In last night's game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Suns center Marcin Gortat came up very small with one of his worst offensive performances of the season. To be blunt, he just plain sucked.
Some will point to his rebounding numbers, and while 12 is an impressive total, the Thunder did miss 44 FGs and three FTs, so there were plenty of opportunities. He rebounded well, but he didn't dominate the glass.
Some will also point to the fact that the OKC bigs only scored a combined 21 points, but that probably had more to do with the Thunder's big three perimeter players hoisting up a combined 53 shots and taking 23 free throws tahn Gortat's defense. The Thunder just don't ask their big men to score very much.
And while Harden, Durant and Westbrook were able to take their defenders off the dribble at will, there wasn't very much resistance for them to deal with at the rim either, something Gortat admitted to after the game.
"Bigs ... we didn't help enough on the pick-and-rolls and they were able to go to the basket, and you know, laid it in, and finished plays," Gortat said.
Gortat finished the game with only nine points, and made just two of his 13 field goal attempts. Many of his misses were layups and shots in the paint. And ultimately, his poor performance cost the team. There is no way the Suns are going to win when Gortat is that useless on offense.
"You know what? I don't have an explanation for that," Gortat said about his performance. "I just have to finish those plays. You know, usually I'm finishing; I'm not saying I'm dunking every time but at least I'm making layups. Today for some reason, I guess I was just relaxed too much."
But to look at it as any more than a bad game is a mistake.
Marcin Gortat is averaging 15.7 points and 9.9 rebounds this through 62 games this season. Those are pretty impressive numbers by most standards. But it isn't enough for Suns fans who are beginning to question the Polish Machine more and more. Accusations of being soft and and pining for the pre-All-Star Break Gortat are becoming more and more popular. While these feelings are not completely without reason, they are premature and over-reactionary.
Here is a table comparing Gortat's numbers before and after the the All-Star Break.
Based on these numbers, Gortat's production is a bit down from before the break. But not by much. His rebounding has suffered more than anything. But while Gortat has dipped a tiny bit, several of his teammates have picked up the slack and the Suns have played their best ball of the season. Gortat's 0.38 drop in points per game and 1.26 declin in rebounds per game does not seem to have hurt the team all that much.
But what about his finishing? The first thing that sticks out to me is just how efficient he has been all year long. He has only finished below 50 percent from the field in 15 of his 62 games this season. But what is equally impressive us that he has actually become more efficient since the All-Star Break.
"The good thing is that I don't have too many games like that (referring to his OKC performance) every year," Gortat said "So hopefully next game is going to be better."
He is absolutely right, something that is not always apparent to fans in the heat of the moment.
Digging deeper, Gortat is finishing on 47 percent of his attempts in the paint but not within the restricted zone. This includes a lot of his hook shots and the short jumpers he pulls up for when he can't get all the way to the basket in the pick-and-roll. 29.6 percent of his field goal attempts have come from this area.
But what is truly impressive is that he is finishing at a 71 percent clip on shots around the rim, the spot from where 50 percent of his total field goal attempts come. To compare, last season, Amar'e Stoudemire (who was considered an MVP candidate for much of the year) finished at a 44 percent rate around the rim, and this year Blake Griffin is at 70 percent.
So while Gortat is not nearly as flashy as those two players and doesn't make a habit of posterizing opposing defenders, he is just as effective, if not more so.
So what happened last night? Gortat himself had an interesting explanation. As he said above, he thinks he just relaxed too much.
"Sometimes when you have this feeling that, you know, you're catching the ball and you're like, 'All right, I've got an easy layup.' All of a sudden you relax too much and you're missing that easy layup," Gortat said. "I take a lot of the responsibility for that. I had great passes today, great looks, and I just got to make them."
Gortat also said his poor performance against San Antonio (3-12, six points), was a completely different situation.
"That was totally different," Gortat said "Against Spurs I was taking a lot of shots from outside and I was forcing offensively. Here, I was, you know, my teammates created great opportunities for me, I created great opportunities for myself, just running into the paint and getting great position inside. I just have to finish stronger."
That last point of his is music to many fans' ears, who aren't satisfied with his hooks an layups. As it turns out, Gortat isn't satisfied either.
"I just have to be a simple basketball player," Gortat said."Try and dunk the ball, not try to be a finesse player, you know, finish with the hooks, finish with the backboard. Just got to go in and dunk the basketball, that's it. Just be the simple basketball player."
It is great to hear that Gortat is looking to be more aggressive with his offense. We all want the Polish Hammer back. So where did he go?
"At some point when you feel really comfortable with the shooting, left hook and right hook and outside, then all of a sudden you just try to be finesse," Gortat said. "I just got to finish that."
A word of caution, however. Gortat has said he wants to dunk more, but do not expect to see him turn into Stoudemire or Griffin. He really is a finesse player and is very good at it. Gortat is so efficient in the pick-and-roll because he doesn't waste any time. He dives to the basket and gets it up on the glass, often without a dribble (always a good thing for a big man). He's so good at using angles and finishing on the move. We will still see plenty of that.
Gortat is not an explosive leaper and needs to gather himself to go up and throw it down.Often times, he has a crease for a split second and has to get the shot off. Gathering himself would allow the defene to recover an make finishing much more difficult.
But if Gortat holds true to his word -- and he said he's looking forward to taking on the Los Angeles Clippers shot-blockers (namely DeAndre Jordan and Kenyon Martin) and proving himself (again) -- fans can expect to see him go up strong when the opportunity presents itself and throw down one or two rim-rattling dunks tonight.