Pacers

Bitadze No Longer a No Name

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I would be seriously remiss if I didn’t kick off this Goga article with the following:

From Humble Beginnings to League-Best Production*

Goga Bitadze‘s NBA story began as seemingly invisible. He was just another name.

Well, not even.

The league spelled “Bitadze” wrong on his rookie-media-day nametag. No matter. Even at 21 years old, Goga is beginning to make his presence felt.

Bitadze is 3rd in the NBA for blocks per minute. Er, he would be if he qualified. To do that, he needs more minutes, and fewer fouls too. Despite playing fewer minutes than many of his peers, Goga’s blocking ability is absolutely worth noting. Goga fearlessly challenges shots and boasts more blocks per minute than perennial DPOY candidate Rudy Gobert.

Goga is almost a hybrid of Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. He has Turner’s speed and Sabonis’ fluidity. Bitadze holds bigger, more physical opponents in check on the block like Sabonis and protects the rim well from a help-side position similar to Turner. Goga has old-school moves on the block like Sabonis but shoots threes at a similar rate to Turner.

Below is Bitadze getting the best of MVP candidate Nikola Jokic on the low block.

If we are showing Goga blocks, we must show the following as well. Sorry Taj.

Offensive Tendencies

The aforementioned Turner averages 14.8 points per 36 minutes. Bitadze averages 17.1 points over the same. In terms of scoring, Goga is already at a starter level. In limited minutes, the guy finds ways to get on the board. Even at this point in his young career, Bitadze knows how to pick his spots. Catch-and-shoot threes, pick-and-pops, tip-ins, and deep post-ups are already in his package.

As shown in the video, Goga quickly gets into Bam Adebayo and goes to work on the low block. Such a move requires finesse, strength and skill, and is one that many NBA big men shy away from in favor of kick-outs.

Reminder: Bitadze is just 21 years old.

Defensive Abilities

Bitadze blocks shots above the rim (see Taj Gibson) with excellent verticality and strength. He also has quick hands on the low block and is a surprisingly adept perimeter defender. Here, he forces former MVP James Harden to pass out of a signature lull-the-defender-to-sleep-then-shoot move.

Sure, Edmond Sumner slides over to help, leaving T.J. McConnell responsible for two Nets, which Harden sees. However, Harden takes and makes these shots all the time. Goga’s defense had Harden thinking twice about that jump shot. Bitadze is noticeably improved at keeping perimeter opponents in front and contesting without fouling outside. The Pacers are beginning to welcome opponents into trying Goga one-on-one.

Bitadze is strong with quick hands on the low block. As shown in the Jokic video earlier, Bitadze does a fine job of holding his ground and digging at the ball when he can. Below, Goga punishes All-Star Nikola Vucevic for trying him down low.

Current Drawbacks: Fouls and 3’s

Fouls

Goga averages 6.3 fouls per 36 minutes. His current style of defensive play is completely unsustainable for major tick. Since fouling out is difficult in reserve minutes, Goga’s fouls are not the end of the world right now.

Simply put, his fouling must decrease if he wants to see the floor more. Goga’s fouls per minute have declined over each full month he has played this season. Interestingly, his minutes per game have increased just the same, so it would seem he is well on his way to fouling less.

3-pointers

Goga has made just 24% of his three-pointers this season. Last season he made 19%. Those marks are foul. Luckily for him, these numbers are unlikely to be representative of his perimeter shooting ability. Over the past two seasons, Goga has gotten less than one three-point look per game.

As a young first-round pick, he will likely be given a longer leash (more attempts) with which to develop his shot. In fact, Goga has shot more three-pointers per game in each successive calendar month this season and made a higher percentage each full month too. Goga’s shooting form is balanced, fluid and simple with a high release point. Fundamentally, this is not a 24% shooter.

As he improves his perimeter shooting, Goga’s scoring numbers should only increase. Since he already scores at a starter-level per minute, if he shoots more consistently he will become a serious weapon for Indiana.

Moving Forward

As a rookie, Goga often looked out of place and slow-footed. This year, he belongs. Currently, Indiana sits 9th in the east. Making the playoffs is far from guaranteed for the blue and gold. Historically, developing young players is not associated with immediate wins. With Goga’s starter-level scoring, borderline ridiculous shot-blocking ability, and generally solid defense, developing him and winning may not be so mutually exclusive. Whether this season or soon, Goga’s time is coming.

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