The Indiana Pacers have assigned rookie center Goga Bitadze to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants for tonight’s match-up with the Erie Bayhawks, the team announced Saturday morning.
With Nate McMillan having recently made the split decision to increase the staggered minutes played by his two starting centers, Bitadze has seen his playing time dwindle over the last few weeks. In fact, ever since Myles Turner acknowledged that he’s had to “sacrifice a little bit” in somewhat muted tones after the team’s 121-102 win over the Utah Jazz on November 27, the Georgian big man hasn’t registered more than nine minutes of action in any of the last nine games, including a DNP versus the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Of those contests, Bitadze’s only made return appearances after halftime on three occasions, predominantly as a human victory cigar. Instead, his place in the rotation has mostly been limited to playing alongside Turner or Sabonis for a brief stint in the second quarter and providing emergency depth in the event of foul trouble. Such was the case last night against the Atlanta Hawks, when he entered the game with 2:42 to play in the first half after Turner had joined Sabonis on the bench with two fouls a piece.
Unfortunately, the rare solo sighting didn’t last long. Giving up two putbacks and an easy transition basket with Bitadze only lightly contesting and looking more like a spectator than active participant, the Hawks went on a 6-2 run in 59 seconds, thereby prompting McMillan to finish out the half with TJ Leaf at the five.
On the bright side, outside of Hasheem Thabeet, Fort Wayne is light on centers, so tonight’s contest with Erie should provide the Georgian big man with ample opportunity to rinse the bad taste out of his mouth from his rather (ahem) casual performance in Atlanta.
Overall, Bitadze has averaged 3.5 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 1.0 block in 11.1 minutes per game in 20 games with the Pacers, including two starts. However, since returning from a concussion on November 15, he hasn’t quite looked like himself. Granted, he’s also been shoehorned into a smaller role of late, but he’s shot a woeful 16.7 percent from three over his last 14 games with only 6 blocks compared to 37.5 percent over his prior six with 13 blocks. That’s a considerable drop-off which suggests that he could benefit from some extended run-time, at least on off days, to regain his rhythm and timing (and, perhaps, his sense of urgency).
Per the Pacers, Alize Johnson has also been assigned to play for the Mad Ants tonight as they face-off against the Bayhawks at Allen County War Memorial Coliseum at 7:00 PM. The game will be available for streaming at NBAGLeague.com.