Goga Bitadze arrived in Orlando shortly after the trade deadline ready for a fresh start. More than anything, he was ready to prove himself and get an opportunity.
Somewhat forgotten in the Indiana Pacers’ rotation, Bitadze struggled to find playing time. He just needed an opportunity to play. He needed consistency.
That was never guaranteed even after he signed with the Orlando Magic. The team had Wendell Carter and Moe Wagner filling out the rotation. Bitadze was going to have to make the most of the opportunity when it arrived.
That was Bitadze’s attitude. And when that chance came, he delivered in a big way.
His size and his inside presence were clear benefits to the team. When the Magic needed a defensive lift off the bench, coach Jamahl Mosley constantly turned to Goga Bitadze. It is safe to say he made the most of his chance.
The final games for the Orlando Magic have been all about opportunity. The players on the team have to take advantage of whatever chances they get even in this less-than-ideal situation.
He averaged 5.9 points per game and 5.0 rebounds per game in 14.6 minutes per game in 16 appearances for the Magic. He earned his first start Friday night against the Brooklyn Nets and delivered in a big way with 12 points and 15 rebounds, including five offensive rebounds.
It is safe to say Bitadze has taken advantage of this opportunity. He has taken advantage of playing time at every corner. Including in this moment at the end of the season when the team is putting its focus on playing its end-of-bench players and giving opportunities to everyone on the roster.
"“I’m just trying to go out there and show everyone I’m going to give 100 percent every time I step on the court, crash the glass, making the right decisions and right plays and set good screens for my teammates,” Bitadze said after Friday’s loss. “I think people see that. They respect that. I get playing time and it pays off.”"
Bitadze stood out in the Magic’s 101-84 loss to the Nets not simply because he was the lone player who was scoring and playing efficiently. He stood out because he played his role as the team’s defensive backstop and then some. He did his role and more, which is really what is required to still compete.
And that is what the Magic have struggled to do the last two games.
Yes, players are in roles that they are perhaps not suited for or comfortable with. Yes, the games have taken on the feeling of preseason games with lots of turnovers and fouls as lineups try to figure each other out in real time.
The results of these games do not matter. What will matter is whether these players who otherwise get so little playing time can shine on the stage they are given. It is whether they will play their roles and show how they can contribute.
When coaches say it is about the process over results, this is what they mean. These are the moments, when a team is undermanned, that the process matters more. It is about doing the right things and still holding to the team’s principles. At this stage, mistakes are expected, it is still about learning from them.
The Magic galvanized themselves some to cut a 24-point deficit to 10 in the fourth quarter. But it is hard to glean much even as the coaching staff tries to get a look at a few players and a few lineups.
"“It’s great to get a look at it,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Friday’s loss. “To see what things work for us, what we can continue to improve on. The ability for these guys to compete no matter who steps onto the floor, that’s one thing we want to see continue with that group.”"
That is how Bitadze has stood out. The question for the Magic — far more important than whether the team wins or loses considering the circumstances — is who will show out and take advantage of this chance.
Bitadze has done that by providing solid interior defense and good low-post play. He has not tried to do that much more than what he was doing anyway. He is just doing it better.
What has stood out in these last two games is how few other players have stood out who are outside of the rotation.
Chuma Okeke got his first real playing time since November and has struggled to show significant progress. He has scored seven total points in 56 minutes in the last two games, making just 3 of 15 shots. Okeke’s poor shooting has been the thing holding him back even with his strong defensive instincts.
Caleb Houstan has gotten some long looks throughout the year too as the team’s second-round pick. But he has struggled to crystallize anything in these last two games, scoring a total of 11 points on 4-for-12 shooting and 3-for-10 shooting from deep.
Bol Bol has gone up and down throughout the season. He has slowly phased out of the rotation as the season has gotten more serious. His return these last two games have featured a similarly mixed bag with Bol showing the unique scoring ability he has but also how he forces action and tries to do too much.
That may be the greatest problem for the roster as it is currently stated and the groups the Magic are currently playing. There is no general creator and no one who has proven they can step up and initiate actions to get the team moving. Everyone is doing something uncomfortable — and the Magic’s starters who did play were also protecting themselves some too.
It is hard to learn much of anything from these games for that reason. It does just feel like the team is playing out the string — with all the Lottery implications involved in it.
But these are still games. They are still opportunities to learn and to improve. And that should not be forgotten or given up so easily.
The Magic may not win these games, but they need to find a way to stand out. They need to find a way to gain something from the experience. They need to make the most of this opportunity because so many players may not get another chance. They have to find a way to stand out.
That is what Bitadze has done this season. That is what has stood out about him. He has made his place and made a positive impact with all of his minutes regardless of the situation or personnel.
And that might be the final lesson to impart this season.