Indiana Pacers – B+
18th Overall – Goga Bitazde, Center (Georgia)
In step one of their impending makeover, the Indiana Pacers made just one pick in the 2019 NBA Draft and they made it a good one. With the 18th overall pick, they took international center, Goga Bitazde from Georgia. The big man has been playing professionally overseas since 2015 and at 19 years old he has shown that he is good and ready to play at the highest level of basketball. The Pacers frontcourt duo of Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis have yet to find the ability to play together for stretches but they still aren’t able to be good enough on their own. Adding Bitazde gives them another piece to try and see if he can be a better fit alongside one or both players.
Bitazde enters the NBA as a decorated player. In 2018 he was a Junior Adriatic League champion, won Junior Adriatic League MVP, and made All-Junior Adriatic League Team. This year he followed up that with these honors and trophies: EuroLeague Rising Star, Montenegrin Cup winner, Serbian Super League MVP, Adriatic League MVP, All-Adriatic League Team, Adriatic League Top Prospect, and Adriatic League blocks leader. The talent is there now Indiana just needs to figure out where and when to play him and they’ll be looking like geniuses for getting Bitazde all the way at the 18th overall pick.
A reason for the Pacers only holding on to one pick last night s that they too are looking to be major players in free agency. Victor Oladipo is reportedly ahead of schedule in his rehab—could return to action by December—and without him, Indiana managed to hang on to home court advantage as they finished as the fourth seed in a much improved Eastern Conference last season. They’re reportedly very interested in bringing Ricky Rubio abroad as their next starting point guard. IF that does happen and they re-sign Bogdan Bogdanovic this off-season the international flavor will help Bitazde as he transitions into America.
Indiana has a chance to be one of the East’s top teams next season especially if Boston, Philadelphia, or Toronto sees some of their top talents opt to play elsewhere next year. Getting a player like Bitazde was their first move to sustaining their spot at the top now comes the harder part, getting players to sign as free agents.