2023 Orlando Magic Player Evaluations: Goga Bitadze took advantage of his chance

Goga Bitadze has taken advantage of every opportunity for the Orlando Magic to end the season. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Goga Bitadze has taken advantage of every opportunity for the Orlando Magic to end the season. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /

Opportunity is everything in the NBA.

Being a first-round pick does not guarantee a chance. It is always something that gets earned. And teams try to help their young players have pathways to playing, but still opportunity can be fleeting and brief.

And when the moment passes, if a player does not take advantage of it and earn more opportunities, it can disappear quickly.

Sometimes that is out of a young player’s control. Sometimes the team is simply too deep at the spot and the window closes tight. Sometimes injuries prevent a player from every getting off the ground. Sometimes coaching changes shift expectations, roles and needs.

A little bit of everything led to a disappointing three years for Goga Bitadze with the Indiana Pacers. Their goals shifted several times when he joined. That always imminent trade of Myles Turner never materialized. And Bitadze never could break through.

His brief moment of playing time with the Pacers during the 2022 season where he averaged 7.0 points per game showed glimpses of his ability. But it was not enough.

Goga Bitadze landed with the Orlando Magic hoping for an opportunity and give the team some needed interior depth. He made the most of it and carved a future perhaps with the team.

In the end, the Pacers cut Goga Bitadze to make room for Serge Ibaka in cost-cutting trade for several parties. Ibaka never played for the Pacers either.

That created a new opportunity for Bitadze. And that is truly the word that matters for a player like Bitadze. He needed a chance. And when that chance came, he could not let it get away from him.

So when the Orlando Magic signed the center out of the Republic of Georgia that is all he needed — an opportunity. The Magic were seeking some rim protection and a third center to improve their depth after trading Mo Bamba.

Orlando seemed set at center though and so Bitadze would have to force his way into the rotation. He needed a chance. And he needed to take advantage of that chance.

But that is exactly what Bitadze did. In his 17 games in Orlando, Bitadze impressed giving the team something it was lacking from its bench and showing enough potential to make the team ask questions.

The end of the season for Orlando saw the team balancing its own development needs with its desire to try to make a push for the postseason and play meaningful basketball. That often put coach Jamahl Mosley in a difficult position to figure out what his team needed for each specific game.

Bitadze made Mosley have to consider this difficult choice every night because Bitadze stepped up. He made the most of his opportunity. And it is easier to see Bitadze’s fit with the Magic in the near future.

In his 17 games for the Magic, Bitadze averaged 5.8 points per game and 5.2 rebounds per game in 15.0 minutes per game. Nobody should be writing home about those stats. But his production was still evident.

He averaged 13.8 points per 36 minutes, 12.4 rebounds per 36 minutes and 2.3 blocks per 36 minutes. Furthermore, the Magic had a 104.8 defensive rating with Goga Bitadze on the floor, the second-best mark on the team for the season and after he joined the Magic trailing only Jonathan Isaac.

All of those stats can be a bit deceiving for sure. The sample size is so small. But it was plenty clear too that the Magic could rely on Bitadze for solid interior defense.

And that led to the Magic having to decide every game whether they should lean on Goga Bitadze and his defensive presence or Moe Wagner and his offensive versatility each game.

Making that decision even more pressing was that Wagner was playing legitimately well in what was a fantastic season for him overall.

This just gets back to the larger point with Bitadze though.

Bitadze needed a chance to show he belonged. He needed to display what his path in the NBA might be. He had to show he belonged on the court in meaningful ways.

That is what Bitadze did in his short time with the Magic. He proved to be an interesting and improving player. His toughness and physicality in the paint were something the Magic needed and valued.

In other words, it gave the Magic something they did not really have before. Wagner had a stellar season and filled in well for the team. But his shortcomings defensively were always present. As Orlando started to establish itself more as the season ended as a strong defensive unit, Bitadze’s skills became more valuable.

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Bitadze is still a bit limited offensively. He never really developed or showed the 3-point range that the Pacers tried to get out of him. Orlando never asked him to do that.

Instead, the Magic focused his skills on rebounding and defending. His offensive output was largely limited to working the offensive glass and short post-ups and hook shots. He certainly can do a bit more offensively.

But Orlando tailored a role for his success. The team focused on what he was clearly good at and what the team desperately needed to stay competitive.

That is what will leave the Magic in a tough position this offseason.

Orlando could probably use an upgrade at the backup center spot rather than bouncing back and forth between Wagner and Bitadze. That likely means the Magic have a choice to make between the two free-agent big men. It will become a statement of what the team values.

Or maybe this is a false choice and the Magic are comfortable going with the duo as the backup center and picking the right one or leaning on both if Wendell Carter has to miss games.

A-. . C. Orlando Magic. GOGA BITADZE

But while that is something to consider this offseason, success for Goga Bitadze was putting the Orlando Magic in a position to make this decision.

Bitadze played so well that he forced his way into consideration for the Magic and their future plans. He did enough at least to earn consideration for a future with the team, even if it is still in a small role. His 17-game sprint with the Magic at least should have shown the rest of the league that he can play and contribute meaningfully.

That is all Bitadze needed to do. He needed the chance to play freely and show what he can do and how he can contribute.

He may not be living up to the hopes the Indiana Pacers had for him when they drafted him with the 18th pick in 2019. Maybe Bitadze needed the hard lesson of hungering for a chance to make the most of his second opportunity.

Bitadze is clearly talented enough to play in the NBA. He showed that with the consistent playing time he got in Orlando.

If the goal for Bitadze in Orlando was to take advantage of his opportunity and prove himself to his new team and the league, that was a clear mission accomplished.

Now comes the next part: Where does he fit with this team? What will his role be? Will there be room for him in this team’s future?

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Getting to those questions were important for Bitadze and spoke to how positive his play was for the team as a whole.