Marcin Gortat aims to prove he’s more than a Steve Nash creation

PHOENIX — Enough scorers have enjoyed career seasons next to Steve Nash to question whether Marcin Gortat will be the same offensive player without him around.

Every Sun figures to take some kind of efficiency hit without Two Time, but no Phoenix player relied on him more to create easy buckets than Gortat last season, although the flip side of that is that Nash needed an excellent roll man like Gortat more than any other Sun to be successful himself.

According to HoopData, Gortat was assisted on 78.6 percent of his buckets in 2010-11 with the Suns and 79.6 percent last year, more than any of the other 98 players to attempt at least 250 shots in 2011-12. A third of his plays last season came as the roll man (more than any other play type), per mySynergySports, a play on which he scored 1.23 points per play (10th in the league). Thus some wonder whether he can repeat his superb 15.4 ppg season on 55.5 percent shooting (56.8 percent with Nash, 47.0 percent without him, per the NBA’s stats tool) with Nash no longer around to set him up.

“Basically, I am going to try and prove that I can play without him,” Gortat said. “There was a lot of talk in the offseason about how I’m going to play and how I’m going to handle the whole situation without him.

“I believe I’m an experienced player already. I’ve been in the league a few years by now, and I have other point guards. I have Goran Dragic and Kendall Marshall. I have great passers. I’m quite sure I’ll be fine.”

It’s a question, however, because Nash has made more money than any player in the history of the NBA if you count all the dollars he has earned for teammates when they put up career years by his side.

Gortat was an ideal pick-and-roll partner for Nash with his combination of athleticism, agility and quickness in a 6-foot-11 package.  The Polish Hammer gushed about Nash pretty much since the second he arrived in the Valley, even joking after the 2010-11 season that he would give Nash his salary, BMW, apartment, pants and a salad every day if he were to stay.

Gortat so badly wanted an opportunity to prove himself upon landing in Phoenix, and he found himself in a perfect situation with the unselfish Nash. Yet now without him he bristled at a question during Media Day about whether his game would change without the Lakers’ new point guard.

“I’m not going to change my game at all,” Gortat said defiantly. “I’m going to try to use my athleticism, I’m going to use my energy. Obviously if there’s going to be an opportunity to set a screen I’m going to do that, but I’m pretty comfortable also with getting the ball down low and obviously I’m going to try to prove I’m a better post-up player this year than I was last year. I believe that 20 games in the offseason with the national team helped me, and I’m definitely energetic.”

Gortat led Poland to a first-place finish in Group E with a 6-2 record that qualified the squad for EuroBasket 2013 play. The Suns’ center led the way for a Poland squad lacking NBA-level talent beyond him.

Gortat dominated the field on his way to averaging 21.1 points (fourth in the qualifying tourney), 11.6 rebounds (second) and 2.3 blocks (second). He also shot 62.9 percent on twos (10th), recorded six double-doubles (first) and made 4.6 free throws a contest (eighth). In short, Gortat did everything one would expect an NBA stud to do in a tournament like this lacking the elite European squads playing in the Olympics.

Most importantly, he did all this without Steve Nash or any other NBA-caliber point guard spoon feeding him buckets.

“What I learn?” Gortat asked, repeating a question about his summer with the national team. “Well, that you’ve got to make a basket. If you don’t make a basket then your team isn’t going to win. Being that guy in Poland I was able to take [13] shots a game and you had to perform. I’ve got to say, it wasn’t easy. Back in Europe I was doubled, tripled, and it wasn’t easy, but it was a great experience for me. I learned a lot, and hopefully I’m going to be able to do the same thing in the NBA.”

Obviously Gortat will not hold down those same responsibilities in Phoenix with a lineup of versatile scorers around him, and although nobody is Nash it’s not like Goran Dragic won’t be able to find Marcin for easy opportunities.

After Friday’s preseason home opener in which the Suns did not run many pick-and-rolls as they were putting in new pieces of offense, I asked Dragic what he can do to ensure Gortat stays the same player without Nash.

“Same,” Dragic said. “It’s the same key. He has to run fast to the transition and set a screen and then when I come off the screen just roll fast. If the weakside is going to be inside than the shooters are open. If not, then Marsh is going to be open. We have so many shooters like JD, Wes, Shannon Brown that probably they’re not going to help so much and we have that easy bucket pass.

“I think he can be great for us. He’s a very important piece for our team.”

The question is how important, particularly on the offensive side of the ball because we know Gortat will be his usual solid self on the backboards and the defensive end.

On a Suns team with a host of quality scorers but no dominant ones, will he once again be that lead guy? Did he develop his post-up game with Poland so the Suns can go to him for easy buckets in the post for once? Will Dragic find him for as many easy buckets as Nash used to?

Gortat is sick of hearing those questions, yet more than any other Sun he figures to miss Nash the most.

Yet just like leaving Howard’s shadow, Nash’s departure opens up another opportunity for Gortat to prove himself as a legitimate borderline All-Star rather than just another Nash-inflated creation.

“This is a new team with a lot of new faces,” Gortat said. “Obviously, one of the most important faces is gone — Steve Nash. So it will be a new team. But I’m definitely looking forward to playing without him. I think we have a big chance to make the playoffs, and that’s going to be our main focus.”

Tags: Marcin Gortat

  • Scott

    Like others, I’d say Gortat mainly needs to remember to get his points off dunks as frequently as possible. It’s a higher percentage shot, and if a defender is there, there’s a greater chance of getting an opposing defender in foul trouble and heading to the FT line for points.

  • silver

    ^ definitely. Due to his athleticism I think Dragic will be able to spoon feed our guys as much as Nash, or at least almost as much. March, Morris, Beasley ,and Johnson need to be trying to get open for those dunks Dragic and Telfair will set em up. For sure Brown is gonna get his.

    One thing I hated last year is we missed so many dunks. Gortat, Frye, and Morris missed them and Friday I think it was Beasley that messed up a dunk. We need to keep doing them though. Hopefully we can get better. It will just make our team so much better because they count as points in the paint and like Scott said so high percentage and they get you to the FT line. We should be able to get more dunks off fast break also because our team is so much more athletic, changing Nash/Grant/Redd for Dragic/Beasley/Wes. Plus, things like we’re gonna be focusing on rebounding more and our new guys are younger and flashier. It was so cool to see Dragic just take his steal himself and dunk it. As opposed to Nash who could only really lay it up. Dunks just energize the team. Did Nash even have a dunk last season? Scola can’t dunk can he?

  • suns68

    Gortat doesn’t dunk well. Small hands for a man his size.

    I’d rather see him lay it up than lose it on the way up. Two points is two points.

    I noticed Steve had to adjust his passing style on the P&R to throw softer because Gortat doesn’t catch the ball as well as Amare did. I hope Dragic has picked up on that too.

  • sun also rises

    @suns68 I always wondered what Gortat’s problem on the hook and catch was. I never thought it was due to his hands but that makes TOTAL sense. It got to a point in his first year playing with Nash where it was like Steve stopped trusting him when he was took close for the roll and would pass up what looked like perfectly good chances.

  • john

    I know no one has ever done it before and it’s not likely to happen now, but I honestly think Gortat should wear WR gloves to give him a little bit of an edge over what he’s got now. At least it’s something to consider. I have a hard time believing it would hamper any part of his game. The only thing I would question is whether gloves would have a negative impact on jump shooting, but plenty of QBs have played with gloves, and it doesn’t seem to negatively affect their throwing. Throwing a football isn’t exactly the same as shooting a basketball, but there are a lot of similarities in the way each ball leaves the hand. Just a thought.

  • DBreezy

    Seems to me that guys like Marcin, Duds, Frye, Shannon would be well served by remembering the things that got them where they were before last season. Because of the ability of Nash and the lack of go to scorers in recent seasons, all of these guys had offensive roles that were greater than they should have been. While Suns haven’t truly solved the go to scorer problem, they do have guys in Goran, Scola, and Beasley who are probably better suited for the largest offensive roles.

    I don’t have a problem with Marcin wanting to explore and expand his post game, but if he wants to have the same or greater game impact as before he’d probably be more helpful in other areas. Getting back to that tough guy/enforcer he had in Orlando and he tried to bring in his first season here. That guy didn’t play for the Suns last season and he didn’t care about it because he was scoring. The dirt worker who was always working hard for loose balls and O boards that really made R.Lo look bad effort wise vs the guy waiting for a high post jumper. Guys like Scola or Beas should probably be shooting most of those.

    To me this is part of what Goran is getting at when he basically says Marcin just needs to go hard and let the rest take care of itself. It’s kind of like JaVale McGee in Denver. If he plays like he did in the playoffs and stops worrying about scoring off of set plays, he’s frightening. I must say that finding that balance is something Marc Gasol does very well.

  • Slap Dog Hoops

    I’m sure that he’ll be fine. As long as he continues to run on both sides of the floor, rebound, and defend in the paint, he will certainly get his points of natrually especially in the free flowing style that Phoenix plays.

  • Lloyd I. Cadle

    Gortat is underrated. He will prove to be one of the top centers in the NBA for many more years.

  • PennyAnd1

    @Lloyd I Cadle

    I think he’s overrated, though his stats may prove otherwise. He’s a still a good center, but I’m not sure if he’ll last being a top 5, especially with Nash gone. The focus shifted from Gortat to team, offensive-wise that is.