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.
When Markieff Morris was picked at #13 overall in last June's draft, the collective moaning began. Conventional wisdom had him a worse player than several power forwards still on the board - including Kawhi Leonard, Kenneth Faried and twin brother Marcus - as well as rookie scoring revelations Iman Shumpert and Marshon Brooks.
But the moment Suns fans and coaches saw Markieff play his first NBA game, they realized they had a gem. Morris is a tough guy who hustles, rebounds, blocks shots AND can score from the post as well as hit 3-pointers with aplomb. He's got all the skills wrapped up in a Philly-raised package of toughness and moxie.
Morris' comment before the Laker game this month, thanks to Paul Coro:
"If they leave me open, I'm going to shoot it. If they're not watching tape, I'm just going to keep popping it and be an unexpected shooter."
But Markieff does have an achilles' heel. He is a starry-eyed rookie when it comes to current or former MVP candidates he's been watching his whole life. Some of his worst NBA games have come when he's matched up against Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol and Kevin Garnett.
Here's Morris talking about playing these guys, to Paul Coro of the Republic and azcentral.com:
Question: Is it uncanny to you to be going against guys you watched on TV last year?
Answer: Yeah, but I'm still waiting on the Kobes and LeBrons. I was star-struck when I played against Dirk (Nowitzki). I was just like, "Man, I'm really here playing on the floor with these guys." I'm just happy to be part of the team.
Q: How much did you end up covering Nowitzki in the game?
A: Two possessions. I even fouled him. I was happy to foul him at least.
His line against the Mavericks: 2-4 shooting points (0-1 on threes), 5 rebounds, 4 fouls in 17 minutes
His line against the Lakers: 0-4 shooting (0-1 on threes), 3 rebounds on 15 minutes
His line against the Celtics: 0-3 shooting (0-1 on threes), 4 rebounds, 4 turnovers in 20 minutes
And even beyond these stat lines, Morris has looked as awestruck as he said he was. His shots were rushed, hitting off the back iron or even missing the hoop entirely.
His line against everyone else*: .50% shooting (51% on threes), 6 rebounds, 10 points in 22 minutes
*(includes a 1-minute stint against the Hornets in game 5. No idea what happened there...)
Rookies have highs and lows. They don't yet know how to mentally prepare for the NBA schedule, and if you're not mentally prepared then your body and energy will fluctuate unexpectedly.
But for a guy who seems have it all figured out, and who seems to prove it on most nights by making hustle plays on one end (steals, blocks) followed by draining an open jump shot on the other end, he just seems to lose a bit of that luster when the opponent is someone he's been watching since he was a kid.
And now that he is a starter for the foreseeable future, he will be facing superstar power forwards on a regular basis. Let's hope he gets over those rookie, starstruck jitters fairly soon.
With Rajon Rondo out due to injury and the Celtics only a 90 PPG team with him, the Suns were set up for defensive success, but they exceeded expectations by holding the Celtics to only 71 points on the road in TD Garden tonight. Marcin Gortat was easily the Suns best player with 24 points, 12 rebounds, 2 blocks and only 2 personal fouls. Gortat led all scorers tonight.
The Celtics "Big Three" tallied only 36 points combined as the Suns played a stifling, ball-hawking defense that is foreign to most Suns fans. Sure, the Celtics are aging and their offense was discombobulated with Rondo out, but the Suns played defense with a ton of energy.
The Suns starting lineup, which again included Ronnie Price and Markieff Morris, played the Celtics to about a draw, but the game changed when the benches came in. Every Suns backup was a + in +/- tonight, led by Jared Dudley's 12 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists. Five players scored in double figures for the Celtics, but they shot only 41% from the field with 18 turnovers and the Suns held the rebounding edge 36-25. The Celtics leading scorer, Ray Allen, put up only 14 points on 4-8 shooting.
Elston Turner, take a bow. This was a Suns defensive effort we've rarely seen.
Jump it for more of the goodness.Gortat was the hero tonight, just as he was when the Suns beat the Celtics last year. He scored 10 points to go with 4 rebounds in the first 7 minutes of the game on 7-11 shooting. Nash and Hill were ironmen again, logging 38 and 35 minutes, respectively, and had more impact on the game than their combined 20 points show. Nash had 9 assists, which is a ho-hum night from him, but he provided stability when the team needed it, and Hill played his trademark excellent defense. Hill blocked two shots and had four steals, as the Suns seemed to populate the Celtics passing lanes all night long.
The Suns offense was a little off, since defense is the Celtics calling card and they brought it, and committed 21 turnovers of their own. But when they needed a shot, they got it. After starting the second half slowly, as the Celtics went on a 12-2 run, the Suns righted the ship with a 12-0 run bridging the end of the 3rd and start of the 4th.
This could be called an ugly game with all the turnovers and poor shooting, but a lot of that ugly offense was due to the defenses filling the passing lanes and contesting shots. Historically, the Suns haven't usually won these defensive slugfests; they did tonight. With two straight wins, this road trip isn't looking so bad after all.
This road trip was looking like the end of the Suns season, but the players aren't ready for that to be the case. 2-2 so far. Mavs up next, which will obviously be a challenge. But bring on some more beatable opponents after that, and let's see what these Suns can do. Are they good enough? Maybe, maybe not. They won't be cheated in the effort to find out.