One thing the Orlando Magic did not have a lot of heading into the 2024 season was depth at the center position. But now, heading into December, it seems like the Magic have discovered that they did but it never got a chance to rear its head.
That depth got tested when Wendell Carter went out with a broken bone in his left hand five games into the season. The Magic were going to have to rally without their starting big man and defensive anchor.
The team has stood tall though. The Magic's center depth has come through thanks to some strong play from Goga Bitadze.
Since Bitadze has stepped into the starting role at center for the Magic, it has paid dividends for him and the team thanks to his shot-blocking and rebounding. It has helped to keep the team's identity as one of the top defensive teams in the league and it has earned him lots of time on the floor.
Bitadze has replaced Carter in the starting role for the last 18 games and has been a strong presence. The Magic have gone 13-5 most importantly, with Bitadze averaging 8.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per game in 23.9 minutes per game as a starter.
He has found himself to be one of the more prominent rebounders on the team. He is behind only Paolo Banchero in rebounds per game on the team and is responsible for collecting 31.8 percent of the team's total rebounds while snagging 44.6 percent of Orlando's offensive rebounds.
This in turn leads to the high-scoring opportunities he has around the rim with 76.6 percent of his points coming from within the paint.
Bitadze is a bit limited offensively, relying on rolls to the basket and putbacks. He does not have much he can do on the perimeter -- although he is a better passer than everyone gives him credit for.
Bitadze's scoring has been something to take note of in the past few games. Against the Detroit Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliers, he dropped 13 and 15 points respectively while shooting 12 for 15 (80 percent) from the field in those two combined games.
He has simply made teams pay for leaving him open around the basket and loading up against Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner. And he has taken advantage of the opportunities he gets when the ball swings to him.
Even with Wendell Carter in tow, the Magic had a weakness with rim protection despite the Magic's emphasis on defending the paint. Last year, Moe Wagner, the team's backup center, had the worst field goal percentage defended at the rim among centers who played at least 41 games.
Carter could protect the rim, but the Magic were not a shot-blocking team. Last year, Orlando averaged 4.7 blocks per game, 15th in the league.
However, Orlando has now jumped into the top half of the league this season in blocks. Bitadze has a big hand in that.
As of right now, he is averaging 1.7 blocks per game with five games of at least four blocks. The team is 12th in the league with 5.6 blocks per game.
Bitadze is the clear leader in that stat for the Magic. The blocks in the past two games have been just as good as Bitadze's scoring as he has eight in the combined two matchups against Detroit and Cleveland.
The Magic ended up holding both of those teams to less than 95 points as they seemed to get back to their defensive ways.
Bitadze has been generally strong defending the rim too. According to data from Second Spectrum, Bitadze gives up 51.8 percent shooting at the rim, a mark that trails only Wendell Carter (39.4 percent) and Jonathan Isaac (45.5 percent) among regular rotation players.
Orlando as a team is ranked fifth in the league giving up 60.5 percent shooting at the rim -- compared to fourth last year at 68.4 percent.
These totals along with all the others coming during the 18 starts Bitadze has made have led to him having more than half of Orlando's total blocks this season. This is the highest percentage of blocks he has had for his team since his days with the Indiana Pacers.
Bitadze may see a drop in minutes with Carter's incoming return to the floor. But his impact during the first month and a half of the season has to be applauded as it has been big for Orlando to keep themselves competitive in the NBA as a defensively sound team. His rebounding has also been good enough to help create chances for himself and his teammates.
All in all, his impact has been big in getting the Magic to be a top team in the Eastern Conference at this point and time. His play has earned him more playing time not only now, but also down the road.