The Indiana Pacers selected Georgian big man Goga Bitadze with the No. 18 pick in the 2019 NBA draft.
Born in Sagarejo, Bitadze started playing basketball professionally with VITA Tbilisi in the VTB United League. In 2015, he moved to Serbian club Mega Basket and was loaned to Serbian League team Smederevo 1953 in the following year.
Bitadze was named most valuable player (MVP) of the Junior ABA League in 2017-18 and became a key player for the senior team, averaging veraged 11.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game through 22 games.
At the end of 2018, Bitadze was loaned to Budućnost in Montenegro and was named EuroLeague Rising Star for the 2018–19 season. He averaged 12.1 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in 13 games.
SI NBA draft expert Jeremy Woo’s breakdown: Bitadze is pretty clearly the most polished big man in the draft, and comes off a breakout year overseas at the ripe age of 19. Noting his statistical productivity at a high level already, it’s easy to project him evolving into a useful player, although there will be hurdles for him to clear against more athletic competition. Bitadze is more of a traditional five, with natural scoring ability around the basket, good feel and surprising mobility and shot-blocking skills for his size. Defensively, he won’t be a plus operating in space, but he’s estimably closer to NBA-ready than most right now. If his jump shot stretches to three-point range consistently, it should go a long way toward helping him stay on the floor.
Woo's Grade: A
Bitadze is the most NBA-ready big man in this draft, and while he doesn’t directly fill a need for the Pacers here, this pick is all about value. He could be an immediate contributor off the bench for them, combining skill, size and toughness in a package that profiles well at the NBA level. Concerns about his athleticism are a bit overblown. This is a shrewd choice by Indiana.