The most famous moment for Goga Bitadze happened at the NBA Draft in 2019. But it is pretty indicative of his tenure in the NBA so far.
Bitadze was the guy in the famous photo from that week, sitting alone at a table in front of a blue curtain while the horde of media surrounded Zion Williamson at the table next to him. The contrast was pretty stunning with Bitadze even looking over to see what the buzz was for.
Some of the attention was certainly fair. Bitadze would become the 19th pick in the draft while Williamson was the runaway first overall pick, and even with his litany of injury issues an NBA All-Star.
Bitadze’s career to this point has played out like that photo though. He has been in the background, trying to scratch for his opportunity but struggling to find it. It has not been easy for him as the Indiana Pacers have never really gave him a clear and prominent role.
Goga Bitadze has not really gotten his opportunity so far in the NBA. He has struggled to establish his role. With the Orlando Magic, he needs to find his way to stand out.
As the Indiana Pacers participated in the musical chairs of last week’s trade deadline, they cut their former first-round pick to make room for a player acquired in a trade. The Magic scooped up Goga Bitadze earlier this week to help bolster their center position after trading Mo Bamba at the deadline. Maybe a new atmosphere and environment can help Bitadze make his mark.
Bitadze does not have a lot of numbers to his name.
He has played in only 21 games this season, averaging 3.3 points per game and 2.1 rebounds per game in 9.6 minutes per game. He has played only nine games with more than 10 minutes this season. His season-best game came when he scored 14 points and 15 rebounds and four assists in a win over the Detroit Pistons on Oct. 22.
The 2022 season was his best season, averaging 7.0 points per game and 3.5 rebounds per game, playing 14.6 minutes per game across 50 games and 16 starts. He averaged 13.1 points per game and 5.4 rebounds per game in his 16 starts, playing 25.2 minutes per game.
As is the case with any player, opportunity leads to counting stats. Players will produce when they get the time. But that has been exceedingly rare.
Bitadze does not have a lot of time on the floor to build a solid profile. A few things are worth noting though.
This year, Bitadze averages 6.5 screen assists per 75 possessions. He averaged 4.0 screen assists per 75 possessions last year, sitting in the 86th percentile last year. His size and his screening ability are probably his best NBA skills. That was evident even in his draft prep.
He also shoots 67.7 percent at the rim this year following up on a 71.4 percent shooting last year. He just is not taking a ton of shots — in the post or otherwise.
Bitadze is also a solid rebounder, especially on the offensive glass. He averages 4.5 offensive rebounds per 75 possessions (good for the 95th percentile in the league) and rates positively in grabbing contested offensive rebounds and offensive rebound positioning.
It was the same story last year when he averaged 4.0 offensive rebounds per 75 possessions and ranked in the 89th percentile in offensive rebound talent according to Basketball-Index.
Defensively, he is grading well too. On the small volume this year, opponents are shooting 7.9 percentage points worse than expected and he blocks 1.8 shots per 75 possessions, according to Basketball-Index. Opponents shot 2.7 percentage points worse at the rim last year against Bitadze.
Those are all positive signs for Bitadze and a sign of his potential and talent. It just has not all come together for him. And he has not gotten any extended playing time.
Maybe he is successful because of the matchups he has played in and the limited minutes. And nothing has scaled up for him.
But this is the constant theme of his career so far. A player who has the physical tools and the potential to make a mark. But someone who has often been overlooked.
Even in our draft prep — with the Orlando Magic holding the 16th overall pick (they would end up surprising everyone by taking Chuma Okeke) — we did not really address Bitadze at all. Some of that might have been the team having Nikola Vucevic and taking Mo Bamba in the previous year’s draft. But Bitadze has struggled to make his mark or get a real opportunity.
This year, Goga Bitadze has been behind veteran stalwart Myles Turner and Isaiah Jackson. It is not exactly a ringing endorsement that Bitadze has not at least nailed the backup minutes. Especially after Daniel Theis’ early season injury.
A new opportunity will help Bitadze. But the opportunities in Orlando will also likely be sparse.
Mo Bamba was not playing as Moe Wagner took over the backup center minutes. The Magic have the flexibility and versatility too to try out players like Paolo Banchero and Jonathan Isaac at the 5 too.
Those may be few and far between for now, but the Magic added Bitadze as an emergency center option. It is not likely he will be able to break through into the rotation.
But that is the opportunity Bitadze is waiting for. The one that he struggled to grasp or get in his four seasons in Indiana.
Bitadze has been overshadowed and fighting for scraps. He has never really taken advantage fully of the limited opportunities he has gotten. It could well be that this was bad luck or the wrong fit. It could be a key lesson Bitadze needs now that he gets a second look with a new team.
Even as just a third center for the Magic, he has a role to play. And it looks like one he should be able to fill when he gets his chance.