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Marcin Gortat had an underappreciated, but uneven season with the Wizards

NBA: Washington Wizards at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

This is the third in our series of player evaluations for each Wizard from the 2016-17 season. In our second installment, we reviewed Kelly Oubre.

Season in Review by Alan Jenkins

As the NBA evolves into a shooter's league, traditional centers are quickly becoming extinct and Marcin Gortat is no exception. Once the Wizards traded for Markieff Morris during the 2015-2016 season, it was clear that the Wizards were shifting their focus away from muscle to spacing. And just this offseason, the Wizards made a run at Al Horford in hopes of putting four shooters around John Wall.

Even though traditional centers are fading away, Marcin Gortat managed to turn in his best season as a Wizard averaging a double-double for the year with 10.8 points and 10.4 rebounds. On top of that, the 33-year-old was the only Wizards player who played and started all 82 games this season.

Gortat was rock solid for a majority of the season. However, he went through a bit of a slump in late February and March as his numbers dipped to 7.3 points and 8.6 rebounds per contest. This happened to coincide with the Wizards’ team struggles so like years past, Gortat became the punching bag for Wizards faithful.

Things didn’t get easier for Gortat when the Wizards entered the playoffs as he had arguably the hardest individual matchups in both rounds. First, he had to guard the bruising Dwight Howard and then he had to try to lock down the rangy Al Horford.

Gortat struggled to score in the Atlanta series but managed double-digit rebounding numbers in four of the six games (including 18 rebounds in Game 4). In the second round against the Celtics, he was able to move more freely on the offensive end. He notched three double-doubles in the series with double-digit rebounding efforts in six of the seven games.

There’s no denying it, Gortat is getting older, but he’s adjusted to the evolving NBA. He’s not a stat stuffer anymore but performs many little things that don’t show up in the box score. This season, Gortat led the NBA in screens leading to baskets. So although he doesn’t get an assist per se, he’s accounting for a minimum of 12 additional points on a nightly basis.

He continues to make the most of his touches around the rim, making 68.9 percent of his attempts there this season. The issue here is that his touches and shot attempts went down from previous years. He only attempted 8.2 shots per game, the fewest of his career since arriving in Washington.

As the Wizards switched their offensive scheme, Gortat received fewer and fewer touches in the post as most of his points either came on pick-and-rolls or putbacks. In the rare instance that Gortat would get the ball in the post, it often felt like he needed to take the shot as he wasn’t sure when he’d touch the ball next. He struggled on those opportunities, shooting 46.2 percent in the paint and 40.9 percent in the midrange area.

Gortat isn’t in an ideal situation as he’s on the wrong side of 30 playing a position that is slowly dissolving. He mentioned in his exit interviews that he’ll talk with his agent this offseason to see if Washington is the best place for him as it’s clear that the Wizards are looking to get younger and more athletic at the center position.

His season didn’t end on a high note as he became less and less involved in the offense as the season wore on. However, his durability, rebounding, and ability to do the dirty work can’t be questioned.

Behind the Numbers by Kevin Broom

Gortat’s production slipped in 2016-17 from a PPA of 170 in 2014-15 and a 171 in 2015-16 to “just” a 133 this season. My preseason analysis projected him at 147. In PPA, my overall rating metric, average is 100 and higher is better. The multi-million dollar question: What’s behind the decline?

The obvious answer is age. Gortat turned 33 this season, and athletes past 30 are reliable in doing two things: getting worse and getting hurt. Except, indicators of applied athleticism were a mixed bag for the big man this season. His blocks were at a career low, but his rebounding, steals and fouling were within career norms. His conversion rate inside was normal (and excellent). Injuries to his primary backup Ian Mahinmi forced him to play heavy minutes, and he played every game for the team this season.

My analysis echoes Alan’s point above that Gortat’s production decline appears related to a lack of offensive opportunities. His touches were down a bunch as the Wizards ran fewer plays for him than at any point since he joined the team. His offensive usage rate was 14.7 percent -- his lowest since 2009-10 when he was Dwight Howard’s backup in Orlando.

Basketball-Reference has 66 players identified as C with at least 500 minutes this season. Here’s where Gortat ranks in key stat categories (per 100 team possessions):

  • MPG: 10
  • Offensive rating (individual points produced per 100 team possessions): 23
  • Usage: 54
  • eFG%: 19
  • 2FG%: 20
  • FT%: 45
  • FTA: 59
  • REB: 18
  • AST: 35
  • STL: 62
  • BLK: 60
  • TOV: 19
  • PF: 14
  • PTS: 49
  • PPA: 28

While Gortat is a solid, productive pro, that PPA rank suggests the Wizards should be in the market for an upgrade in the middle. If they want a low-usage defensive presence and rebounder, they can likely find better, younger, cheaper options than Gortat.

The Wizards big man has an exotic performance EKG. For the first half of the season, his 10-game average performance (blue line) stuck close to his game-by-game season average (orange line). Then he strung together a 13-game stretch of All-NBA level production, which ended at the All-Star break (vertical green line). When the games resumed, he was terrible until the last few games of the season.

Final Thoughts by Jake Whitacre

Gortat’s slump over the last two months is cause for serious concern. He seems to have a stretch each season where he struggles, but it’s usually not as pronounced or prolonged as this year’s dip. Plus, you could argue the small bounceback near the end of the season was thanks to playing disinterested teams who were tanking or already locked in their playoff spot. Maybe it really is a sign that Father Time is catching up with him and we need to start getting used to him in a somewhat diminished role.

Then again, there’s something to be said for the timing of Gortat’s slump. His slump coincided with Ian Mahinmi’s return from injury. That’s not to say he struggled because he was worried about Mahinmi stealing his minutes or his starting role. But certainly, between that and the way rotations were adjusted as Mahinmi got healthy, you can understand how it could have disrupted the rhythm he had found through December and January.

If that’s the case, the good news is that Gortat’s slump isn’t age-related and he can maintain the production we saw earlier in the season. But at the same time, Ian Mahinmi isn’t going anywhere, and unless you think he’ll start next season on the shelf, the same potential issue could be on the table then as well. For Gortat and the Wizards’ sake, let’s hope they find a way to get him in the best position possible moving forward.