Marcin Gortat aims to have a big, simple offseason



PHOENIX — The perspective of Marcin Gortat’s value and success during the 2011-12 NBA season lie in two paradigms.

On one hand, there was his career-high averages of 15.4 points, 10 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game in his first full season with the Phoenix Suns, and he ended the year as the eighth-best NBA player in total rebounds and rebounds per game. More impressively, he and Steve Nash became the most potent pick-and-roll duo in the league, and because of it Gortat finished sixth in the league with a 55.5 percent field goal accuracy.

The other perspective of Gortat’s game was one of a soft player — a guy who couldn’t finish around the hoop, struggled with confidence and sometimes just disappeared. His worst games came against one of the best center’s in Dwight Howard and then in Phoenix’s must-win game, when the Suns lost to the Utah Jazz to stomp out their playoff hopes.

“It could be a situation where it’s unfortunate it happened now,” head coach Alvin Gentry said, “but you go through some bad games during the season and it just could have been that also.

“He had a terrific year, did a good job for us. Those games are kind of magnified due to the nature of them.”

So here we are, in an offseason where critics could say the potential loss of Nash will emphasize any weakness within the Polish Machine’s game. Yet, Gortat remains aware of where he’ll have to improve regardless of what his pass-happy teammate decides to do.

“That was a crazy season,” Gortat said after his exit interview. “I’m quite sure me and Steve, we became probably the best duo in the pick and rolls in the league. I was finishing everything from the pick and rolls, left and right, but that’s fine. I’ve got to work on my weaknesses.”

Now he moves on with the biggest improvement having to do with building strength in his lower body to help multiple facets of his game. Gortat didn’t have a weight goal to put down, but adding muscle in his legs will help him finish around the rim and defend.

Another issue that comes to mind is Gortat’s endurance, which he said suffered in his first full year as an NBA starting center.

“The first 40 games I played with a lot of energy,” he said. “Then I hit the wall kind of between 40-50 games … and then I had the second gear again and I started well, I started playing better with energy.”

A preseason injury to his thumb also could have held Gortat back, adding to the soft label considering it hindered his grasp of the ball, free throw shooting (64.9 percent) and ability to finish around the rim.

“I think it really set him off at the beginning and affected him psychologically afterwards,” said president of basketball operations Lon Babby, “and by the time it healed, I think he somehow became more of a finesse player than a power player, and he never was able to recapture that.

“He knows that, and he’s got to get better.”

Defensive improvements

The lower body strength should also help hold defensive position on the block.

Gortat kept some of the better centers in the league in check for the most part — to find out just how well, I looked up Howard, Andrew Bynum, DeMarcus Cousins, Al Jefferson and Marc Gasol for no particular reason.

“I had some games where I totally vanished like the one in Utah and the one in Orlando,” he added. “I totally vanished. That’s going to be the next step hopefully, you know.”

In 14 total games, only four times did one of those centers shoot above 50 percent against Phoenix. Jefferson, a 19-per-game scorer, never reached his average.

Bynum scored 12, 16, 17 and 23 points in four games against Gortat, though he went 10-of-27 to reach his highest total. Howard went 11-for-16 to score 28 in a game that might’ve been Gortat’s worst, and Cousins went for a career-high 41 points in one of three games against the Suns.

In those 14 games, the Suns gave up an average of 11.4 rebounds to those centers.

So we see that while the numbers aren’t too shabby, there’s definitely room for improvement.

For sure, Gortat isn’t solely responsible for the above statistics considering rotations on the court and in the lineups, but as the figurehead for the Suns’ interior, we see that consistency is the next step as a one-on-one defender.

Shedding that soft label, however, could come in how Gortat protects the paint with his help defense. And that might be Gortat’s biggest flaw as a defender at this point in his career.

“Like I said to Coach, all these charges that I took, I think it was 35 or 36 this year,” Gortat said. “I had, I guess, 1.5 blocks (per game) and 30-something charges. If you take half of the charges, change to blocks then I have over two blocks a game, and I’m quite sure I can do this next year, so if I’m going to be a bigger presence in the paint, (I have to be) a better leader, more consistent.”

Offensive improvements

This is obviously where the question marks lie if Nash should decide against a return to Phoenix.

Gortat shot 71.5 percent at the rim, a number not far off of Howard’s 74.4 percent from that close range and Andrew Bynum’s 73.2 percent, according to HoopData.com.

But Gortat was assisted on 84.3 percent of those makes.

The next step in his development comes in his individual post offense. With or without Nash, Gortat expects to be able to keep those impressive finishing percentages up.

Gortat said he’s going to work on those improvements in an estimated 15 Polish national team games in July and August. If he can work on his back-to-the-basket game and continue to extend his range on his jump shot out to 18 feet, Gortat believes he’ll be in solid shape to become a more prominent offensive figure for the Suns.

“I’ve got to become a better post-up player, I’ve got to create more fouls, and I’m 100 percent sure I’m going to have to finish everything around the basket a little bit harder,” he said. “I’ve got to forget about being a finesse player, I’ve got to forgot that I was able to work out with Hakeem Olajuwon (last summer) and all the Dream Shakes and left and right hooks.

“Sometimes I’ve got to be a simple basketball player and dunk the ball.”

Gortat plans on scheduling workouts with other big names this summer — he said that he’ll announce the plans on Twitter — but perhaps it’s about Gortat finding his own game, according to Babby.

“If he wants to go, for sure,” Babby said about workouts with former players. “A week with Olajuwon is great, but it’s a week. It’s a little bit like — not to age myself — but it’s a little bit like watching Sandy Koufax pitch. It doesn’t mean you can do it, so you’ve got to find your own style and your own methods of learning, but by all accounts he found the experience to be very, very rewarding.”

As for showing up in big games, maybe Gentry was right; the lone game against Orlando and the most important one against the Jazz do stick out because Gortat went 2-for-15 and scored six total points.

But against the five above-average centers I researched above, Gortat actually had averages of 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game, which are in line with his season averages.

This offseason then becomes one of simplicity for Gortat.

With a full offseason of rest and a year as a relied-upon NBA center of experience, the Polish Machine knows what he has to do.

“Just get better and bigger,” he said. “That’s it, that’s the main thing.”

Tags: Marcin Gortat

  • Tony

    Firstly, why is Babby speaking on matters related to on the court performance? Isn’t that supposed to be Blanks job? This is why no reputable candidate wanted the GM job because Sarver designed a system in which Babby has all the power. Even though he claims that Blanks is responsible for player assessments, I doubt Blanks is anything more than a glorified scout. First Sarver thought he was smart enough to be his own GM when he forced Kerr out and brought in Hedo, Childress, and Warrick, and now, Babby is in the same position! Sarver just keeps on repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

    As far as Gortat is concerned, he had a similar break-out 1st half of the season as Frye did a few seasons ago. Opposing teams’ didn’t gameplan for him early in the season and instead concentrated on taking away the Suns outside shooters. But after Gortat had such a superb first half, the emphasis other teams’ placed on the Suns shifted to stopping the pick-and-roll. Since Gortat doesn’t have a reliable mid-range jumper, which would allow him more spacing and allow Nash and him to run pick-and-pops, stopping the pick-and-roll game between Nash and Gortat became pretty simple.

    The most important aspect of Gortat’s game that he has to improve is the mental part. He’s too hard on himself and when he makes mistakes or is in a pressure game, he folds and plays soft. For a guy already 28, I am not at all convinced he sheds that softness. One thing that would help him is to get physically stronger especially in his lower body. If he can rely more on his physical strength, it won’t be so easy for bigger centers to push him around in the paint. Also, he should not be proud of taking charges. Taking charges is not something that demonstrates a “presence” in the paint. One of the things that Lopez did to bring a presence was by committing hard fouls. I’m not saying Gortat should be a dirty player but he there’s a reason you get six fouls in a game, and sometimes committing a hard foul can intimidate opposing guards. I think it was Bill Russel who said something like he doesn’t go outside the paint to score, so the guards better not try driving into the paint. That’s the attitude I would love to see in Gortat.

    Overall though, Gortat is a solid player but he’s not a franchise player or even a number 2 player on a good team. Although his post game showed great improvement from the previous season, he’s still a below average post-player. The only reliable move he has in the post is the quick spin move and if that is taken away, he has no secondary post move to utilize. Expectations were set too high for him after a stellar beginning with the Suns and then once teams’ made adjustments against him, reality hit and we witnessed his limitations. That doesn’t mean he’s not valuable, but he should not be a cornerstone of the rebuilding era about to begin next season.

  • Scott

    @Tony -

    It’s already been mentioned that Blanks is not good at public speaking. So Babby speaks for the group, even though the final decisions are to be made by Blanks, and presumably might occasionally be contrary to the sentiments expressed by Babby.

  • https://twitter.com/#!/True_Rys Rich Anthony, (KJL)

    Age doesn’t matter. All that matters is when you finally have your shot to play constant minutes. Your “rookie-of-the-year” year meaning, the first year you started and had to be accountable for the success of the team.

    So, a big man in his first season being trusted to do basically, everything for both the center and power forward on both sides of the ball in a blazing-fast season got tired.

    I’m fine with that.

    Something I’m not fine with, though, is this call for him to have to be this rough and tumble sort of center. It is one of the things I hate most in the NBA.

    Sometimes, guys aren’t going to be Alonzo Mourning just because they’re tall. Sometimes they are more like The Dream in that they rely more on their finess than they do brute strength. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.

    I look at Yao Ming everytime i have this conversation with somebody. Houston butchered a guy who could have been the greatest offensive center ever by trying to turn him into Shaq instead of allowing him to be a LA-Laker-like Kareem.

    Gortat will get stronger as a starter and he is just now entering his prime years. So longevity issues are not the problem.

    But, he will never be Shaq on the offensive end. He won’t be Bynum or Howard either. He is a big man with great quickness for his size with fast-attacking moves around the rim. He is never going to evolve into a guy who can back guys deep into the post, catch the ball, put their defender on a hip, rise up, and crush the entire front row with a dunk hard enough to dent the floor.

    Personally, I don’t want that anyway. I like Gortat’s skill set and arsenal. I’d rather him refine those things while getting physically stronger so it’s easier for him to do them more often while also having the improved cardio to do it for an entire season.

    I can’t believe that anybody is questioning him on the defensive side of the ball. Yeah dude has to take charges because Nash is getting beat off the dribble and Channing Frye’s weak-side help is slower than Oliver Miller walking towards a treadmill. If he tries to block everything he’ll be late and comitting fouls.

    He’s the best rebounding guy we’ve had in… When was the last time somebody averaged 10 rebounds for an entire season?!? Early-years Matrix?

    I have no complaints as far as Gortat goes. He will improve just because he’s playing everyday. He will put in the work because he wants it. Hopefully the Suns find him a guard that fits well. Dragon would be ideal but if not, there appear to be other options coming along as teams begin changing directions.

  • Scott

    @Rich -

    I agree that Gortat is not going to solve all the team’s problems. He just needs to play within himself, to the best of his ability. And I think he’s close to that. Just, as he said, he wants to be a little stronger in the lower body, have better conditioning and mental toughness, he wants to shoot better, and he wants to be a little stronger in going to the basket so he draws more fouls. All of that is doable, if he wants to do it.

  • KeZ

    Do you guys think ATL would accept a Frye, Dudley – Josh Smith trade?

    I would love to see Smith in a PHX Uniform!

    I Personally think that Kris Humphries is another potential asset to our beloved team.

  • Yohance

    @KeZ

    I would not mine that trade one bit.
    However, I might like it even better if they included
    J-Chill in the deal or Price. I like Dudley because he plays
    the game the right way, with heart & smarts.
    Either guy would be an upgrade especially if we got back
    Josh Smith. We would not lose that much since we have a
    rising talent in Morris. Keep Bassy, Brown or Redd, Lopez, Morris, draft pick hopefully a scoring, athletic, defensive, wing player (sg or sf) off the bench. We would still have a decent bench. Warrick , J-Chill, and Price are not worth keeping in my
    book. I think they can find better options out there.
    I just hope management is smart about who they target. But, I see us making the playoffs next year if Nash stays and we can pick some more talented pieces via sign and trades, draft, and maybe a free agent here or there. Just dont overpay everyone.

  • KeZ

    @Yohance

    Don´t get me wrong, I love Dudley´s game as well but i would take Smith in a heartbeat! And if we could get Humphries via a trade(Is he a free agent?) and a Aaron Afflalo type of guy at the 2 spot(why not the real Afflalo) if he is available so to speak our starting 5 would be fire……

  • GoSuns

    Humphries is a free agent

  • Ty-Sun

    Price can’t be included in any trade because he only signed a 1 year contract and really isn’t a Sun anymore. At the moment I can only see another team making a trade that includes Childress is if they get the opportunity to trade one of their bad contracts back to the Suns… and as long as the Suns have the amnesty option that makes no sense for them.

    I like Humphies too and think the Suns should make him an offer… as long as they don’t offer too much for him. But then they would have to clear some space at the PF spot. I want to keep Morris but Warrick and/or Frye would need to go. Or perhaps the Suns could let Lopez go and just move Frye to Gortat’s backup at center. That actually might help the second unit because they could use Frye to stretch the floor and be the outside threat which would give Morris more room to work inside.

    The trade for Josh Smith trade sounds interesting too but I doubt Atlanta would go for it unless they want to shed some salary. Adding Frye and Dudley in exchange for Smith really does nothing for their team except shed about $2.5 mil in salary. If this was part of a 3 or 4 team trade with multiple players moving between teams then I could see the Suns maybe winding up with Smith but not just for Dudley and Frye.

    If the Suns front office has any balls at all the should offer Orlando whatever they want in trade for Dwight Howard even if he won’t commit to signing a contract extension. If Orlando bites, then the make a max offer to Deron Williams and let Nash go. As much as I love Nash, if the Suns had a chance to sign D-Will I would be willing to let him go. And you know D-Will know he wants to play with Howard. But even if he doesn’t come to Phoenix then you’ll at least have Howard for one season and the Suns can start rebuilding for real afterward. If getting Howard mean taking Turkoglu back too, so be it as long as Orlando also takes Childress or Warrick in the trade. The other can be amnestied and Turkoglu only has 2 more years left on his contract. Warrick has 2 more years left on his contract and Childress has three. Trading one and amnestying the other would actually save the Suns a little in the long run.

  • Tony

    @Rich,

    the fatigue factor is just an excuse. And no, Nash wasn’t getting beat off the dribble everytime to force Gortat into taking charges.

    Secondly, Gortat’s game is not the issue, although he does need to improve offensively. But it’s the mental part of the game that he’s lacking and that was why he disappeared in every critical game or critical moments in games’. You think it was just a coincidence that he struggled most in games that could have put the team in the playoffs with a win? I don’t and it wasn’t just offensively, but also defensively he was schooled.

    Thirdly, he’s not that young! While bigs can usually last longer because less athleticism is typically needed, Gortat’s main strength comes from his athleticism and that’s the first thing to go with age. Also just because this was his first season being a starter does not negate his playing time with the Magic and the time with the Polish National Team. Hence, it’s not as if this was his rookie season.

    Lastly, it’s not that many want him to be physically rough but to have a tougher mental attitude and to have a presence, like Lopez does, in the paint defensively. He doesn’t need to go all Ron Artest to show that. He just needs to be more aggressive defensively and when a guard or sf is constantly driving to the paint, he should be willing to commit a hard foul. At this level, when everyone on the court is physically gifted, it’s mostly the mental part of the game that separates players. So far he hasn’t shown he has it and if next season is the same, then Gortat will never establish himself as one of the best centers in the NBA.

  • GoSuns

    @Tony, he didn’t step down in every critical game, yes he didn’t step up in the Utah game but the orlando game was about as important as any of the other ones on that eastern road trip and he didn’t regress in the second half of the season, his rebounding dipped slightly but he gave teams problems all season long, he is one of the best centers in the league at this point and only has room to grow

  • steve

    I’m kinda halfway in between on the points about Gortat that are being thrown around, however the tipping point for me is his salary. His production/cost ratio has got to be one of the best in the NBA. For that reason alone, I’m never going to be too harsh on him. He doesn’t play like a $20M center? Ok, well he doesn’t get paid like one either.