Marcin Gortat Is Always Ready To Play

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During the offseason, Marcin Gortat flirted with several teams, including the New Orleans Hornets, Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks. Gortat eventually signed an offer sheet with the Mavericks worth $34 million over 5 years. The Magic chose to match the offer sheet, retaining Gortat as Dwight Howard’s backup at Center.

During the 2008-09 season, he averaged 3.8 points per game, 4.5 rebounds per game, and .8 blocks in 12.6 minutes per game. He played in 63 games, starting 3. He has put up similar numbers this season, scoring 3.5 points per game, grabbing 3.9 rebounds per game and blocking .9 shots per game. Gortat has played in every game but one and plays 12.8 minutes per game.

It seems like Gortat has the potential to put up good numbers. Just take a look at Gortat’s numbers per 36 minutes. Last season, he scored 10.8 points, grabbed 13.0 rebounds and blocked 2.4 shots per 36 minutes. This season, he scores 9.7 points, grabs 10.9 rebounds and blocks 2.5 shots per 36 minutes. These numbers are very similar to some others Centers in league, who are known as solid players. For example, Brendan Haywood, who was recently traded to Dallas, actually has worse per-36 numbers in rebounding and blocks and only scores slightly more (10.8 points, 11.3 rebounds, 2.3 blocks per-36 this season).

The biggest evidence of Gortat’s potential came when he started in game 6 of Orlando’s first round playoff matchup last season, filling in for Dwight Howard. Howard was suspended for elbowing Philadelphia 76ers Center Samuel Dalembert in game 5.  Gortat, who hadn’t even scored before game 5 of the series, stepped in and delivered. He played just over 40 minutes, scored 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting and grabbed 15 rebounds as Orlando blew out the 76ers 114-89 to win the series and eventually advanced to the NBA Finals.

Gortat takes great pride in that game and remembers it fondly.

“Oh yeah, I’ve got all those great memories from that place,” Gortat said.

This is also the game that many in the media point to as the main reason Gortat got his big deal.

At first, it appeared that Gortat was frustrated with Orlando’s decision to match the offer because of Gortat’s desire to be a starter in the NBA but he says that is not the case. For now, he is focused on one goal – helping the Magic win a championship any way he can.

“I’m glad that I can help the team off the bench and bring the energy,” Gortat said. “I’m staying here to win a championship.”

Gortat has posted some impressive numbers when he gets extended minutes. His game 6 performance is a prime example of that, but Gortat is doing it again this year. In 20 of Gortat’s 59 games, he has played over 15 minutes. In those games, he has scored 6.1 points per game, grabbed 6.5 rebounds per game and blocked 1.7 shots per game while playing 21.3 minutes per game.

On Sunday night with Dwight Howard plagued by foul trouble, Gortat came in, played 23 minutes and put up a very nice line – 9 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks.

“Coach decided to give me more playing time and I was really happy for this opportunity,” Gortat told the media after the game.

Gortat’s rebounding rate is 17.4% this season and 19.0% for his career. His block percentage this season is 5.1% and it is 4.9% for his career. To put that into perspective, Dwight Howard’s rebounding percentage is 21.6% this season and 20.6% for his career while his block percentage is 5.9% this season and 4.4% in his career.

Obviously, Gortat has a much smaller sample size and Howard started playing in the NBA at a much younger age so you can’t really compare Gortat’s numbers to Howard’s. Nor can you expect that Gortat would be able to play at anywhere near the level that Howard plays at with extended minutes, but his numbers are impressive and intriguing nonetheless.

Gortat never knows when he will be called upon, so he is always ready to go.

“The most important thing for me is just to stay lose,” Gortat told reporters. “Every time we get a timeout, I’m stretching and trying to move around, just trying to keep warmed up.”

During the offseason, Gortat prepared himself to play both the Center position and the Power Forward position. He has not seen a lot of time at Power Forward but there have been stretches where Van Gundy has gone to his “twin towers” look inserting both Gortat and Howard into the game at the same time with Gortat manning the four. Gortat likes the combination.

“I’m trying to remind coach about this option,” he joked.

Gortat spends extra time studying the bigger teams, preparing himself to play at the Four.

“To be honest with you, I’m thinking about those games,” Gortat told the media.

Gortat thinks that lineup is best used against teams like Cleveland, Boston and the Los Angeles Lakers.

When Gortat does play Power Forward instead of Center, he takes a different approach.

“I got to change my mentality. I know that playing as a four man, I’ve got to be able to hit the little jump shot, 15 to 18 feet,” Gortat said. “I’ve got to attack the glass and bring everything – energy, hustle and making the right rotation.”

As a Power Forward, Gortat’s numbers are not nearly as good as they are at Center.  Gortat scores 9.8 points per 48 minutes, shoots 36.4%, grabs 11.5 rebounds per 48 and has not blocked a shot at Power Forward while he scores 12.6 points per 48 at Center on 52.6% shooting, grabs 14.8 rebounds and blocks 3.5 shots per 48. Gortat’s PER at Center is 14.8. At Power Forward, it is 4.7

That sample size is extremely small and the combination has showed some flashes of being very good. Against the Boston Celtics on January 28th, the Magic trailed by 15 points with 4:54 remaining in the third period. Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy decided to go to the twin towers lineup against a bigger Celtics squad and it paid off. Gortat and Howard shut down the paint and made life very difficult for the Celtics’ offense. Gortat even hit a jumper that gave Orlando an 84-83 fourth quarter lead. The Magic eventually went on to win the game 96-94 and Gortat finished with 6 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks in 27 minutes.

Gortat thinks defense is actually more difficult at the Power Forward position and even though his numbers are lower at Power Forward, Gortat actually prefers playing there.

“I think it’s more fun,” Gortat said. “If I’m being honest with you, it opens a lot of things for me because everybody focuses on Dwight. I can run the fast break, I can go to the boards and I’ve got a smaller guy on my back.”

Gortat did admit it’s not all perfect.

“It’s not fun when I’m going to block a shot and Dwight is behind my back and hits me with an elbow on the back of my head.”

But he did make sure to give Howard credit.

“Knowing that Dwight is behind me, it’s even more comfortable. I can show, I can play D and if the guy beats me, there’s still Dwight that can send the ball into the fifth row.”

Gortat knows that he is eventually going to play more. He says it’s just a matter of when and where but at the moment, he’s comfortable with what he is doing right now.

“Another year behind Dwight is definitely not going to make me a worse player,” Gortat said. “It will help me playing against one of the best centers in the league.”

For now, Gortat just enjoys playing the NBA, saying that he is realizing his dream.

`When you get into the game and in front of you, you’ve got guys like Jermaine O’Neal and Dwyane Wade, I don’t know about the other guys but for me that’s big,” Gortat told reporters. “If you can stop those guys and play and compete against those guys, that’s amazing. I’m the only guy from my country who’s able to do that. I’m just living the dream.”

All Gortat can do is be patient, wait for his time to come, and make plays when he is called to action – plays like his block of a Dwyane Wade shot on Sunday night.

“Now, I can add Wade to my (block) collection.’’

Gortat is going to do those things and continue to have fun doing them, all while trying to accomplish one goal.

“It was fun to play in Orlando from the first day. We’ve got great fans. In every game, we’ve got at least one sign with Polish Hammer,” Gortat said. “We’ve got on goal – winning the championship. And that’s what’s most important.”

Sources:

Basketball-Reference.com

82games.com

(Andrew Melnick is Howard the Dunk’s lead blogger and a contributor at NFL Mocks Subscribe to his RSS feed, add him on Twitter to follow him daily and you can get the HTD app here).