Monday, December 21, 2009
The Gortat Mystery
April 30th, 2009. The day that changed the way Marcin Gortat was viewed. Dwight Howard was suspended for one game for a wild elbow to the head of Sam Dalembert during the Orlando/Philly playoff series. The Magic started Gortat at center in game six, and he responded with 11 points and 15 rebounds. The rest is history.
Gortat becomes the next Wilt Chamberlain, in the estimation of some. The Dallas Mavericks make him target number one in their offseason talent hunt. The Mavs 30 year search for a center was about to end! Gortat would come in to Big D and push Little D (or Erica, or Big Tamp, or whatever you like to call Erick Dampier) to the bench where he belongs.
But, in the eleventh hour, the Magic matched the Mavs offer. 5 years, $34 million. Gortat was bummed, and so was Dallas. I wasn't. I never got the Gortat fuss. Allow me to explain.
THE TROUBLE WITH NUMBERS
Gortat has some redeeming qualities. He's pretty athletic for a 7 footer. He's not bad on defense. He can rebound. He also has some liabilities--for example: anything on the offensive end. He is a garbage man, at best. He is a good backup, center. That's it.
However, last summer all I kept hearing were Gortat supporters offering up his points-per-48 minutes and rebounds-per-48 minutes numbers. Drove me crazy. "He averages 17 rebounds per 48 minutes! Don't you see, he's Bill Russell all over again! Except that he's white and Polish!" Projecting numbers for backups is as close to an inexact science as we have in sports. Do you realize how many variables go into projecting a backup as a starter? What if he doesn't have the stamina to play 40 minutes a night? It's easy to have your motor running hot for 15 minutes a contest--you don't have to pace yourself and you can go balls-to-the-wall while you're in the game.
Plus, what Gortat did in his 15 minutes a night off the Orlando bench may not be what you would get out of him as a starter with another team. Don't you think that when Dwight Howard leaves the game and Gortat comes in that there is a natural tendency for the opponent to say "Whew, glad Howard's gone for a while" and slack off just a bit? I've always thought that Gortat has taken advantage of that. Yes, he's put up decent numbers when he starts--all FOUR of his career starts. Too small of a sampling to think that he could be a productive, 35 minute, 82 game starter, I think.
In fact, if the Mavs had landed Gortat, I don't think he would have ever put up a season close to Dampier's best (12 ppg, 12 rpg). We'll never find out, thankfully. The Magic rescued the Mavs by matching the offer. Which brings us to this season...
GORTAT 2009: MISSING IN ACTION
There was talk this summer after Gortat was retained by the Magic that some secret deal had been cut with another team, and that Gortat would be dealt on December 15th. That date came and went, and Gortat is still in Orlando. Might he be dealt this year? Sure, although GM Otis Smith says he's not trading Gortat this season (we know how that goes). But while still with the Magic, Gortat is watching his playing time dwindle, barely getting on the floor in the last two weeks. This season he's averaging a whopping 3 points and 3 rebounds per game. Nice. Stan Van Gundy says that Gortat has no spark. Some say it's because he wants out of Orlando. Others say it's because this summer's run with the Polish National Team took a lot out of him. I say it's because he's one of the most overrated big men I've seen in a long time. I don't dislike Marcin, I just disliked knee-jerk observers claiming that Gortat was the Mavs missing link.
If Gortat were the great player in waiting that many believe him to be, then why wouldn't Orlando play him more? Because they don't want to hurt him in case they trade him? Really? If Gortat were so great, as I was told last summer, then why wouldn't Van Gundy stick he and Howard out there together, just for a while? Duncan/Robinson, Gasol/Bynum. If you have two good/great big men, why not play them together more? Is the answer that Gortat is not that good? Is the answer that Gortat is nothing more than a decent backup center, whose legend grew out of control last summer because of one good playoff game?
Gortat may enjoy a long and lucrative NBA career. It's my bet that he does so as a backup. If another team takes a chance on him as a starter, I would wager that about 50 games into that experiment the GM who made the move to get Gortat will say to himself "WTF?" I'm just glad it won't be Donnie Nelson dropping that F-bomb on himself.
(If Gortat goes on to greatness, then ignore the above rant.)
That's it. And speaking of F-bombs: in the immortal words of Barry Switzer, "Merry F'ing Christmas!"