For the first time in 12 years and just the fourth time in team history, the Washington Wizards have begun the regular season 3-0, a marked improvement from last season’s 2-8 start. While John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter Jr. led the charge, over the course of the last two games, I have seen Marcin Gortat as an X-Factor that has helped his team through a variety of ways.
Statistically, Gortat has 13 points on 68 percent shooting, 10.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 1 block through the three games this season. Additionally, last year’s leader in screen assists has seven helpers so far this season, Top 5 in the NBA if he had played the same number of games as others, to go along with 26 contested two-point shots, fourth in the NBA behind the Lopez twins and Dragan Bender.
Against the Denver Nuggets, I saw Gortat take advantage of Nikola Jokic or Mason Plumlee helping off of him by converting the short shots or making an extra pass. Gortat also flashed with his screen assists, transition defense, and outlet pass ability.
Gortat Finishing Bunnies After The John Wall Effect
Despite John Wall shooting 3 of 13 from the field in the Mile High City, his speed and reputation strikes fear into defenses that forces opposing bigs to help whenever he penetrates the paint. Gortat could not be happier about that as Wall fed him for each of his six baskets against the Nuggets on Monday night. Six of Wall’s game-high 12 assists came via the Polish Machine and if defenses are going to continue to leave Gortat open, the Wizards will gladly take those easy two points every trip. Gortat finished the game 6 of 7 from the field for 13 points and you can see how well he was positioned to finish on each of those attempts before lining up the shot below.
Gortat is not only limited to finishing around the rim, but can take the pass, draw the defense that is already out of position from doubling Wall, and get another teammate an open shot. With Washington clinging to an 89-87 lead with 7:44 to play, Gortat’s pass to Oubre in the below frame to set up the wing for an open three-point play allowed the Wizards to put enough distance put them and the Nuggets on their way to a victory.
Screen Assists, Outlet Passing, and Clutch Defense
Although Gortat says that he is not going to reinvent his game to become a stretch-five in order to adapt to the current climate of today’s game, I would argue that he already reinvented his game throughout last season to become an elite screen setter. Below are a couple of instances from Monday where he freed up Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. for clean looks at the basket on their jump shots. The result was nothing but net.
Through the first two games of the season, Washington only had 18 fast break points despite being fourth best in the NBA in transition a season ago with 20.3 points per game. Against Denver, they doubled their season total with 18 against the Nuggets. Two came as the result of a clean outlet pass from Gortat to Kelly Oubre Jr., not Wes Unseld overhead style but just as effective.
Last, but not least, Gortat using his plus mobility to intercept a pass late in the game to prevent Denver from cutting the Washington lead to three with under two minutes to go. It will only show up in the box score as a simple steal, but it may have been the difference in a win and a loss.
Marcin Gortat takes a lot of flak from the fanbase for seemingly not playing at a Hall of Fame level all the time, but that is unwarranted. The 33-year old is on a bargain contract with two-years, $26 million left including this season and is a perfect player to run with Wall, Beal, and Porter. He does not demand the ball, he sets great screens to help his teammates, and he makes teams pay for helping off of him. If Gortat replicates his performance against the Nuggets for the rest of 79 games of the regular season and in the playoffs, the Wizards are going to be one of the hardest offensive teams to defend because everyone on the starting five can get a bucket.