Marcin Gortat relishes opportunity with Suns, looking for more

Marcin Gortat exceeded all expectations last season and looks to build on that with an improved post game next year. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Marcin Gortat exceeded all expectations last season and looks to build on that with an improved post game next year. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

PHOENIX — Marcin Gortat’s life changed forever on December 18, 2010.

It was a day so important to him that he rattled off the date by heart following Phoenix’s final game, a day when he was not the best backup center in the NBA any longer.

“December 18th was definitely the best day in my life so far,” Gortat said. “I would say it was for me probably bigger than my birthday right now. It was a day where a new chapter opened in my book.”

December 18, of course, was the day the Phoenix Suns acquired Gortat from the Orlando Magic and gave him an opportunity to prove himself as an NBA center after a career being stuck behind the league’s best big man, Dwight Howard.

On that day Gortat no longer had to look over his shoulder ready to be replaced when Superman was ready to return. If he was going strong he would continue to play, and as the season progressed he rarely sat, with Gortat logging nearly 35 minutes per game in March.

Along the way Gortat went from an athletic big man who showed flashes of being a contributor to a consistent performer who tossed up double-doubles on a nightly basis.

In Phoenix Gortat found a perfect situation with an incumbent center in Robin Lopez struggling through an awful season and one of the best passers of all-time craving a roll man with the skills Gortat possesses.

Gortat’s speed for a big man fit well with Phoenix’s up-tempo attack  and his defensive rebounding prowess (seventh in the NBA with a 27.4 rebound rate) made him an ideal fit for what was the worst defensive rebounding team in basketball.

With a gregarious demeanor that’s helped him ingratiate himself to the Valley on top of his ability on the court, Gortat has immediately become one of the most important building blocks of the eventual post-Nash future, a stunning turn of events for a player still waiting for his big break just over five months ago.

“It’s a different story finishing the season in my old team and knowing that I’m still a backup and starting and getting 35 minutes a game,” Gortat said. “It’s just a great feeling. … It’s just fun, it’s really fun playing basketball right now. You have a lot of kids coming over and talking to me. It’s a great feeling, and I’m really grateful for everything that’s going on right now.”

Gortat’s numbers continued to rise as he got more time, as he went from averaging 10.7 points and 8.1 boards in 23.7 minutes per game in January to 13.3 and 9.3 in 30.1 in February to 15.3 and 10.8 in 34.7 in March to a very similar 15.0 and 10.6 in April.

The size-starved Suns knew they were getting a contributor who would make an immediate impact on the glass and Gortat figured to give them another threat as a roll man in the pick-and-roll game, but since he had never averaged more than 16 minutes per game in Orlando and traditionally averaged around four points and four rebounds per game, Phoenix did not exactly know what it had in Gortat.

“To be honest with you I think it was quite a surprise to everyone,” said head coach Alvin Gentry. “We thought he was pretty solid, I don’t know if we anticipated him being as good as he eventually was. You play him 30 minutes and he pretty much is going to be assured of getting a double-double. I think he’s a better rebounder than we anticipated. … . When you start talking about the centers in this league there’s only a few elite guys and then I think he would be right in there with the next tier of centers.”

Gortat has proven he can be a force in this league, but now comes the part where he can transform himself from a very good player to a great player.

Improving his low post game ranks at the top of his offseason to-do list. Gortat can score in the post on mismatches, but his post game isn’t developed enough to the point where the Suns can throw it down low regardless of his matchup and feel confident about him getting a bucket or a double team.

Since he was asked to solely defend and rebound during his court time with Orlando it’s understandable he did not refine his post game with the Magic, but if he’s going to become the go-to guy and team leader he wants to be then he needs to become a reliable post player.

Gentry added that Gortat must develop a stronger core so he can hold his ground in the post better, and while he’s a “terrific defensive rebounder” the head coach would like to see him be more aggressive on the offensive glass.

The good news for Suns fans is Gortat isn’t satisfied with his breakout season. During Gortat’s exit interview Gentry verbalized the areas in which he must improve, and now it’s up to the Polish center to integrate the low post game into his already impressive arsenal of skills.

“Obviously there’s still a lot of things I have to improve,” Gortat said. “I’d like to make a little statement that I want to work hard this summer and come back twice better next year, and I’m definitely going to try to help Steve and Grant to be also one of the leaders on this team and help the team to make the playoffs.”

If Gortat does all that then December 18, 2010, will be remembered just as fondly by Suns fans as it is by Gortat.

Tags: Marcin Gortat

  • Rich Anthony, (KJL)

    Can’t become a Goliath in 8 months. Even D12 took his time to get to where he is now, adding something every summer while improving his body slowly along the way.

    If his core strength isn’t where it should be, then that should take priority over everything else. An iron-clad core just multiplies your effectiveness far more than anything else.

    Not one single Suns fan should be talking about his rebounding. Dude got 10+ per game. In the valley, a big man who gets double digit rebounds per game is more rare than an ugly Kardashian. (personally I think all 3 are hot)

    If he really will work Dudley-hard every summer to improve, then he will be one nasty player.

  • Steve

    I agree that his body should be the first thing he works on. To really bang with the bigs, he’s going to get a little more fit and balanced. This guy can be something really special if he works for it.

  • Michael Schwartz

    @Rich I know what you mean on the ridiculousness of having any issue with his boarding on the surface, but while he’s a top-10 defensive rebounder he’s just not as good on the offensive glass for whatever reason (tied for 83rd in offensive rebound rate, behind even Lopez). There certainly are bigger issues with this franchise than Gortat’s offensive rebounding, but as Gentry said it’s an area in which he needs to improve.

  • Lloyd I. Cadle

    I am a huge fan of Gortat. The Suns finally have their big man!

    By the way, what is the latest on Robin Lopez? Does he have problems with his back, or is he just a head case?

  • Michael Schwartz

    Haven’t heard anything on Robin lately. He clearly lost some athleticism last year as a result of his back ailments that caused him to be a shell of the player he was developing into. We probably won’t know until the boys return for training camp whether he can regain some of that with rest and training this summer or whether the back injury was more serious than we thought and he never can get back on that path to being a very solid center.

  • Lloyd I. Cadle

    Thank you Michael.

  • Tony

    Good article. Gortat has to get much much better in the low post offensively. His post game isn’t much better than Frye’s at this point, and that’s not a good thing.

    That is interesting his offensive rebounding was so dismal. I had no idea. However, since he became such an integral part of the offense with pick and rolls with Nash, he doesn’t have as many opportunities to get offensive rebounds. Furthermore, since he played a great percentage of his time with Frye, who likes to camp out on the perimeter, Gortat basically has to go up against the opposing teams’ center and power forward to get offensive rebounds, a daunting task for anyone.
    The Suns have so many glaring weaknesses right now, it would be a genuine shock if they even made it as an 8th seed in the playoffs next year. If the season starts off extremely poorly for the Suns, which I expect to happen, and Sarver finally pulls the trigger and trades Nash, Gortat is going to have to really step up his offensive game. With the Suns, close to 80% of his fgs came from Nash assists, so the question is, can he produce without Nash spoon-feeding him the ball? With such a weak post game, right now I don’t think he can produce enough offensively without Nash.

  • Josh

    Great Article Michael! Gortat is one of the things we have to look forward to for next year. I will be interested to see how he further develops his jump shot as well.

    Also–thank you for the BASKETBALL story!

  • Marinez

    well great article cant wait to see what happens in the offseason i have a filling a trade is coming and it mybe for a PF

  • Robo

    Yeah basketball story.

  • Giancarlo Paraliticci

    Michael, I think you should write something about Dirk since Dallas and Phoenix have a lot in common, the players Dirk, Kidd Marion, Nash…Also Dirk and Nash are very close and I think Nash is proud of Dirk and would like to see him get a Ring, Also maybe Nash may think of the chance of reuniting with Dirk next year and get the chance he deserve like Kid is doing and Dirk is doing…What do You Think ?

  • Giancarlo Paraliticci

    Also What are your predictions between Chicago and Miami ? and since Dallas is already 3-1 who do you Think will win between Dallas and your selection ? Thanks for all your Work again!

  • Michael Schwartz

    Yeah, I was thinking of writing something Marion/Dallas-themed if the Mavs hold on and get to the Finals and I suppose there would be at least a sprinkle of Dirk in there as well.

    I like Miami to take that. I picked Lakers over Heat to start the season and with LAL gone I will now pick it to be Miami over Dallas, just like in 06.

  • Giancarlo

    I don’t know, Dirk really wants it, and his will power is amazing, just Like Nash that is all he needs to do! Is the same with Nash, If he gets to the Finals, you know he won’t lose after all he wait!…Dirks been there, and a little payback is coming to Miami, Pluss this time Dirk really has a supporting cast, he may not have a #2 Allstar supertar but the guys arround him are making there job!

  • Steve

    I hate so much to think that the Heat are the best team left in the playoffs, but I really think they are. Dallas maybe. But honestly, I’m not impressed with any team this year. Last year, the Lakers were good. The year before, same story. Boston was amazing in the first year of the Big 3. Those Spurs teams were GREAT teams. The Heat are (I refuse to say the Heat “is”) not a great team. Watching the Heat/Bulls series has been gruesome. Bad, bad, bad offensive basketball. LeBron and Rose chuck up more off-balance long-range j’s than either Kobe or Vince ever did, and the saddest thing is that neither one of those guys is a good perimeter shooter (LeBron borders on being considered a “good” perimeter shooter, but I still wouldn’t put him on that list). Rose’s two step-backs over LeBron were pathetic, not because he missed them, but because he attempted them. He got around LeBron EASILY every time he tried, why settle for a fadeaway just inside the 3pt line? And people credit LeBron with great D on Rose? Are you kidding me? LeBron didn’t force Rose to take those bad shots. Rose had his way with LeBron, but for some reason, he thought that the best thing to do would be to chuck up a long jumper instead of taking it to the rack.

    Please, no one tell me LeBron did a good job on Rose. I’ve watched every second of LeBron on Rose, and I have yet to see ONE time when LeBron has prevented Rose from doing what he wanted to do. When Rose wants to get by LeBron, he does. I’m not saying Rose is better. In fact, I’m saying quite the opposite. Rose is even dumber than LeBron for not using his biggest advantage over LeBron (speed).

    I can’t believe I’m saying this, but if it’s a Heat/Mavs Finals, I’ll root for the Mavs. I don’t want people to adopt the thinking that dynasties must be built upon collusion and gathering three all-stars. I want the Kevin Durants and Derrick Rose’s of the league, the OKC’s and Chicago’s (who built from the draft and smart moves in FA and trades) to succeed. I don’t want to see LeBron, the guy who threw his teammates in Cleveland under the bus and decided to team up with the second best player alive, win a championship as a result of his actions. I don’t want to see casual fans saying, “LeBron is better than Jordan. He’s got better stats, and now he’s won a championship.” I don’t want to see LeBron mentioned with the greats of all time. He doesn’t deserve it (at least not yet. If he goes into beast mode and wins four more championships with some combination of an injured/traded Bosh/Wade, then he might be worthy to be in that convo).

    I know I’m just venting and ranting endlessly. I really don’t want to see the Heat win. If they win, it will make it virtually impossible for teams like the Suns to win in the foreseeable future. There aren’t enough superstars to fill Boston, LA, Miami, Chicago, NY, AND Phoenix. Phoenix is going to miss out on it if all the superstars begin teaming up and flocking to the “big” markets.

  • Rich Anthony, (KJL)

    Can’t cheer for the Mavs. If is a fundamental issue.

    I have to go for Miami, and I hope they “dump-truck” them