Breaking down what Goga Bitadze brings to the Pacers

Indiana Pacers Goga Bitadze (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)
Indiana Pacers Goga Bitadze (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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Goga Bitadze of the Indiana Pacers
MOSCOW, RUSSIA – FEBRUARY 01: Othello Hunter (C) of CSKA Moscow vies with Earl Clark (L) and Goga Bitadze (R) of Buducnost during the Turkish Airlines Euroleague match between CSKA Moscow and Buducnost at the Megasport Arena in Moscow, Russia on February 01, 2019.(Photo by Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images) /

Goga Bitadze’s defense

Bitadze’s defensive calling card is his rim protection, where he erases shots constantly despite his lack of elite vertical athleticism. His high-level IQ and awareness and his seven-foot-two wingspan make him the rim protector he is, posting a 10.6 block percentage and 3.8 blocks per 40 in the EuroLeague. His reaction time here is impressive, noticing the cutting offensive rebounder and swatting his shot.

Bitadze shows impressive recognition here, guarding two players at once. He helps on the driver and stays grounded, forcing a pass, recovering and contesting the shot.

Even in the EuroLeague playing against grown men, Bitadze has the strength and reaction time to send shots away as a primary post defender.

At times, Bitadze’s lack of vertical athleticism loses him blocks, where he can’t load quickly enough to reach a floater or a high layup.

As almost all young bigs do, Bitadze struggles with fouling, averaging a staggering 6.0 fouls per 40 in the EuroLeague. This isn’t a major red flag, as almost all young bigs foul a ton and fouling is a sign of aggression and playmaking.

Bitadze is still growing into and learning to understand his body and his foul issues should decrease as he matures. As of now, Bitadze is too jumpy, leaping out of control and fouling offensive players.

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Bitadze’s pick and roll defense should translate to the NBA well, as he’s a plus hedge and drop defender. He is not a switch big (almost no bigs are in the NBA, despite everyone wanting their bigs to switch onto guards regularly), but Bitadze is mobile and fluid, covering ground well in pick and roll defense.

While he isn’t overly quick moving East-West, he moves well North-South, which is why he’s so great in drop coverage. He tracks back quickly and under control, reading the attacker’s movements and timing his jump perfectly for the block.

Bitadze is a solid hedge defender as well, with fluidity to get out to the ball and recover to his man quickly. He hedges well, recovers and blocks the shot.

Bitadze can cover a ton of ground after his hedges with his general mobility. Guarding the pick and roll, he hedges, drops back into the paint, stops the ball and turns around quickly to pin the layup off of the backboard.

More good work hedging here, as Bitadze contains the drive and forces a pass to the corner. Waiting until the right moment to jump, Bitadze moves his arms into the passing lane and forces a turnover.

While Bitadze’s awareness and sense of positioning is strong, he can lose focus and become confused with more complex actions and more dynamic offensive players. Anadolu Efes repeatedly targeted Bitadze with a Spain pick and roll and he often was slow to process, giving up easy shots.

As I mentioned before, Bitadze’s perimeter defense is around average for bigs his size. He doesn’t have stone feet, but he’s no Nic Claxton either checking guards. Shiftier guards can exploit Bitadze’s lateral movement, blowing by him in hard hedges or on straight switches.

Bitadze does flash competence on the perimeter at times, sliding his feet well and containing and contesting with length.

Defense is Bitadze’s biggest strength, where his pick and roll coverage meshes well with what the Pacers like to do, projecting him as a plus defender.

Pacers’ Fit

With Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis occupying minutes in the frontcourt, Bitadze’s fit on the team is dicey. Assuming one is not traded, he will likely see most of his minutes at the backup five. On offense, Bitadze’s strong rolling game out of the pick and roll provides a different dimension than Turner’s pop-centric assault.

Defenses are used to Turner’s pick and pop jumpers, opening up Bitadze’s dives to the rim. Bitadze can pop as well, keeping defenses honest. We all know how Nate McMillan adores the post up and Bitadze should be effective there as a pro as well.

The Pacers have their bigs drop in pick and roll coverage the majority of the time, suiting Bitadze’s skillset as well. Playing with Sabonis, he adds a rim protection threat Sabonis does not. Given Turner’s improved perimeter defense and agility, the Pacers could conceivably run Turner at the four and Bitadze at the five, allowing for a surplus of rim protection.

When talent is on the board who shouldn’t be there, the smart move is to pick him and figure it out, regardless of fit. Landing a top ten talent at 18 is always a success and Kevin Pritchard did a fantastic job identifying value and jumping on top of it.

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Bitadze’s refined skill set and IQ on both ends, combined with his production overseas, make him a strong bet to be a good NBA player for a long time, whatever Indiana decides to do with him.