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Marcin Gortat: Year in Review

July 10, 2014

13.2 ppg | 9.5 rpg | 1.7 apg | 1.5 bpg | .542 FG%

Impact on the Team

Moments before a promising 2013-14 season was set to get underway, disaster struck for the Wizards.  Starting center Emeka Okafor was deemed out indefinitely with a neck injury.  Okafor was simply not a player the Wizards could replace from within, as Nene is better suited to playing the four and the backups were not ready to fill the starting role in the middle.  The Wizards’ front office brass took action immediately and elected to send their first round pick and Okafor to the Suns for Marcin Gortat.  It was a 'win now' move for a Wizards team that had seen little success in previous seasons, but it worked out beautifully.  Without Gortat, there is no way Washington could have reached the second round of the playoffs as Gortat had arguably the best season of his career and was invaluable in the middle on both ends of the court. 

As the trade was consummated just before the season began, Gortat had almost no prep time with Washington; however, he seemed to fit in immediately.  Marcin averaged 13.6 points and 9.4 boards per game during the first month of the year, and was consistent over the entire season.  He never averaged under 10.9 points or 7.5 boards a game for a month and missed just one game all year.  He formed an almost immediate connection with John Wall, as the two of them became one of the most formidable pick and roll tandems in the league.  The Gortat and Wall two man game quickly became the Wizards go to offensive option when the team desperately needed a bucket or the offense had stalled.  Having a high quality pick and roll partner really helped further Wall's development, something which clearly cannot be overlooked when analyzing Gortat's value to this team.  In general, Gortat is one of the most fundamentally sound, punishing screen setters in the league.  For the year, Gortat shot a tidy 54.2% (team leader and 11th overall in the NBA) from the field for 13.2 points per game.

Obviously, the majority of Gortat's work was in the paint where he finished at an elite level.  Around the bucket, he showed off a nice variety of moves, which he can execute with either hand.  His soft hands were on display every night as Wall, and also Nene, would find him in traffic at the very last moment.  He also showed the ability to step out and was slightly above average in his midrange game.  This added a wrinkle for opposing defenses to have to address.  Not only did it add another option to the pick and roll game, it also created more space for Nene in the blocks when Gortat pulled defenders out of the lane.  Finally, Gortat's pace rating was the highest of his career, as he showed a willingness to run in transition with Wall when the opportunity presented itself.

Gortat's impressive play was not limited to the offensive end, as he proved his worth on the defensive end and the glass, as well.  Gortat led the team in rebounding and blocked shots per game, ranking in the top 20 in the NBA in both categories.  He was the only player on the roster who was a true rim protector, and he ended the year ranking 13th in the NBA in block percentage.  His work on the glass was as impressive, finishing 15th in the league in rebounds per game (9.5) and in defensive rebounding percentage (25%).    

Gortat was the anchor of the defense, leading the team in advanced stats like defensive rating (tied with Nene) and defensive win shares, on a team that finished in the top 10 in the NBA in defensive efficiency.  In fact, he finished 18th among all players in the league in defensive win shares.  As a team, the Wizards were 7.5 points per 100 possessions worse when Gortat was not on the floor.  It's no secret that Gortat is incredibly strong in the paint, but he also showed impressive quickness when playing help defense or handling the pick and roll.  He also showed a willingness to move outside of the paint to close down midrange shooters.

Gortat’s year featured a number of very memorable games highlighted by his career high 31 points (later tied in the playoffs) in a triple overtime win over the Raptors on February 27 th.  On March 10 th in a loss to Miami, Gortat tied his career-high by pulling down 18 boards, including a career-high nine on the offensive glass.  From February 18 th through March 1 st, the Wizards went 6-1 and Gortat recorded a double-double in all seven games.  For the year, Gortat recorded a double-double in just about every other game, finishing 12 th in the NBA with 37.

Finally, when the playoffs rolled around, Gortat continued to excel.  He was good in the Chicago series when slightly less of him was asked, and then great in the Indiana series.  When Nene was suspended for game 4 of the first round, Gortat produced his best offensive game of the series, scoring 17 points.  In the second round, Gortat was simply dominant at times, averaging 14.8 points per game on 57.8% shooting to go along with 10.2 boards per game.  He played two phenomenal games when the series was on the line against Indiana, scoring 31 points and grabbing 16 boards in the game 5 win (possibly the most dominant performance of his career) and scoring 19 points in the season ending game 6 loss. 

It is reasonably easy to quantify Gortat's value to this squad in numbers, which is obviously a lot of what I have done here, but he also added a swagger to this team.  He played a physical brand of basketball which this team was missing, whether setting hard screens or protecting the paint on the other end.  His presence allowed Nene to play the game he prefers at the power forward spot, and when Nene was out of the lineup injured, Gortat raised his game.  When he was on, he commanded double teams which freed up shooters like Ariza, Beal and Webster.  As the year went on, he became a better distributor and was able to find his teammates for clear looks, eventually finishing top 10 in the NBA in assists per game amongst centers.  Gortat’s year was so impressive, that with his PER of 17.6, Conor Dirks of determined that one of the closest comparative seasons would be Bill Russell’s 1967-68 campaign with the Celtics.    Off the court, Gortat was universally loved by his teammates, as can be seen by the outpouring of support for him during the free agency period and then when he signed on the dotted line. 

Future Outlook

A big welcome back to the Polish Hammer! The Wizards’ starting lineup last year of Ariza, Beal, Gortat, Nene and Wall outscored opponents by 10.5 points per 100 possessions last season.  So, getting the band back together was clearly a priority, and the Wizards took the first step by locking up their man in the middle.  Gortat is going to be running the pick and roll with Wall for most of the rest of his career, as he's been signed for the next five years.  Yes, Gortat is 30, but he's a young 30, as he did not play too many minutes for the first four years of his NBA career.  For now, Gortat will continue to be given all the minutes he can handle in the middle, and he will help the young backcourt of Wall and Beal continue to develop.

Gortat's Top 10 Games of the Year: