Years Pro: 3
Status: Entering final year of rookie contract.
Key Stats: Averaged career-best 7 points and 3.5 rebounds over 50 games (16 starts). Shot 52 percent from field and 28.8 percent from 3-point range.
Opportunity has always been the operative word when it comes to Goga Bitadze's time in Indiana. For most of his three seasons with the Blue & Gold, the 18th overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft has been stuck behind Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner on the depth chart.
That finally changed in the second half of the 2021-22 season after the franchise dealt Sabonis to Sacramento in a blockbuster move at the trade deadline and as Turner sat out the second half of the season with a foot injury.
That opened the door for Bitadze to receive consistent playing time and the 22-year-old out of the Republic of Georgia made the most of his opportunity, battling through his own nagging ailments to put up strong numbers to close the season.
Bitadze's overall averages for the season may appear pedestrian at 7 points and 3.5 rebounds per game (still career highs), but a deeper glance shows how productive he really was when he got an extended opportunity.
PHOTO GALLERY: Goga Bitadze's 2021-22 Season in Photos »
With Sabonis and Turner both healthy for the first few months of the season, Bitadze saw sparse playing time, logging double-digit minutes just seven times over Indiana's first 43 games.
Injuries to both big men opened up the first real opportunity of the season for Bitadze on the team's West Coast road trip in mid-January. He scored 17 points and eight rebounds off the bench at the Clippers on Jan. 17, then tallied 13 points, nine boards, and five assists in his first start of the season three nights later, helping the undermanned Pacers knock off Golden State. He recorded a double-double the next game in Phoenix and ultimately scored in double figures in five of six games before being sidelined with a right foot injury.
That foot injury would continue to linger throughout the season, causing him to miss a total of 14 games, but he played through it as best he could. Bitadze told media after the season that he had some nerve damage and the pain levels fluctuated from day to day, but he was still able to play on days where the pain was more manageable.
You wouldn't have known it was even bothering him judging by how he closed the season. Bitadze reached double figures in 10 straight games from March 6 - April 1, averaging 15.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks while shooting 60.4 percent from the field and 43.3 percent from 3-point range over that span.
Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images
He scored 20 points on 7-of-7 shooting (3-of-3 from beyond the arc) on March 6 at Washington and tallied 20 points on 9-of-12 shooting and nine rebounds against Sacramento on March 23. His best game in his strong closing stretch came in a win at Houston on March 18, where Bitadze dropped a career-best 23 points on 9-of-9 shooting (3-of-3 from 3-point range) to go along with nine boards, three assists, three steals, and a block. He came up big down the stretch, tying the game with a dunk with 1:05 to play and then scoring the go-ahead basket with 19.2 seconds to play.
For Bitadze, it was an uplifting way to finish the season, validating all his hard work and his patience over his first three NBA seasons.
"I think I've matured as a basketball player and as an athlete," Bitadze said in his end-of-season media availability. "(I've learned to) take care of my body, be ready for anything...wait for my opportunity and just stay consistent with my work."
One of the allures of Bitadze's game has always been his potential to stretch the floor. He has a great looking stroke for a big man, but it hadn't translated for most of his career. He shot just 23.1 percent from 3-point range over his first two seasons and struggled even more to start the 2021-22 campaign, starting the year 6-for-40 from beyond the arc. He rebounded well, however, knocking down 42.5 percent of his long-range attempts from February on, finally flashing the ability scouts have always identified in him.
Though his primary position is center, Bitadze did also log a few minutes at power forward earlier in the season. Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle found some success slotting Bitadze at the four alongside Sabonis in the early months of the year, opening the door for Bitadze to potentially share the floor with Turner or Isaiah Jackson next season.
As he heads into the final season of his rookie contract, Bitadze has a busy summer planned on the court. He will initially take some time off to allow his foot to properly heal, but will be back in Georgia for much of the offseason, representing his national team in two major campaigns. First up will be qualification games for the 2023 FIBA World Cup in August, followed by the EuroBasket continental championship in September, where Georgia is one of four host countries.
If Bitadze can play in those competitions at the same level he did to close the season, he could turn some heads on the international stage and come into training camp next season with some serious momentum.
2022 Pacers.com Player Review Schedule
April 18: Tyrese Haliburton
April 19: Buddy Hield
April 20: Chris Duarte
April 21: Isaiah Jackson
April 22: Oshae Brissett
April 23: Malcolm Brogdon
April 24: Goga Bitadze
April 25: Myles Turner
April 26: Duane Washington Jr.
April 27: T.J. McConnell
April 28: Jalen Smith
April 29: Lance Stephenson
April 30: Terry Taylor