Charlotte Hornets

If Hornets are looking to stretch defenses, Goga Bitadze has an intriguing skill

Goga Bitadze’s Charlotte Hornets draft workout

Georgian Center Goga Bitadze on his NBA draft workout with Charlotte Hornets.
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Georgian Center Goga Bitadze on his NBA draft workout with Charlotte Hornets.

Old-school NBA centers — the ones who strayed out of the lane only to run from one end of the court to the other — are out of vogue these days.

Guys like Georgian Goga Bitadze are what’s replacing them.

Bitadze, 19, played professionally in Montenegro last season. He is 6-foot-11 and averaged 6.4 rebounds and 2.3 blocks, so he can do conventional center things. However, in averaging 13.9 points he also made 40 percent of his 3-pointers.

His stroke from outside the 3-point line during a Charlotte Hornets workout Tuesday showed he’s comfortable as a long-range shooter.

That’s the way the NBA is headed. Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak doesn’t publicly review individual players headed into the draft. But Friday, speaking about the general evolution of the NBA, Kupchak said, “The game has changed just a little bit, but I think there are a couple of big men who can play the way the game is played today.”

Charlotte Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak discusses the positional depth less than a week before the 2019 NBA Draft.

Bitadze would qualify for that. Depending on how Thursday night’s draft breaks, he could be under consideration when the Hornets select 12th overall.

Tuesday’s workout was the last for both Bitadze and the Hornets, who held about 20 of these group auditions in the past five weeks. The other teams for which Bitadze worked out: San Antonio Spurs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons.

It’s interesting the Spurs and Hornets were in that small group. San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich has had great success with Europeans who play a more flowing offensive style where big men aren’t restricted to the lane. Hornets coach James Borrego worked as a Spurs assistant for about a decade.

Borrego embraces big men being factors at the 3-point line.

Bitadze said he benefited from early coaching in the former Soviet republic of Georgia that let him explore a perimeter game.

“My coaches always pushed me to play from the outside,” Bitadze said. “To do all kinds of stuff on the court, not just big-man stuff in the paint. Be able to play free.”

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How does that blend with the NBA game?

“I think it fits. How the game is evolving,” Bitadze said. “For a big man to be able to shoot the ball and stretch the floor. I can do that and I can adjust.”

Bitadze sounded a little star-struck by who owns the Hornets.

“It’s Michael Jordan’s team. It’s an amazing honor to play here,” he said. “And the head coach (Borrego), I really respect him.”

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