When Illinois’ basketball season abruptly ended this past March, we knew some significant roster changes were coming heading into 2021-22. Illini fans expected Ayo Dosunmu to move on to the NBA, and it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Kofi Cockburn would go pro, as well.
But a lot us were caught a bit off-guard when fan favorite Giorgi Bezhanishvili opted to forgo his senior season in Champaign and declare for the NBA Draft — it made sense that he would head overseas to play in Europe, especially since Giorgi hadn’t seen his family in nearly two full years...but the NBA? The 6-foot-9 forward was not on any watch lists, draft boards, or scouting reports. But he clearly impressed at least one team during the offseason, as the Denver Nuggets invited Bezhanishvili to their Summer League roster.
Now, on the verge of the regular season, Giorgi gets a chance to earn a real, actual, NBA contract.
OFFICIAL: We have signed Giorgi Bezhanishvili to an Exhibit 10 contract and have waived Matt Ryan. #MileHighBasketball pic.twitter.com/KlEPniQMEF— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) October 11, 2021
PF Giorgi Bezhanishvili has officially signed an Exhibit 10 contract with the Nuggets according to a league source. The rookie out of @IlliniMBB was on the Nuggets’ summer league squad.— Ohm Youngmisuk (@NotoriousOHM) October 10, 2021
You may be wondering — as I was — “What the heck is an Exhibit 10 contract?” Similar to a two-way contract, an Exhibit 10 player is assigned to the franchise’s G-League affiliate and receives a bonus if that player remains on the roster. Unlike a two-way contract, an Exhibit 10 is a non-guaranteed deal, and the NBA franchise can waive that player without incurring a salary cap hit.
Denver will retain Bezhanishvili’s G-League “rights” and he is eligible to get a maximum bonus of $50,000 if he manages to spend 60+ days with the Nuggets’ G-League affiliate, the Grand Rapids Gold. Denver could also convert the deal into a two-way contract if Giorgi shows out, which would pay him a higher salary than other G-League players.
If you’d have told me six months ago that Giorgi Bezhanishvili would be more likely to be on an NBA roster than Kofi Cockburn, I’d have tried to sell you some oceanfront property in Iowa. But Giorgi better fits the profile of the modern NBA player — long, athletic, versatile, high-motor. Bezhanishvili could also suit up alongside his idol, Nuggets center & reigning MVP Nikola Jokic.
Former #Illini Giorgi Bezhanishvili just shared this photo of him and reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokić.— Gavin Good (@itsallG_O_O_D) September 29, 2021
“From wearing his number in college to workout partners ” pic.twitter.com/lKSxJ2wq4G
Best of luck, Giorgi! Hopefully we’ll be seeing some buckets — and dance moves — in the NBA very soon.