Basic Stats: 13.2 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 1.7 apg, 1.5 bpg, 54.2 FG%
When news of the severity of Emeka Okafor’s injury became public knowledge last summer, the Washington Wizards playoff hopes took an undeniable hit. Without a strong presence in the middle, a lot of what Coach Randy Wittman’s defensive strategy was predicated on would not be successful. However, Vegas oddsmakers still put the over/under for total wins at 42. Clearly they knew something that the rest of us didn’t – enter Marcin Gortat, aka the Polish Hammer. Gortat was an absolute revelation in his first season in red, white, and blue. He meshed immediately with fellow frontcourt mate Nene and often was the fresh smiling face that picked the rest of the team back up after multiple hiccups in the early months of the schedule.
On the court, he provided a great offensive weapon in the pick-and-roll with John Wall and even showed some promise as a post-up option (though we all wish those types of touches will be limited going forward). Gortat’s defense did not quite match the level of Okafor’s, but the Wizards stayed in the top 10 defensively as a team and his 1.5 blocks and 9.5 rebounds per game finished a respective 11th and 14th in the league. He also led the team in Win Shares, which was no small feat considering he shared the starting lineup with a former #1 overall pick and the team’s resident all-star. Gortat’s playoff experience also proved critical for a team that had played exactly 0 postseason games together before this season. Although he had some ups and downs, he managed to put the team on his back on multiple occasions leading to victories (most notably Game 5 at Indiana, facing elimination). In addition, rather than doing this against fast-paced, defense-optional teams of the Western Conference, Gortat went toe to toe with Joakim Noah and Roy Hibbert, who, oh-by-the-way were just named to the 1st and 2nd All-NBA Defensive Teams.
But I’d be remissed if I did a recap of Gortat’s 2013-14 campaign without reflecting on all the nuances that made it so engaging and exciting to watch him play and be a part of this team. Whether it was the ill-fated dream shake vs. Tim Duncan, the frustrating towel rip, the hilarious Twitter account, or the the discussion of pierogies with Shaq, Gortat always played basketball with a passion for the game but also an understanding of the entertainment value it brought to all of us fans. He struck me as the one guy who’d get a basket when no one else could, and then made sure each one of his teammates knew how important they were to the team’s success
Next Season and Improvement:
So the clear elephant in the room when discussing Marcin Gortat is his pending free agency status come July 1st. However, unlike Trevor Ariza’s future, Gortat’s seems much less muddled as the Wizards have made every indication that they plan to bring him back. After some mid-season flirtations with Greg Monroe, it appears that Ernie Grunfeld has decided the team already has its starting center. However, he’ll finish next year as a 31 year old so Washington needs to be careful on the length of the deal and annual salary to make sure he remains productive when the contract ends.
From a basketball perspective, the biggest area of improvement for Gortat will be as an interior defender and rim protector. Although he used his large frame to bully smaller forwards and centers, he often would get pushed out of position when matched with players his own size (i.e. Andre Drummond, DeMarcus Cousins, Roy Hibbert). Protecting the defensive glass is critical for a team that starts Nene and his rebounding allergy at PF. Offensively, Gortat should continue expanding his passing out of the low post, looking for cutters and shooters before just getting into his customary sweeping hook shot or baseline fadeaway. More action in the pick-and-roll would also be useful as the team was borderline unstoppable when he and Wall plowed down the lane with a scary combination of speed and power. Overall, it was a great season from a good player, and one that Washington faithful hope is just the start of a successful partnership for years to come.
Final Grade: A-