This year’s top European prospect is Goga Bitadze out of the small country of Georgia. Fittingly, the Hawks could make his new home in Georgia by snagging him with one of their three first-round selections. He fills a position of need for Atlanta and had his pre-draft workout today with the Hawks.
We saw Travis Schlenk pass up on possibly the best European prospect ever in Luka Doncic by trading him to the Mavericks. That might be a hint that he isn’t fond of European players, or he loved Trae Young and viewed Luka Doncic as a lottery ticket to land another top-ten pick out of it. I tend to believe it is the latter, but the distaste some GMs have towards European players is no secret.
Negatively, Bitadze is skinny and doesn’t have a massive wingspan for a player that is almost 7-feet tall. This resulted in a low rebound rate for a center. That will not get better as he transitions to the NBA unless he bulks ups – specifically in his lower body. He also committed way too many fouls in the EuroLeague, averaging nearly 3.6 per game, which equates to over five per 36 minutes. However, he was an elite shot blocker.
On the offensive side, there is a laundry list of positives. He’s hands-down the most skilled center in the draft, and that includes a healthy Bol Bol. Bitadze can give you a little bit of everything. He shot over 31% from three in the EuroLeague, and given the small sample size, I believe that number can be much higher in the NBA. In 2018, Bitadze shot 40% from behind the arc in 51 games between Mega Bemax and Budoncost.
He has a nice shooting touch from all around the floor. His midrange game has a little bit of Dirk Nowitzki to it. Although, it goes without saying, he needs a lot more work to catch up to the best European player ever. He can get to his spot on the floor, and at seven feet tall, his shot is virtually unblockable. Bitadze is not overly explosive, but he can play above the rim and is excellent at getting creative with his finishes.
Another thing that’s apparent with him is how well he can handle the ball for a center. Bitadze can run the floor and make the right decision. He proved to be an above-average passer for a player his size and rarely turned the ball over.
This year, Bitadze was awarded the EuroLeague Rising Star award, given to the best player under the age of 22. The award has only been in existence since 2004-2005 and features an impressive list of winners – Luka Doncic (twice), Bogdan Bogdanović (twice), Nikola Mirotić (twice), Ricky Rubio, and Danilo Gallinari.
The Hawks need a center. I’m not sure if John Collins can handle the load on the defensive side by himself. Bitadze is an instinctive shot blocker that fits in perfectly with what the Hawks do offensively. He runs the floor excellently and can shoot as well as any center in this class. Give him a year under Lloyd Pierce and this Hawks staff, and he will be the starting center when the Hawks are ready to compete in 2020.