As of yesterday, the Georgian big man and Orlando’s Chuma Okeke were the only remaining unsigned first-round picks. Delayed while awaiting visa approval, Bitadze was also unable to participate at Summer League in Las Vegas, but Kevin Pritchard expressed confidence on draft night that the 19-year-old’s overseas professional experience will translate to NBA-readiness.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt he can play next year,” Pritchard said. “What you have to understand is the league he plays in, and also the EuroLeague, is a league of men. That’s a no joke league. It’s better than a G-League. It’s a higher level, across the board, than a good college team. He’s getting it done against high-level players and high-level adults.”
With Domantas Sabonis expected to start at four, Bitadze will slot into the rotation at back-up center, but he could also perhaps create some intriguing combinations playing alongside either of Indiana’s starting big men.
“He’s becoming a better shooter,” Pritchard said of Bitadze, who shot 40 percent from three on an average of 1.7 attempts across all games in all leagues with both KK Mega Bemax and Buducnost. “He’s becoming a better roll guy, dive guy. He’s got really good hands. Some people think he’s a little like (Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic), but I think he plays more above the rim. Some of the things we value is toughness and he’s going to come in and compete. He’s really long. He affects the game above the rim. When we set our defense, if you ask (assistant coach) Dan Burke, the No. 1 thing is a shot blocker, so we value that, we really value that.”
Projected as a floor-spacing, screen-and-roll, shot-blocker, the Pacers could combat some of those pesky cross-matches from last season head on by trotting out lineups with two rim protectors and two stretch bigs without giving up size in groupings featuring Turner and Bitadze, and they could also potentially get a boost in spatial awareness without sacrificing interior defense when the EuroLeague Rising Star Award winner is paired with Sabonis. Absent internal development and scheme changes, those duos won’t be as stretchy, skilled, or experienced as Philly’s double-center units, but they’ll give the Pacers plenty of non-conformist options for those moments when they’re weary of downsizing, as well as a back-up plan in the event that they opt to flip either Turner or (more likely) Sabonis at some point down the line.
Per Early Bird Rights, Bitadze will earn approximately $13.6 million over his first four seasons with the Pacers, with a first-year salary of $2.8 million and team options in years three and four.
Pending the official signings of Edmond Sumner and T.J. McConnell, Indiana’s standard roster stands at 13, two spots shy of the league maximum.
Unless other additions loom on the horizon, next up on the docket for the Pacers in terms of roster management is negotiating on a possible rookie extension with Sabonis and arriving at a decision on the fourth-year team option for T.J. Leaf.