When the news came down that Nene was going to miss much of the rest of the regular season, there were a lot of questions surrounding how the team would respond to missing it's starting power forward. So much of the offense ran through Nene and the team was also several points better defensively with him on the floor. Seven games later, we have a lot more answers as the team has gone 5-2 and the offense has been dominant. The narrative here is not that the team doesn't miss Nene or that they are better without Nene because that would be categorically untrue. Nobody on this squad can replace what Nene brings to the table. It's just that they have played well as a team in his absence and guys have stepped up to the challenge of playing without him in the lineup. Wall has been his usual brilliant self, Beal has scored 18 or more in four straight and Ariza has continued to be arguably the hottest shooter in the NBA. The player who has really stepped up in the wake of Nene's absence though is Marcin Gortat.
When Nene went down, Gortat took it upon himself to be the guy in the paint. He knew he would see extra attention from opposing defenses and knew he would get more touches. Now playing without Seraphin who has missed a handful of games as well, even more of the burden has been thrust upon him down low, and he's excelled. Wall and others have made a concerted effort to get the screen and roll game with Gortat going, and it's worked. Consistently, the first play that Wittman has drawn up out of timeouts has been the screen and roll to Gortat, and it's the go to play that Wall has called when the offense is stagnant.
Several performances by Gortat have been especially noteworthy, specifically his games against Toronto and Miami. Against Toronto, Gortat led the Wizards to a triple overtime victory with a career-high 31 points, 12 boards and four blocks. Against Miami, Gortat almost singlehandedly kept the Wizards in the game early, pulling down 10 rebounds in the first quarter on his way to a career-high tying 18, nine of which came on the offensive end. He also added 14 points and four assists.
The offense in general has averaged 111.9 points per game since Nene's injury and has been the third best in the NBA (in terms of offensive rating) since the all-star break. Gortat's numbers are way up over the last seven, as he has averaged 17.4 points a game (compared to his season average of 12.7) and his field goal percentage is at 60% (54.5% on the year). His usage is way up (unsurprisingly), he's turning the ball over less, he's getting to the free throw line more and he's even distributing more, as his assists per game and assist percentage are both up. His rebounding rate, particularly on the offensive end, is up as well, which is interesting considering he's been playing more alongside Booker, who is a more prodigious rebounder than Nene. It's another example of the fact that Gortat has raised his all-around game. Finally, with the exception of the Toronto game where he played over 50 minutes, he's stayed out of foul trouble and with the thin front line, that's been as important as anything.
On the other side of the ball, Gortat's defense has been solid as well. The Wizards as a team have not been as good defensively without Nene, having allowed over 100 points in five of the seven games. Gortat though, has really done a nice job holding his opposing fives in check, with the exception of nice games by Nikola Vucevic and Chris Bosh (who is certainly not your prototypical center). Gortat held all five of the other centers to 10 or fewer points. He had particularly impressive performances against Derrick Favors (five points and five boards) and the typically dominant Marc Gasol (10 points on 4/10 shooting and seven rebounds).
The key for Gortat will be maintaining this level of play as he continues to log a ton of minutes. If Drew Gooden continues to play the quality of ball that he has been playing the last couple and when Seraphin returns, it will provide some respite for Gortat, but it won't be too much. The scary thing for Eastern Conference rivals will be if Gortat continues to play at this level after Nene returns, it would make for a seriously formidable front line.