The Washington Wizards stayed true to their word, signing Marcin Gortat to an enormous 5 year, $60 million dollar deal that offers no partial guarantees or opt-out clauses. He'll see every penny of that contract and it's sparked very legitimate debate among the NBA community if he's worth it at his age.
One possible silver lining is that he didn't pick up a basketball until he was 17 years old. He's played a total of 10,600 minutes in his career to this point, which falls way short of Joakim Noah and Roy Hibbert, both of whom are younger than him. It may not be fair to judge him like any other 30 year old center because he's not like any other 30 year old center.
And that's how he'll have to earn his money. Right now, he's one of the better two-way centers in the league. He's a magnet for luring help defenders out of position as he rolls down the lane and he's mastered the art of eluding charges even as he catches the ball on the run.
Few centers can match his screen-setting ability too. He's been one driving force behind John Wall's improvement as a point guard, which I'll argue is the single most important aspect of this signing. He understands the value of mixing it up on offense by not simply rolling hard to the rim or fading out for a jumper. Furthermore, he has the artistry to time his rolls to the basket. Watch as he delays his roll while Wall veers towards the sideline, a practice known as snaking.
That's Roy Hibbert, who rarely gets drawn out on switches because he's constantly hanging back. But since Wall goes to the middle rather than dribbling toward the baseline, he runs C.J. Watson right into Gortat, who's slowly drifting into the open space near the basket. This almost serves as a second screen for Wall, who lures Hibbert away from the hoop for a split second, opening up the dump-off pass to Marcin for the finish.
All of this had a trickle-down effect on Bradley Beal too, who emerged as a full-time ball handler in the postseason. He and Gortat made a killing in their two-man game because of all their re-screen action.
But what happens if Gortat loses a step in the next few years? Washington may not think that'll happen so quickly, but it's a real possibility that'll have serious ramifications. HIs style of play doesn't age well and he doesn't have the type of floor game to fall back on despite getting plenty of reps to prove as much in D.C.
If he's not running pick and roll, he's not that effective an offensive player. Twenty-seven percent of his looks came via post-ups per Synergy Sports, the highest among any play type he was involved in. Gortat scored at the rate of 0.79 points per possession on those plays, a huge drop off from the 1.04 points per possessions he scored in pick and rolls. Twenty-seven percent is therefore an outrageous figure given his skill set. As he ages, he may lose some of his speed in pick and rolls, which will hurt his value.
It's unclear how much you can blame Randy Wittman for that large number. His offense is generally very vanilla, but Gortat has gone on record complaining about a lack of touches in the past. He seems comfortable operating with his back to the basket despite his middling efficiency. He has an array of moves and a quick first step when he chooses to face-up, but he repeatedly gets shoved off his spot on the low block, causing him to force the issue. It just doesn't seem like he's a willing passer from that spot either, which makes some of these trends all the more troubling moving forward.
The Wizards will also definitely feel Gortat's eventual decline on the defensive end. Nene has two seasons remaining on his deal, and each season with him will be as hazy as the next. The Wizards can take solace in having three young perimeter players with high upside as defenders, but there's very little to work with in the front court. Just as Gortat helps Nene in many ways, so to does Nene's defense often help Gortat.
The good news is Marcin did just fine without Nene in the lineup in March. Wittman's system goes beyond just one or two players. It requires a string of rotations -- players helping on the nail, stunting to shooters and covering ground on the perimeter -- while a pick and roll is being ran. Gortat had little problem sliding his feet once he showed on ball handlers and he did a good enough job retreating to his man before they're able to gain a head of steam toward the basket.
Problems do persist down low, however. He gets pushed around a ton as he gets backed down and as he attempts to protect the rim. You can expect a rim protector to defend well as he gets older -- think Tyson Chandler -- because you can mitigate his deteriorating quickness, but the task is so much more onerous when it's the other way around.
There's arguments to be made on both sides, but aging is definitely a concern. Obviously, replacing Gortat in the short term with other free agents is almost impossible, but that's also one reason why they couldn't talk down the years to a more favorable amount.
Alas, the Wizards will have to hope for the best and live with the consequences.