Friday Flashback: Looking back on the Phoenix Suns tenure of Marcin Gortat

Only one player in Phoenix Suns history could be referred to as the “Polish Hammer. Let’s talk about him.

Here at Valley of the Suns, I want to try something different. We’re going to call if Friday Flashback. I know, I know, not original, but how many different ways can I mention a look back on a classic Phoenix Suns player or team and somehow include Friday? See? It’s harder than you thought. OK, let’s get started with Mr. Marcin Gortat.

Marcin Gortat was drafted in the second round, 57th overall by the Orlando Magic and spent his first four years backing up All-Star Dwight Howard. That worked OK for Gortat for a while, but around the time he entered restricted free agency he was ready to become a starter, and that wasn’t going to happen as long as Howard was suiting up for the Magic. Gortat would have to go.

Gortat yearned for a chance to be a starting center in the league, and the Phoenix Suns gave him the opportunity.

The Dallas Mavericks attempted to oblige him, signing Gortat to an offer sheet of five years and $34 million. However the Magic, keen on having the additional size and a productive back-up on their roster, matched the offer, and an unhappy Gortat was headed back to Orlando, set to play sparingly in a position that was more than capably handled.

But not for long.

Gortat was given his opportunity to become a starter when he became part of a blockbuster trade in the 2010-2011 season, sent to Phoenix along with Vince Carter, Mickael Pietrus, $3 million, and a 1st round draft pick for Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson, and Earl Clark.

Gortat meshed well early in Phoenix. He found great chemistry on the pick and roll with Steve Nash, and his numbers and production increased on a level almost commiserate with his playing time. The improvement was impressive. Gortat went from four points and four rebounds a night on 54% shooting with Orlando to 13 points and just under 10 rebounds on 56% shooting with the Suns. He could finish well around the basket, had a short jumper out to about 10-12 feet, and was a decent free-throw shooter for the season at 73% (although on an admittedly low three free-throw attempts a night.)

Related Story: Valley of the Suns: All things Marcin Gortat

The following season Gortat was even more solid, playing 32 minutes a game and averaging a double-double with 15 points and 10 boards a contest on 55% shooting. His free-throw shooting slumped to 64% (on the same three free-throw attempts a game) and for the rest of his career, he would never reach or exceed his accuracy of that 2010-2011 season. He would finish the year eighth in the entire league in rebounds per game, 16th in blocks per game, and 18th in win shares.

This was easily his best season with the Phoenix Suns. Gortat had cemented himself as a starter, he had become even more in sync with Nash and was just a devastating finisher. Much was expected of him heading into the 2012-2013 season.

And then the 2012-2013 season actually happened.

The first blow to Gortat’s performance came with the departure of Nash to the Los Angeles Lakers. Any big man would obviously love to be spoon-fed perfect passes from a hall of fame guard, but the Gortat/Nash connection was a thing of beauty, and the loss of that was most certainly an adjustment. The incoming Goran Dragic was still a more than capable starting point guard, so its not fair to attribute Gortat’s drop off across the board to him. In fact, that was the real issue. Gortat’s numbers decreased pretty much everywhere.

Gortat’s points, rebounds, true shooting percentage, and field goals both attempted and made all dropped from the previous season. Some of the blame was surely on the drastic moves to the team in the offseason. In his first couple of seasons as a Sun, Gortat was able to just freely roll to the rim with Nash at the point and spacers around the floor, notably Channing Frye at power forward.

In the 2012-2013 season, instead of Frye, there was Luis Scola starting alongside Gortat, and although he would develop a three-point shot later, it was not part of his arsenal yet. Due to that and Gortat’s own rather limited range, the spacing really only extended to about 15-18 feet, which was the farthest that either big man was comfortable shooting the ball from. When you have a cramped floor and a point guard who was more aggressive in looking for his own offense coming off of the screen, then you have to pick your spots, and Gortat struggled in doing so. At the close of the season, It was clear that the Suns were a team in transition, and Marcin was no longer a fit in their timeline.

The writing was on the wall for a Gortat departure, and on October 25th, 2013 it happened. The Phoenix Suns moved Gortat, Shannon Brown, Malcolm Lee, and Kendall Marshall to the Washington Wizards in exchange for Emeka Okafor and a 2014 first-round draft pick who would become Tyler Ennis. Gortat’s tenure was over.

Gortat would have several more productive seasons, including the first couple in Washington where he bounced back to some of his Phoenix numbers and developed a pick and roll connection with Wizards point guard John Wall. He eventually would end his time there on frayed terms and then would play one last season with the Los Angeles Clippers. Oh yeah, and he would blast the Phoenix Suns later, calling them the worst organization he’s ever played with, so there’s that. He really dropped the hammer there huh?

Regardless, Gortat will be remembered as a productive center with a solid nickname on a series of rather underwhelming Suns teams. Phoenix gave him an opportunity, and he was mostly able to make the most of it. That is likely the lasting legacy of Marcin Gortat with the Suns.

Next: For the Phoenix Suns, the loss of Kelly Oubre Jr. is brutal
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