It’s a relatively simple question, but one without a simple answer. For any player being considered for the All Star Game, there are three factors in play: statistics, reputation, and popularity. In each of these categories, players compete against one another to determine who will represent their respective conferences in the game. Let’s see how Marcin stacks up in each of these areas.
Gortat is at or near the top in most major statistical categories among Western Conference centers. His 15.4 points per game are third behind Los Angeles’ Andrew Bynum (16.1) and Utah’s Al Jefferson (18.3). He is a more efficient scorer than Bynum though, as his scoring per 48 minutes is higher. Gortat is dominating all his Western Conference competition at the center spot in FG% though. He is converting a blistering 59 percent of his field goal attempts. On the glass, Marcin is 11th overall in the league at 9.9 per game and 15.5 per 48 minutes. He is behind Marc Gasol and Andrew Bynum in boards per game.
Perhaps the most telling statistic is PER. For the uninitiated, PER or Player Efficiency Rating, is a stat calculated by ESPN’s John Hollinger to rate a player’s per minute contributions. Gortat’s 23.18 PER is 13th best in the entire NBA, third among all centers, first among Western Conference centers, and almost a point higher than his teammate(22.51). If any one statistic was going to make the case for Gortat as an All-Star, it would be his PER.
It may be because Marcin is one of only two bright spots on a usually sparkling Suns’ roster, but the big man from Poland has started to get some recognition around the league. After spending 3 ½ seasons as Dwight Howard’s backup in Orlando, Gortat has stepped out of the shadows and into the spotlight. His play since coming to Phoenix has been spectacular, and he continues to improve. He has built a formidable rep on both ends of the floor, and though he may not be the caliber player of his former teammate Howard, he can certainly hold his own against the rest of the Western Conference centers.
His main competitors for an All-Star spot are Andrew Bynum, Marc Gasol, and Al Jefferson. Bynum has a strong reputation because he plays for the Lakers and has two rings, but he is also known for being injury prone and inconsistent. Marc Gasol’s reputation is on a high note as he just signed a big contract and is playing well despite the absence of his front court mate, Zach Randolph. Al Jefferson is still trying to establish his reputation in Utah as both he and his team have had some upheaval in recent seasons. Jefferson is playing very well to start off the year though.
This category is most important for coach selection. The likely candidates are Scott Brooks and George Karl based on their team’s record. Both coaches have seen Gortat play, so the question becomes, will his reputation and statistical production be enough to put him over the top of his competition in the mind of the coach? That remains to be seen.
You can’t argue with the fact that the NBA gets its fans involved by allowing them to vote for the All-Star Game starters. You also can’t argue that the fan vote turns the game into a popularity contest. Marcin wouldn’t have had a chance of being selected as starting center in the past because everyone’s favorite Chinese big man, Yao Ming, was voted in by a large margin year after year despite being too injured to play for the last several. Even though Yao is not on the ballot this year, Gortat will still have a hard time being voted in by the fans.
According to InsideHoops.com, Andrew Bynum and the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan have close to a million votes between them. Marcin has 92,000 and change. Unless the people of Phoenix and Poland unite for a huge push before the January 31 deadline, it is unlikely Gortat will start. Not because he hasn’t earned the spot, but because Los Angeles is a bigger market with more free time on its hands.
Since Bynum seems like a shoe in for the starting center, it will come down to Gortat, Jefferson, and Marc Gasol for the backup spot (it’s unlikely the coach will want three centers). You could make a strong case for all three players, but if it were up to me, I would choose Gortat over Gasol because he has been slightly better thus far this year, even though he has a weaker supporting cast. I would also choose him over Jefferson despite Big Al’s better scoring numbers because Gortat is a better rebounder, more efficient shooter, and better on the defensive end. I’m sure most Suns fans would agree with me, but unfortunately they’ll just have to wait until February to find out. Until then, let’s look at how Gortat being selected might impact the future of the franchise.
“Help us Marcin Gortat, you’re our only hope.”
Because the Suns won’t have Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia to help attract free agents in the offseason, they’ll have to hold out hope they’ll have an All-Star center. Marcin being selected to represent the West wouldn’t just be a bright spot in a relatively dismal season, it would also be a beacon to beckon next summer’s free agents to Phoenix. Why did LeBron go to Miami? Other than the amazing take-out food, what drew Carmelo to New York? How did the Big Three get together in Boston? If your answer to the last question was a sweetheart deal by former teammates Kevin McHale and Danny Ainge, you’re not wrong, but the answer to all of these questions is: because the team had a star in place. Dwyane Wade in Miami, Amare Stoudemire in New York, and Paul Pierce in Boston.
None of those teams were title contenders before they added their second or third star. But having that first star in place is what made them an attractive destination. Could Marcin Gortat be that guy? The answer is a firm “maybe.” Being selected to the All-Star Game would put Gortat in the class of the top four or five centers in the league. That is definitely an attractive piece to potential offseason additions. Add in what is sure to be a high draft pick in a loaded class, a well-respected coach in Alvin Gentry, and all the sunshine a man could ask for and Phoenix starts to look like an enticing situation.
The truth about the state of the league is this: big-time players want to land in big markets. The problem is, most of the big market teams, Knicks, Lakers, Celtics, etc. have terrible cap situations. This is a boon to Phoenix’s chances. They have a passionate fan base, great weather, and a tradition of exciting basketball. That means the Suns, with a franchise/All-Star center could be contenders next season should a great player choose to “take their talents” to the Valley of the Sun. Gortat’s selection to the All-Star team is just the first of several breaks the Suns will need to land a marquee guy, but as we’ve all seen before in the NBA, anything is possible. So do your duty as a Suns fan. Go Vote!