NBA Draft Prospect Goga Bitadze Shines In first EuroLeague Action

In his first four games, 19-year-old Georgian center Goga Bitadze has taken EuroLeague by storm.

With his versatile scoring ability and feel for the game, he looks like a clear 1st-round pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Bitadze spent the first half of the season dominating the Adriatic League at prospect factory KK Mega, the same club that produced NBA centers Nikola Jokic and Ivica Zubac. Bitadze made the step up to EuroLeague in late December, signing with Buducnost Podgorica in Europe’s top-tier competition.

So far, it’s been a great decision. Bitadze is producing big numbers in the second-best league in the world, and his draft stock should be on the rise.

He’s putting up 14.8 points, 6.8 rebounds (3.5 offensive) and 3.3 blocks in just 24.5 minutes per game. If Bitadze had played enough games to qualify, he would currently rank 5th in EuroLeague in points, 5th in total rebounds, 3rd in offensive boards and 1st in blocks.

It’s obviously early. Four games is a small sample, and tougher challenges await, like Friday’s game against Real Madrid big men Edy Tavares and Gustavo Ayon (1:00 pm EST on FloHoops.TV)

But the early returns have been very promising. Here’s what I’ve seen from Bitadze’s young EuroLeague career that suggests he should at least be a solid backup center in the NBA, if not better.

What I Like: An Intelligent Offensive Machine

Scoring Ability

Bitadze is a natural scorer. He can finish with both hands in the paint, he shoots a smooth mid-range jumper and he has connected on 14-of-30 three-pointers between the Adriatic League and EuroLeague (46.6 percent).

His best offensive performance in EuroLeague was against Milan and their tough center duo of Arturas Gudaitis and Kaleb Tarczewski. Bitadze had 23 points, with a lot of them coming right at the rim.

This video shows a few of the catch-and-dunk variety. He understands where he needs to be on the floor and puts himself in a good position to receive passes. He gets up and down the court well, he’s sure-handed and although he’s not the most explosive guy, he plays above the rim.

It’s no wonder Bitadze is shooting 65.6 percent on two-pointers (21/32) in EL.

It’s not all dunks, though. Bitadze has been good at finishing through contact with finesse, converting six and-ones in four games. Three of those have been with his left hand.

When he steps out to the perimeter, he has a nice looking shot that should extend out to the NBA three-point line with practice.

Offensive Rebounding

Bitadze is a monster on the offensive glass.

He fights for every rebound and has a good understanding of timing and angles. He is great at anticipating where the rebound will come off the rim, and he has the size, mobility and determination to track them down.

He feasts on putbacks and tip-ins. Bitadze was measured at 6-11 with a 7-2 wingspan in 2017 — similar to Jusuf Nurkic, for context — but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s grown since then.

This one is my favorite. Watch closely as he uses his left arm to knock former NBA big man Tarik Black out of position. He then drives his body into Black, hits the ball off the glass to himself with his right hand, secures it with both hands and immediately kicks it out to the open shooter.

Passing Potential

Bitadze isn’t Nikola Jokic by any means, but he gives a little taste of his passing ability every game. This video shows an impressive variety — a spin move assist from the post, a give-and-go bounce pass to the cutter, and a nice feed while on the move in transition.

Defensive Timing

The same combination that makes Bitadze a great offensive rebounder — length, mobility, anticipation, and timing — also makes him a formidable shot-blocker.

This is the element of his game that has surprised me most. His rim protection has been really good for a kid who looks new-born giraffe-ish at times.

What I Don’t Like: Foul- & Frustration-Prone

So. Many. Fouls.

Bitadze has been his own worst enemy, committing 4.3 fouls per game in EuroLeague and 4.1 in the Adriatic.

Most young big men are foul machines. Sometimes it’s hard to control those long limbs, especially when being 7-feet tall is relatively new. Bitadze will improve his body control as he ages and those numbers should come down. 

Hopefully he will learn from some of his mistakes, like the play when he fouled out against Maccabi Tel Aviv.

With four fouls in a one-point game and 6.5 minutes remaining, you can’t take a risk like that, not as your team’s best big man.

Body Language

One of the concerns surrounding Bitadze over the years has been his body language. He’s an emotional guy, and that’s fine, but it’s a bad look if you’re outwardly upset at your teammates.

I didn’t see any of this in his first three EuroLeague games, but two things jumped out to me in his most recent outing against Darussafaka.

Watch this fourth quarter sequence. First, he throws his head back in frustration when he doesn’t get the ball. On the other end, he doesn’t get the help defense he expects, and he extends his arms toward veteran Edwin Jackson in the classic “What the hell are you doing?” pose.

In the NBA, personality is a huge factor in determining success. You have to respect the veterans. Behaving like that, especially as a rookie, won't go over well with his teammates.

Overall: Bitadze Is An NBA Talent

I really like Bitadze, especially if a team is able to get him in the late first round. 

He'll struggle against some of the NBA's more athletic bigs, and teams will attack him on switches. But for me, the positives out-weigh the negatives with Bitadze. He's skilled around the rim and he should be a reliable three-point shooter in time. His offensive rebounding is great, his timing and anticipation help make up for some of his limitations defensively, and he's a competitive kid. 

With 12 EuroLeague games remaining, I expect Bitadze to prove that he deserves to be a first-round pick in June.

Austin Green is an international journalist and scout covering EuroLeague and NBA prospects in Europe and Australia. You can follow him on Twitter @LosCrossovers.

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