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

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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.”

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