting to develop a reliable 3-point shot. His volume from beyond the arc is still too low to draw any definitive conclusion from, but Bitadze’s soft touch makes it easy to imagine him as a reliable 3-point shooter in the near future. For a guy with his size, he moves very well around the court and can attack the rim very effectively.
“He’s the perfect example of a modern big man,” a European scout told Def Pen Hoops. “A guy with that size who moves so well around the court is always very intriguing. Every season is expanding his shooting range. He has a very reliable jumper from midrange but he’s also building a solid 3-point shot, although the fluency of the shooting stroke can definitely improve. With his quick feet, he’s also a very good roller, despite the fact that, at least for the moment, he prefers pick-and-pop situation[s], rather than going straight to the rim.”
During this season, Bitadze has also shown a good feel for the passing game. He has the ability to make the extra pass to the wings cutting to the rim and has also made some good decision when the double-team comes, finding the shooters in the corners. In ABA Liga, Bitadze has quickly become one of the best shot-blockers in the business. He’s not the most explosive guy, but he has very good timing to find the block. When engaged, he’s also a very good defender in the post; his strong frame stops opposing bigs in their tracks.
“He’s not an extraordinary athlete, but he [has] got a very good feel for the game,” a European scout told Def Pem Hoops. “He often finds the right timing for the block, he’s smart, and that makes him a good rim protector and a solid rebounder. Switching on defense is not a problem for him. His feet are quick, but sometimes he still lacks some reactivity in those situations. But I think he has the potential to be a solid defensive player, even at the NBA level.”
With the Euroleague stage on display in the next few months, it’s not shocking to think that Bitadze could gain some preferences in the upcoming draft. Until last season, experts thought he could go somewhere in the second round, but now, many scouts believe he could be selected somewhere between the middle and the end of the first round, a league source told Def Pen Hoops. “Of course it’s still too early to project his position in the next draft, but he’s definitely gaining some steam,” an NBA scout told Def Pen Hoops. “I think that he made the right choice in moving to a Euroleague club. He’ll have more exposure there, and with his game constantly improving, I think his chances of getting selected in the first round will improve. Some teams could take the draft-and-stash route with him. At the end of the day, he’s still 19, and another year in a good European club could help him.”
As with every young prospect, there are also holes in Bitadze’s game. “Well, he needs to cut down the fouls and the turnovers,” an ABA Liga scout told Def Pen Hoops. “He’s still too careless when he puts the ball on the floor. A smart kid like him can definitely do better from that perspective. He also needs to keep a better composure sometimes; he complains too much with referees at times. Defensively, he can definitely do a better job in closeouts situations, and sometimes he’s way too upright with his body. He has to assume a better position defensively, a lot more flexible.”
A European scout highlighted poor body language in some situations: “His body language can improve. I don’t think he’s a soft player, but sometimes he acts like he is. It seems like, sometimes, he’s [doing] you a favor by being out there on the court. When the game is not going well, at times, he looks disengaged, apathetic. He just needs to do a better job in dealing with adversity. At the NBA level, you need to be mentally strong to be really successful.”
We’re still months away from the NBA Draft, but Goga Bitadze looks like an intriguing prospect, both offensively and defensively. Despite some holes in his game, his draft stocks can only improve with the Euroleague stage, and time is on his side. It’s still way too early to understand if Bitadze will have the same success of other great international big men like Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid or Kristaps Porzingis, but his talent cannot be ignored, and several NBA teams are watching him with great interest.