Through the first 15 games of this compressed season, few things have been consistent for the Phoenix Suns. Many players have gone through ups and downs already including the likes of Grant Hill and Jared Dudley, who have been very consistent in the past. However, the two-time MVP and aging superstar of the Suns, Steve Nash, has continued to play at an all-star level in what could be his last year in a Suns' uniform. The only other player on the roster who has also played consistently well is Marcin Gortat, the relatively new starting center for the Suns who has been registering all-star caliber stats since joining the team just over a year ago.
Marcin Gortat was widely regarded as the best back-up center in the league while playing in the shadow of Dwight Howard in Orlando. However, because he was playing behind the best center in the league and rarely saw substantial minutes, it was hard to gauge just how good he really was. The Suns took a chance on Gortat when Robin Lopez struggled to get back to form after returning from a back injury that affected his jumping, movement, and overall athleticism.
The Suns were looking for a tough, defensive-minded player who could provide quality minutes at the center position, but it was unclear exactly how effective Gortat could be on offense since he was still viewed as being slightly raw and unpolished in that regard. After the trade, Gortat quickly found success in Phoenix and exceeded even the loftiest of expectations on both sides of the court. After about four months of outplaying Lopez who remained a starter, Gortat was moved into the starting lineup and never looked back. Gortat finished the season averaging an impressive 13pts, 9.3rbs, and 1.3blks a game during his time in Phoenix, and also did very well defensively.
How has Marcin Gortat shaped up for the Suns so far this season? Do the Suns have a legit all-star caliber big man to build around in the coming seasons even after Nash retires or signs elsewhere? Read on for some analysis.
During the off-season, many fans wondered if Gortat could continue to flourish in Phoenix or if his performance last season was more of a fluke. Even with his numbers, many fans and analysts still noticed some sizable holes in Marcin's game. One area in particular that Gortat seemed to struggle with was his post game, even when matched up against smaller or less effective defenders. Many questioned if Gortat would ever take the next step in becoming a true all-around center by developing an ability to score inside without having to catch the ball while already in motion.
Gortat worked out in Houston with Hakeem Olajuwon for a week during the off-season, and so far it seems to have helped. While Marcin hasn't perfected the dream shake, he has already added a slightly different version of it to his arsenal along with other post moves that he has seemingly improved upon.
Here's a video of some highlights during their time together, and some moves that should look familiar to what we've seen from Gortat during these first 15 games:
Here's a video of highlights from his game last night against the Celtics:
It's easy to see that Gortat has been working hard at improving his overall game, and while he still has more room for improvement, this is a good sign that he has not yet reached his ceiling and could conceivably get even better. He may not have the upside of a young, athletic player just coming into the league, but one should also remember he has only been in the NBA for four years and has only been starting for less than one. So far, he has done a remarkable job in making the most of his opportunity in Phoenix and continues to get better.
Here are Gortat's stats so far this season compared to who many consider to be the best center in the Western Conference, Andrew Bynum:
|2011 - Marcin Gortat||15||29.9||6.7||11.1||59.9||0.0||0.0||0.0||1.4||2.2||63.6||2.1||7.3||9.3||0.8||1.7||0.7||1.6||2.0||14.7|
|2011 - Andrew Bynum||13||34.3||6.5||12.2||53.5||0.0||0.0||0.0||2.8||5.2||52.9||3.8||9.8||13.6||1.3||2.5||0.5||1.9||2.5||15.8|
Looking at his stats thus far compared to Bynum's the biggest difference is in the rebounding, where Bynum is averaging about four more per game. Bynum is also scoring about one more point per game then Gortat, but that's also while averaging about four more minutes of playing time. Bynum also attempts more free throws per game but Gortat makes them at a better percentage, even though his numbers are actually down this season (I expect his percentage to go up). Gortat is also scoring more efficiently from the field, averaging nearly 60% to Bynum's 53.5%.
This comparison isn't made to suggest that Gortat is better or even as good as Bynum, but instead to show that his numbers are at least comparable. Now I would be remiss if I didn't also mention that Bynum and Gortat are completely different types of players. Bynum is a bigger and stronger player who bullies his way into and around the paint for most of his baskets and rebounds. Gortat is quicker, more agile, and a better shooter who uses those qualities to his advantage in both of these areas. However they are both very effective in what they do.
In my opinion, Gortat possesses the natural ability, skill, and work ethic to be a very effective player for this team and should even continue to improve because of his work ethic, which is something many people did not believe was very likely in the past. Gortat may not possess elite size or leaping ability, but he uses his strengths to his advantage very well. At nearly 28 years old he isn't a young player but he certainly isn't old either, and his limited mileage over his first few seasons in the NBA could help extend his career as well.
I believe the Suns would be well served to build around Gortat after Nash, and fortunately he is still under contract for two more seasons after this one at a very reasonable $7 million a year, so the front office will have plenty of time to further evaluate him. I expect Gortat to continue to develop into one of the premier big men in the league, and his versatility may also allow the Suns to explore using him at both the center and even the power forward positions in the future.