Counting last night, Marcin Gortat is up to 58 total minutes played in fourth quarters dating back to December 21st. That's nearly half of what both Kevin Seraphin and Kris Humphries have totaled (103 and 101 minutes respectively) over the same amount of time. In that span, the Wizards are 12-12, a far-cry from their historic 19-6 start to the year, and only 1.5 games ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers for the third seed in the East.
This is the same player who has a 7.8 net-rating, second to only Nene on the team and 13.4 points better than the guy he's been supplanted by per NBA.com's stats page.
Yet it's become fashionable to blame him when things go awry. Never mind the five minute drought the offense went through in the fourth quarter last night that came to an end once Gortat re-entered the game with three minutes to go. Or the one field goal they managed in overtime against the Raptors up until their defense conceded an open dunk to Beal in the waning seconds. Or on the heels of their comeback in Phoenix where they managed to cut the deficit to four points in the fourth, then proceeded to go on another five minute dry spell that inevitably lost them the game.
And that's just the past three games.
This is a classic case of Randy Wittman pounding a square peg into a round hole. The offense is designed to run out of the post, an area Gortat has historically struggled with throughout his career. But rather than catering to the strengths of his $60 million big man, Witt is putting him in positions where he's least effective. Take a look at Gortat's heat map, courtesy of basketball-reference:
Notice how much of his offense comes from the left block. Over 62 percent of Gortat's possessions ending in a post-up comes from that side of the floor, and he's converted just 27 of his 72 tries, or 37 percent, well below average according to Synergy-Sports. In fact, out of the 54 players to have attempted at least 40 post-ups from the left block this season, Gortat ranks 46th.
The offense has plays built in just to take advantage of that side of the floor. Watch Gortat swoop in across the floor and off a pair of cross-screens in the paint in an attempt to gain deep position on his man off the timeout.
More often than not, that initial entry pass will be denied, and Gortat will subsequently be pushed out of the paint. But instead of moving away from this action, John still dumps it down, clear that side of the floor, and like his other three teammates on the court, watches Gortat work in isolation. Two dribbles later, he'll spin away and turn over his right shoulder only to see the ball clank off the side of the rim.
It's an exercise in futility at this point. On the rare occasion when Gortat has it figured out and is making a quick decision with the ball, he can look unstoppable like he did in game 5 in Indiana last May. But much like Bradley Beal's propensity to dribble into long-twos, it will yield disastrous results, which is what you've been seeing for most of this season.
There's only so much Wittman can do at this point in the season. He has exactly one credible ball handler capable of striking fear in a defense, and contrary to popular belief, has a limited supply of players he can use to stretch out the floor without killing the defense. Both Rasual Butler and Martell Webster have struggled to find their footing in the new year, and while Pierce was brought in for that very purpose, it's clear they're preserving him for the playoffs.
Clifford said Paul Pierce looks a lot fresher this season than last. He suspects that's about Wiz not asking Pierce to play power forward.
— Rick Bonnell (@rick_bonnell) February 3, 2015
So most of what you see from this offense comes from the inside-out, and Wittman has gotten better about disguising some of his sets. Here's one of their pet plays this season:
It looks like a standard post-up for Nene with Beal clearing out the side of the floor, but as soon as he gets into the middle of the lane, he takes a hard turn, rubs off the down-screen from Gortat, and catches the ball up top.
And once they establish that, they can fake the post-up, and go straight to Beal as they do here:
But there's only so much you can do with your back to the basket, not to mention Washington's middling efficiency when it comes to those play types. For years they've had a built-in excuse for their lack of success on the offensive end, but it's become increasingly clear that they just haven't maximized their talent. That starts with getting Marcin Gortat more involved in pick and rolls, where he's clearly been at his best.