Marcin Gortat ready to take next step after summer with The Dream

PHOENIX — When the Phoenix Suns acquired Marcin Gortat a year ago today, they knew they were getting an agile big man who could rebound but nobody could have guessed they were trading for a potential franchise cornerstone as well.

After all, as Dwight Howard’s trusty backup Gortat had never scored more than four points or grabbed more than five rebounds per game in a season, and he only received significant playing time on the rare occasions that Superman was hurt.

Sure, he was a rebounding beast who shot a high percentage but nobody quite knew what Gortat could do when handed a starting center job.

Now we know.

Gortat’s emergence was the biggest positive to come out of the 2010-11 season. As his comfort with Steve Nash and the Suns grew, he turned into a beast who unleashed a 15.3-10.8 line in March and then followed that up with a 15.0-10.6 in April.

It’s not a stretch to think Gortat could average somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 and 11 this season since he is a focal point on offense and the unquestioned starting center a year after Robin Lopez provided no resistance for that title. Just don’t trying telling Gortat that he is “The Man” for the Suns this season.

“I don’t want to put myself in the position where everyone thinks I’m the superstar right now, and I don’t want to act like one,” Gortat said. “I’m trying to stay humble and trying to get everything that’s possible in the game. I’m going to try to rebound, block as many shots as I can and obviously I’m going to try to help offensively, score as many points as I can and be a threat inside.”

Later in his Media Day interview Gortat made the strange statement of saying he’s looking forward to competing for the starting job with Lopez. Perhaps such a response stems from his days in Orlando when as the backup he never had a chance to compete regardless of how well he played, but if Gortat continues to build on his strong 2011-12 this won’t end up being much of a competition.

Gortat proved to be an elite defensive rebounder and roll man last season, ranking seventh in the league in defensive rebound rate and 10th (according to Synergy) in points per play as a roll man with 1.23. These are critical skills for a Suns team that ranked 28th in defensive rebound rate and relies so heavily on the pick-and-roll with Nash.

But if Gortat wants to take the next step and become an elite big man in this league he must become a better post player, and to that end he enrolled in a summer school course on the subject with professor Hakeem Olajuwon.

Last season with the Suns Gortat averaged just 0.77 points per play in the post, nearly half a point less than what he scored as a roll man. So The Polish Hammer spent six days training with The Dream in an attempt to turn himself into a well-rounded big man.

“It was a great experience, great honor for me, and I spent a lot of time working on my game so hopefully I’m going to prove that I’m a better player,” Gortat said. “I learned a lot. From all the package that he’s got under the basket, all the 100-200 moves he’s got, I believe I’ve got a couple of them, so we’ll see. We’re going to have 66 games in the season, so hopefully I’m going to be able to show what I can do.”

Nobody expects Gortat to become a certified Dream Shaker in one summer, but if he could average better than 15 points in March and April without much of a post game, what can he do with a couple of effective moves down low?

As it is, Gortat relies on Nash quite a bit for offense (78.6 percent of his buckets were assisted) so if he is going to become this franchise’s next star he must improve on the blocks.

A year ago Marcin Gortat was no potential franchise building block, the kind of player who is just a low post game away from being potentially dominant.

Instead he was just Dwight Howard’s backup trapped in Orlando wondering what he could do with an elite point guard and starter minutes.

Now we know.

What can he do for an encore?

Said Alvin Gentry, “I think he’ll have a much better year.”

Tags: Marcin Gortat

  • Lloyd I. Cadle

    After 40 years the Suns finally have their starting center to build a team around.

    There are not a lot of good centers in the NBA, but the Suns have one that will prove to be an all star.

    Gortat is so athletic, I have little doubt that he will develop some good post moves and a consistant mid range shot.

  • Kevin

    I love the optimism in the locker room that there is going to be a playoff run. That seems why Grant Hill signed. Nobody thought that the Suns would do as well as they did 2 years ago and I believe its the same now. I don’t think they will go as far because they have lost some talent since them; however, when you have Steve Nash running the show, things can happen.

    Recently some ESPN commentators said that Shannon Brown would have a breakout season and average 20 pts. The great thing about our roster is that it has so many players that could easily have a break out season and improve (Gortat, Lopez, Telfair, Dudly and Brown).

    I am also very excited to have Markieff Morris. I called almost a year ago that the Suns would draft him and I think he’s a great addition. I follow KU basketball and he was a strong leader and force on the team. I hope he can make the rotation behind Frye.

  • Steve

    Good, maybe Hakeem can do something good for the Suns for a change. Repay us for those nightmare playoffs in 94 and 95.

  • Scott

    Last year Gentry thought Lopez was going to have a break out season. We saw how that turned out.

    Let’s hope Gortat can at least maintain his level of play from last year. ;)

  • Tony

    While I have a ton of respect for how Gortat plays, to call him the next franchise building block is getting way ahead of ourselves. As Michael Schwartz pointed out, last season he scored 78.6% from Nash assists and his offensive post game was atrocious. He’s already 27, so it’s not as if he’s going to be entering his prime, he’s already in his prime. Thus, if Gortat’s going to develop an offensive post game, he better do so soon.
    With that being said, Gortat is clearly in the top 3 of best defensive post centers in the NBA. So if he can develop even just a decent post game offensively, he might be the second or third best center in the game. (WIth Howard and Bynum ahead of him).

    It’s great to hear about all the positive reports concerning Lopez. I knew there was no way his back wasn’t an issue last season, but that begs the question, why was he playing at all last season? The Suns have the best training staff in the League, and it looked pretty obvious that he had no lift and was just really slow on the court. I do not understand why Gentry or the medical staff even allowed him to play. Hopefully Lopez can stay healthy at least 90% for this season as it’s probably only wishful thinking to hope he stays healthy throughout the entire season, especially when you consider the types of injuries he has sustained at such a young age.

  • Lex

    Don’t forget about Bogut.

  • john marzan

    hakeem is a bad teacher. did dwight howard really improve his back to the basket game?

    hakeem was a freakish athlete who was quicker than most guards. his moves were athleticism based, not every center can copy his moves.

    why arent big men making a pilgrimage to kevin mchale? here’s a white guy who can’t jump and run but still was able to score inside because he had good post moves and fundamentals.

  • Scott

    @john -

    Some have taken lessons from McHale, but a problem might be that he’s often had jobs with specific teams in recent years (Wolves / Rockets). I don’t know if team employees ever coach players from other teams.