Evaluating Marcin Gortat

ATLANTA - MAY 10: Al Horford #15 and Josh Smith #5 of the Atlanta Hawks defend the basket against Marcin Gortat #13 of the Orlando Magic during Game Four of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena on May 10, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Orlando Magic GM Otis Smith turned a lot of heads when he matched the Dallas Mavericks' offer sheet, worth the full mid-level exception, to Marcin Gortat this summer. After all, Gortat backs up Dwight Howard, the league's best center, and thus only figures to play 10-15 minutes per game. Not only that, but there was some speculation that a contract push by Gortat inflated his statistics last season. So how did he fare in the first ear of his five-year deal? Not so dissimilarly to Vince Carter, as it turns out. Like Carter, Gortat's performance this year only bolstered the lazy arguments critics of his and Smith's made, which is really quite a shame.

Marcin Gortat
No. 13
Center
Points Per Game Rebounds Per Game Blocks Per Game
3.6 4.2 0.9
Points Per 36 Rebounds Per 36 Blocks Per 36
9.7 11.3 2.3
PER Rebound Rate Block Rate
13.9 18.1 4.8
FG% 3FG% FT%
.533 .000 .680
eFG% TS%
.533 .563

All statistics in this table from Gortat's player page at basketball-reference. Career-high statistics highlighted in gold.

Yes, he posted career-lows in per-minute scoring and rebounding, as well as Player Efficiency Rating. Yet I don't get the sense that Gortat mailed this season in after getting his new deal. Early in the season, he complained of fatigue, due to playing in the World Championships Eurobasket in his native Poland after a deep NBA Finals run. And it's true that Gortat often lacked energy, which explains how his rebound rate dropped from a stratospheric 20.3% last season to a more reasonable 18.1% this season, which represents a 10.8% decrease. Now, an 18.1% rebound rate is nothing at which to scoff. Even in a down year by his standards, Gortat's total rebound rate tied him for 14th in the entire league, just ahead of rebounding specialist David Lee of the New York Knicks. And despite the lack of energy, he blocked a higher rate of shots than ever before.

But don't mistake shot-blocking for good defense. Whatever the cause--fatigue? lack of focus? indifference?--Gortat went from one of the league's best defenders to merely being quite good. Orlando could do worse than to have a "very good" defender, as Synergy Sports Technology's data describe him, backing up the two-time reigning defensive player of the year. This is true. Yet one of the biggest advantages to playing Gortat behind Howard last year was the consistently incredible defense both guys provided at center. This year, it went from near the top of the league with Howard in to, again, just quite good. A lot of teams would love to have this problem, I suppose.

The fatigue may have affected him just as much on offense as it did on defense. Check out the staggering drop-off in his post-up offense, per Synergy:

Play Type Season %Time Points Per Possession Rating
(Percentile)
%Score
Post-Ups 2009/2010 16.0% 0.600 Poor
(11)
32.0%
2008/2009 22.0% 0.904 Very Good
(71)
46.2%

Gortat continued to excel as a roll-man to the basket, thanks to his excellent hands, good passes from the likes of J.J. Redick and Jason Williams, and the remarkable lack of attention defenses pay to him. Yet when called upon to create his own offense with his back to the basket, he often failed to deliver. Speaking strictly about this season, that's a negative, but it could bode well for him going forward. He's unlikely to duplicate that level of inefficiency, which is why I believe he will have a bounce-back season in 2010/2011.

Of course, he may not get that opportunity in Orlando. Though he had a down year, Gortat's only 26 years old, reasonably paid relative to other starting-caliber centers, and quite talented. Smith may look to move him this offseason, though my sense is that he'd be best served trading Brandon Bass instead.

I do believe a bounce-back year is in the offing for the Polish Machine. But we're talking just about this season, sadly, and he didn't do too well here. Orlando needs Gortat to become less flighty and return to his 2008/2009 form. It's a realistic expectation, but one that it may have to exhibit remarkable patience to see fulfilled.

Grade: C+
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