Goga Bitadze learns quickly since joining Orlando Magic

Goga Bitadze joined the Orlando Magic with hopes of building his playing record. But he has jumped right in and made his mark. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
Goga Bitadze joined the Orlando Magic with hopes of building his playing record. But he has jumped right in and made his mark. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports /

There is still a bit of, “Who is this guy?” when No. 35 on the Orlando Magic enters the court.

Goga Bitadze was a former first-round pick, but played sparingly in his years with the Indiana Pacers. As a late-season signing on an Orlando Magic team with postseason aspirations but increasingly dwindling hopes of making the long climb into 10th place, Bitadze was going to fly under the radar.

Especially considering when healthy, and in his first few games with the team, Bitadze was out of the rotation. He was there for emergencies — like Wendell Carter’s three-game absence with hip pain that pushed the Magic’s third center into the lineup.

It is a whirlwind joining a new team midseason. Even with the league running many of the same sets across teams on both ends — although the terminology can become different — it is a challenge to jump right into a new team.

The best way to do that is, of course, to play and prove your worth on the court. And in his early games, that is what Bitadze appears to be doing.

Goga Bitadze has jumped right in joining a new team and has made an impact with the Orlando Magic in an impressive way.

He is proving he can pick up things quickly and make an impact with his new team. And his new team has helped him integrate with the team too.

"“They make it easy for me to adjust — coaches, players and teammates,” Bitadze said after shootaround before the Orlando Magic’s loss to the Utah Jazz. “They make it really easy for me during the practices and during the games. Me as well asking questions and having them explaining all this stuff. It’s not this easy to adjust this quickly, but they make it easy for me. Slowly but surely, I’m going to go through it and I’m going to be 100 percent.”"

Bitadze is averaging 5.6 points per game and 4.6 rebounds per game in 12.2 minutes per game across five appearances since signing with the Magic.

Included in there is a 12-point, eight-rebound effort in Tuesday’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks as well as some other impressive rebounding games — he had six boards in his debut game against the Indiana Pacers and three offensive rebounds Thursday against the Utah Jazz to follow up a five offensive-rebound performance against the Bucks.

Bitadze is notable in his play because of the energy he brings. He puts himself in a great position to rebound and is adept at scoring around the rim.

It is easy to see his contributions to the team. Even if they are not the ones defined by the traditional counting stats.

That has certainly rubbed off on his teammates too.

"“I think that’ sour mindset for the whole team,” Markelle Fultz said after shootaround Thursday. “For a guy who just got traded and picked up, I think he has done an unbelievable job of giving himself to the team and trying to do whatever he can to impact winning. The easiest way to do that is to communicate while you are out there. He had a great impact crashing, setting great screens and scoring the ball. It was good to see that.”"

Bitadze is noted for his screening already.

NBA.com’s hustle stats have Bitadze with eight screen assists through five games. That puts him well behind Wendell Carter’s 3.9 per game, but it is a good start, especially with how limited his playing time is.

It is these little things that will help Bitadze build his playing time and his reputation on this team.

Players have already noted Bitadze’s communication on defense and how he has engaged with the team on that end. It is easy to see during a game how much Bitadze is communicating with teammates and at times directing others as much as they are making sure he is in the right place.

This is an easy way to learn the defensive scheme and ingratiate himself with new teammates. It helps too that Bitadze has mixed it up and dove right in, making an impact one way or another in his limited playing time.

"“He has a very high basketball IQ,” Mosley said after shootaround Thursday. “I think he does a very good job recognizing coverages defensively, knowing when and where to be in certain spots so he does a great job rebounding the basketball. We are trying to keep it as simple as possible.”"

The Magic have tried to keep things simple for him too. That is necessary with any new player. Bitadze estimated he had about 95 percent of the playbook time, a sign of his confidence and his basketball IQ to get things down. His play seems to confirm that number with how well he has played and the positive moments he has made.

Fans were clamoring for Bitadze to close Thursday’s game after the team struggled to gather rebounds late in the game. It is a sign of confidence that Mosley played Bitadze for nearly a full quarter straight between the third and fourth quarters.

That is a sign of approval if anything else is.

The rest of this season for Bitadze is certainly about him showing his worth with whatever time he has on the floor. He has shown his willingness to do whatever is called for. That is all you can ask for from a player in Bitadze’s position.

"“I think I follow the instructions of the coach,” Bitadze said after shootaround Thursday. “I can play from the outside and from the inside, I can crash the glass, set good screens and make winning plays. Whatever coach wants me to do, I’m going to do it. That’s who I am and the type of player I am.”"

The Magic have done a good job in their history finding players who just needed a chance. They have not always been able to give a full chance. And Bitadze may again fade to the background with Carter looking ready to play Saturday against the Miami Heat.

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But he has made his impact already. He has picked things up quickly. And the Magic can already rely on him.