INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indiana Pacers were so convinced center Goga Bitadze was a lottery pick that coach Nate McMillan didn’t even study his game tape.
So when he fell to No. 18, president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard pounced.
The Pacers selected the 6-foot-11, 245-pound European with their first pick in Thursday’s NBA draft, adding depth and size to a front line that may be undergoing a major summer overhaul.
“A lot of people had him as a top 10 or top 12 pick and when everyone saw he had an opportunity to fall to us, everyone in that room started going crazy,” McMillan said a few minutes after the selection was announced. “I didn’t study him because we didn’t think he’d fall to us but from the conversation in the room, he’s ready to play now.”
That’s good news for a team that has three starters — including both forwards — and five players who finished the season in the rotation about to become free agents.
Bitadze, a native of Georgia, logged 47 games last season playing in three different European leagues. He saw his most action in the Adriatic League where he averaged 14.0 points, 7.5 rebound and 1.7 blocks in 30 games.
But the Pacers view him as more than just a big man.
“He’s very similar to (Domantas) Sabonis because he’s a guy who can step out and shoot the ball, he can handle the ball, he’s a good passer and he definitely can defend the basket and block shots,” McMillan said.
And if he is ready to play, he could become a key answer to the many questions facing the Pacers as free agency begins.
Forwards Thaddeus Young and Bojan Bogdanović, point guards Darren Collison and Cory Joseph are all slated to hit the open market next week. So is Wesley Matthews, who started after signing with the Pacers following Victor Oladipo’s season-ending injury.
Oladipo continues to recover from a ruptured quad tendon in his right leg and the timeline for his return remains unclear. Director of player personnel Ryan Carr told reporters Monday he didn’t know if Oladipo was expected back for October’s season opener.
“He’s doing well, we know he’s doing well but I haven’t been told that,” McMillan said when asked if Oladipo may not return till January. “So for someone else to say January or the beginning of the season, that’s hard to know.,”
Clearly, Pritchard isn’t waiting to sort things out and the moves began even before commissioner Adam Silver started announcing names.
ESPN first reported Pritchard acquired forward T.J. Warren and a second-round pick, No. 32 overall, from Phoenix in exchange for cash. Phoenix clears up salary-cap space by sending the injury-prone Warren and his three-year, $35 million deal to Indiana, which gets a solid scorer with starting experience. Warren averaged 18.0 points and 4.0 rebounds in 43 games last season.