Last year, I covered possible second-round selections that the Charlotte Hornets should consider in the 2018 NBA Draft on this very website. One of those players mentioned was an international center named Goga Bitadze.
Heading into that year’s draft, there was very little coverage surrounding his name because he was a balanced 18-year-old who displayed his talents in a league halfway across the world.
Since the article was posted, Bitadze has continued to develop his game into one that better resembles an immediate fit rather than extremely raw talent the year prior. In this span, the big man came home with three impressive accolades that rewarded him for excelled performance in games.
Bitadze was awarded the Serbian KLS Super League MVP, Adriatic League Liga ABA Top Prospect as well as earning MVP Honors in the Adriatic League Liga ABA, all in the last eight months.
Bitadze has been on an absolute tear of late and has been putting up the numbers that make him an intriguing overseas prospect.
Let’s take a closer dive into Bitadze and his game.
Weight: 250 lbs
Stats: 13.9 points, 6.3 rebounds while shooting 40% from three of 1.7 attempts and making 68% from the foul line
Strengths: PnR offense and shot-blocking
Bitadze is comfortable in situations off the pick-and-roll. Using his size to his advantage, the Georgian center is able to set hard screens to open up comfortable opportunities in the lane. Unlike traditional bigs that drive in the lane to score up close, Bitadze creates baskets for himself with floaters and similar-type moves farther away from the rim.
Using his height to his advantage, Bitadze is able to release the ball at a point that makes it hard for even the best shot-blockers to swat away. This soft touch is seen at all levels of the court, from intricate hook shots in the post to ten-foot set shots.
This play matches what Charlotte Hornets head coach James Borrego has implemented since arriving last year. Using an offensive system that heavily relies on the PnR to generate offense, Bitazde could be an immediate factor. He has a tremendous IQ for the game and has far more experience than most 19-year-olds. In fact, he began playing professional ball at the age of 16.
Bitadze broke the record for the best player efficiency rating (PER) for a teenager in the EuroLeague. The previous record holder was none other than international superstar and current Dallas Maverick forward Luka Doncic. This goes to show how effective Bitadze has been against Europe’s best competition.
On the defensive end, Bitadze has shown a knack for denying opponents opportunities near the rim. Although he may not be the fastest player on the court, his ability to locate and find an opportunity to reject has been a staple of his game over the past two seasons.
Here’s what I said regarding his defensive ability in last year’s piece:
Bitadze has defensive intensity down low and plays well in the pick-and-roll. He has the key sense to chase down any potential shots in the paint, and he has the size to go up against the NBA’s premier post scorers due to his massive frame. He also seems to never be out of a play.
Weaknesses: Athleticism and passing
Coming in at a bulky 250 pounds, Bitadze lacks the ability to catch up to players’ speeds on the court.
Bitadze has a tough time driving to the cup against stronger defenders. He is often trapped and unable to bully his way through to clear up a more open shot down low. This has caused him to work on his floater and other such areas in and around the mid-range area. By the time he reaches an area of opportunity, defenders are there to collapse on him.
This hole is also apparent on the defensive end. If he gets stretched out to the perimeter, Bitadze has a tough time contesting shots from that area. His lack of athleticism causes him to sag off his match-up. Hopefully, this doesn’t snowball into him becoming a defensive liability when teed up against some of the NBA’s best ball handlers.
Bitadze’s passing is also questionable.
Although most big men aren’t expected to be exceptional distributors, most teams want some amount of distribution from that position. The most assists Bitadze was able to dish out per game was 2.2 when he was played in the Serbian KLS league.
Especially in a modern NBA where there is a higher emphasis on team ball movement, having a center who can dish out the ball once in a while is an asset. It helps in creating a smoother playing style which results in higher-percentage shots from the field.
Pro comparison: Willy Hernangomez
Funny enough, the most apparent comparison in my mind when talking about Goga Bitadze is current Hornets center Willy Hernangomez.
Both have a great touch from the mid-range, while Hernangomez has been able to become a true threat from the three-point area. The two are capable of going on an offensive tear, becoming a key contributor at the five spot.
Of course, worries regarding perimeter defense are key question marks between both Hernangomez and Bitadze. The two are unable to close out opponents three-point attempts due to their slow-footedness. This allows for easy blow-by opportunities, causing a gaping hole in the defense.
Finally, the two similarly shine in the rebounding category. Bitadze has made himself a solid glass cleaner as he was able to nab 6.4 boards per contest last season. Hernangomez is not far behind, earning 5.4 rebounds to his name for the Charlotte Hornets.
At only 19-years-old with arguably the best professional resume heading into the 2019 NBA Draft, the Charlotte Hornets may look overseas to solve their everlasting center problems.