As the first pre-season game came and went, so did Goga Bitadze’s first on court reps since May of this year. Bitadze was a little jittery and clunky on offense, but started to find his footing against the Knicks, flashing his defensive awareness and mobility, along with his chops as a rim protector. While his discipline and timing are still coming along, the strides he’s made on that end have been noteworthy over the past two seasons.
However, if Goga is going to secure a real rotation spot and defined minutes, the consistency needs to be there offensively. Goga’s shot looks good, but he’s hit just 23.1% of his 121 threes taken in his career (He went 1 of 3 last night canning one from right above the break).
Pritchard on Goga: "He’s in the best shape of his life. I think Rick (Carlisle)( really wants for him to become more agile. We saw him as a shot-blocker, but he’s got to start making some shots."— Scott Agness (@ScottAgness) September 27, 2021
Pacers President of Basketball Operations, Kevin Pritchard, made a great point in media day on how Bitadze has come along defensively and also with his offense. I am right there with KP, the offense needs to be better from Goga. His spacing and court awareness need work. He needs to improve his screening and ability to operate in DHO’s. He’s shown flashes as pick-and-roll finisher. The shot needs to hit from outside with consistency.
We know what Goga needs to improve upon and we’ve known that for some time now. The real question; When is he going to get consistent opportunities to develop those skills?
Drafted 18th overall in 2019 and considered a lottery talent by many, you would not guess that simply based on opportunities compared to his peers in that class. Goga is 33rd in total minutes played and 38th in minutes per game amongst players who have played 40 games or more. In just less than half of his career games played, he’s seen the court for double digit minutes. Goga has missed some time due to injury, but still ranks 18th in the draft class in games played (99).
Goga Bitadze’s start to his career has been anything but advantageous. He’s never played in summer league due to Visa issues his rookie year, then the pandemic his second year, and personal matters kept him from playing in Vegas this summer. With Rick Carlisle now at the helm, Goga is playing for his third coach in three seasons. He was drafted to a team that already starts two centers and struggles to balance their shared minutes and team construction around them.
Isaiah Jackson, drafted this off-season, has seemingly already supplanted Bitadze in the rotation, and has been lauded by both Rick Carlisle and the front office. This is not a dig at Jackson, rather just a confounding development when trying to parse through the potential playing time for Goga. If the organization believes Jackson can contribute early, as indicated during availability and recent interviews, that’s fantastic and getting him those reps is huge. He impressed during Summer League and had bright spots against the Knicks last night. But, what is the plan for Goga?
Many fans have pointed to TJ Leaf as a comparison for Goga and there isn’t much basis for that. Goga has shown more as an NBA player than Leaf did with relatively similar opportunities across their first two seasons. Bitadze dominated G League competition during his six game stint in Fort Wayne during the 2020 season. He’s proven his ability to play defense against NBA competition and made meaningful strides on that end.
If Goga Bitadze is going to become a consistent positive offensive contributor, he’s going to need a consistent role in the rotation. While minutes and starts aren’t everything, a prospect needs stability in their environment, expectations, and opportunities to rep out mistakes. It’s past the point where it’s fair to question whether or not the Indiana Pacers have been a good developmental scenario for Bitadze.
I’m much less concerned about whether or not Goga will get a chance to start long-term, is there even a way in which he can become the backup center and get 15 minutes a night? When given a consistent stretch of double-digit rotation minutes, Bitadze has been at his best.
From November 11th to the 27th during the 19-20 season, both Turner and Sabonis missed games and Bitadze produced: He played 17.6 minutes per game across 10 games, was efficient with a 58.3% true-shooting, and shot 36.4% from deep on just over one per game. He also had some positive moments in the bubble as well with Sabonis out due to a stress fracture in his foot, but didn’t log any playoff minutes against the Heat.
This past season during a 16 game stretch from March into April, with both Domas and Myles missing time, Goga produced at a solid clip again: 14 minutes per game, 34.3% from three on over two per game, and scoring right around league average (56.6% TS). He struggled with his efficiency from the field overall and from three in a stretch to close the season, with the caveat that this was right when things hit the fan during the Kings game and with the team in general. It’s tough to take away much from any player on the roster during the final 8 games.
Point being, when Goga Bitadze gets consistent run, he’s more likely to give consistent play and production. It’s not easy to hit more shots when he doesn’t typically get a chance to take many.
Goga’s development thus far doesn’t fall solely on the front office or coaching staff. As mentioned above, untimely injuries and outside factors contributing to him missing key opportunities with the team hurts their chances to develop him as well. That struggle to find consistency is a two-way street in some regards.
For a team that has struggled to find out how to optimize the pieces they’ve put together, and more importantly, IF they want to optimize some of them, Goga is another player cog in the roster that doesn’t quite get to operate at at full machination.
Considering recent comments made by Rick Carlisle wanting to stagger the Turner/Sabonis pairing, it’s tough to see any scenario where Goga fits in when the roster is at full capacity. With how oft injured this team tends to be though, it wouldn’t at all be surprising to see Goga get a bigger opportunity, but it’s hard to bank on that, nor do you want to. So while he’s on the outside looking in, he needs to stay ready to fill any 6’11 void Indiana is faced with.