Much like with Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor a year ago, it took some time for Marcin Gortat to fully acclimate himself to Randy Wittman's system. Defensively, there were botched rotations all over the court, no semblance of rim protection and a starting center who looked lost in a hard-hedge system. On offense, Gortat was a mixed bag. It wasn't nearly as concerning as his defense, but the cohesion between him and his guards simply wasn't there, and his timidness finishing down low became maddening.
But all that has changed. Marcin has come into his own since the Wizards hit rock bottom with a deflating loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers at home, rescuing an offense that's seemingly been on life support the past five years.
Gortat has helped convert this franchise from just another team on the outside looking in to a team possibly sneaking into second round of the playoffs in the (admittedly decrepit) Eastern Conference. The offense has predictably shot up this season; their most commonly used lineup of Wall, Bradley Beal, Martell Webster, Nene, and Gortat is scoring at a robust 110.2 points per 100 possessions. That's good enough for a top-five team in the league, per NBA.com's stats page. Gortat himself has never been more efficient scoring the ball; he currently posts a true shooting percentage over 58 percent and is finishing close to 66 percent of his shots at the rim.
But more impressively, he's had a large hand in John Wall's progression as a floor general. Because of Gortat's rolling ability, Wall is starting to harness his speed and is meticulously attacking the defense. It's hard to imagine this duo improving any further. Gortat ranks fourth in the league with a 66.7 percent conversion rate out of the pick and roll, per MySynergySports.com, while Wall places second to only Chris Paul with 22.2 points created from his assists per game, per the SportsVU tracking data. Both players have a great feel for one another, and it's had a profound impact on the rest of the team.
Here, the Wizards will come out of their sideline out of bounds box set and run a standard pick and roll. Wall knows Indiana will play soft in order to take away his driving lane, so his only options are to pull-up or reset the offense.
However, after jetting around the initial pick, Wall does something we're not accustomed to seeing: he stops his drive, waits for his big man to flip the second pick to the other side, and reads how the defense reacts.
The second pick tilts the defense, and with Trevor Booker sliding to the strong side, Gortat gets just enough room to slip into the open space and provide Wall with an outlet. The rest is up to him. He's been one of the best finishers out of the pick and roll for quite some time now and doesn't appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
Here's the whole play.
But Gortat hasn't been limited to just running pick and rolls with Wall. His mobility has opened up the offense and allowed them to run more counter actions to offset their often-telegraphed attack. They're relying on their center more than ever, whereas in the past, if teams cut off the initial pick and roll, Wall would be coaxed into taking contested jumpers. This has been the biggest difference from last year. Okafor would routinely fade or roll to the rim, but never could get the Wizards into more elaborate sets to get the ball moving from one side to the other.
Here, San Antonio is going to play this like any pick and roll, keeping it to the side and not allowing the ball handler to get to the middle. Tim Duncan hangs back to block off Wall's driving lane, while Tony Parker fights over the Gortat screen. Wall has seen more and more defenses play him this way. Rather than baiting him into taking the open midrange jumper, teams are forcing the ball out of his hands completely.
As soon as Wall is met by Duncan, he spots Kawhi Leonard cheating too far down, and kicks it out to Martell Webster at the elbow. This causes Kawhi to retreat to the three-point line.
Because Kawhi sagged so far off his man, he had no choice but to take a hard closeout on Webster, which made this an easy decision. One escape dribble and Martell has an easy two-on-one situation in the lane. Gortat comes up pretending like he's going to set a back pick for Webster, but the second Duncan leans forward, Gortat slips and gets an open look at the basket.
Here's the full play.
Gortat is an instinctive player that thrives on ball movement. He understands the value of timing his rolls to the basket, and has furthered Washington's corner-centric offense by setting clever side pick and rolls for Webster and Trevor Ariza when they're tasked with attacking a hard close-out. These subtle, yet effective plays have brought new light to an extremely dull offense a year ago.
His versatility makes all this possible, and the team has just now begun to scratch the surface in terms of what they can become on that end. The Wizards currently rank 18th in the league in offensive efficiency, per Basketball Reference.com, a full 12 spots higher than last seasons' ranking. This is in spite of both Wall and Beal struggling with shooting slumps to start the year.
There's still more to this offense than what's been shown in the early stages of the season, and that's scary for opponents dealing with a team just starting to find its groove in an incredibly bleak conference.
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