Does Marcin Gortat's Arrival Make Washington Wizards a Playoff Team?

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Does Marcin Gortat's Arrival Make Washington Wizards a Playoff Team?
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Center Marcin Gortat was brought in to start at center for the Washington Wizards, but is he the missing piece in Washington's playoff puzzle?

The news of the Washington Wizards trading for Marcin Gortat in exchange for a top-12 protected first-round draft pick seems to make perfect sense for the Wizards. 

Washington got to trade Okafor, who was out indefinitely with a herniated disk in his neck and had an expiring contract, and it picked up Gortat, a top-20 NBA center. 

The move was made with team president Ernie Grunfeld knowing he could be out of a job if the Wizards don't make a playoff push this season—and with the assumption that the Wizards would be making the playoffs. 

But does the addition of one player put the Wizards over the hump and into the playoffs? In short, no. Gortat is the best low-post scoring option for the Wizards, but his presence alone does not make the Wizards a playoff team. 

 

Gortat doesn't fit into the Wizards defensive scheme

Washington finished the 2012-13 season eighth in the NBA in scoring defense, and no one deserved more praise for that ranking than Okafor. 

Emeka Okafor's strength was defending the hoop, forcing opponents to take jump shots.

It's obviously unfortunate that Okafor hurt himself in training camp, and there was no real timetable for his return, but Gortat doesn't have the defensive ability of Okafor. 

Head coach Randy Wittman stuck with his defense-first approach heading into this season and is working with roughly the same defensive scheme. 

Although the Wizards are attacking pick-and-rolls more aggressively this season, the scheme has remained otherwise the same. 

Okafor was best at protecting the rim and forced teams to take jumpers rather than come inside. Gortat has a similar set of skills and is the same size as Okafor, allowing him to defend the paint well. 

Unlike Emeka Okafor, Marcin Gortat is not as active at the rim and can sometimes become lazy on defense.

But as the Wizards start to go after the pick-and-roll more often, Gortat's weaknesses will start to show. 

Gortat will often drop back too far in the lane and becomes a ball-watcher rather than an active player in the defense. There will also be times when he plays too tight on quality ball-handlers, who will easily navigate past him. 

This has been evident already this season. The Wizards (especially in Sunday night's game against the Miami Heat) have been running around on defense and are often completely out of position. 

Granted, that isn't entirely Gortat's fault, but the switch from Okafor to Gortat is a defensive downgrade. 

 

The Wizards still can't stretch the floor

Prior to the Gortat trade, Washington re-signed small forward Martell Webster to a four-year deal and brought in free-agent power forward Al Harrington. 

The Wizards have a number of three-point shooters on their roster, including newcomer Al Harrington. However, having Nene and Gortat on the floor at the same time restricts their ability to shoot threes.

That gave the Wizards four legitimate perimeter threats: Webster, Harrington, Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal. 

However, having Gortat as the starting center still restricts the Wizards from stretching the floor. 

The starting lineup now is presumably John Wall, Beal, Ariza/Webster, Gortat and Nene. Although Nene missed Sunday's game (and could miss even more time), the other starting power forward options include Trevor Booker and Jan Vesely. 

Gortat is not athletic enough to stretch the floor, and pairing him with Nene doesn't bode well for the starting rotation's chemistry. Gortat and Nene bring a very similar set of skills to the floor, in that they both play near the basket and rarely shoot from farther back than 12 feet. 

In addition to Gortat and Nene, Booker and Vesely are both defensive-minded players who rely heavily on put-backs for points. 

Stretching the floor would give Wall open lanes to drive to the basket and capitalize on what he's best at instead of having to take shots he's not fully comfortable with near the perimeter. 

Ariza is a strong defensive player, but he is still primarily three-point shooter. Coming off of the bench behind Ariza is Webster, who is offensive-minded and is primarily a shooter. 

Washington needs to decide if it wants to run the offense through their big men and score down low while having Webster, Ariza and Beal available on the outside, or if it wants to play small ball, in which case a Nene-Gortat combination holds them back. 

 

Washington's playoff hopes ride more on other players

No matter how well Gortat plays, he will never be the single reason why the Wizards make the playoffs, and therefore, it's unfair to say that he is the final piece Washington needs. 

Too many other things need to go right, and those things aren't happening through three games. 

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Gortat is a great complementary player, but he can't carry the offensive load and plays much better when other players are shooting and he's available for putbacks and dunks. 

During the 2011-12 season, when Gortat led the Phoenix Suns in points, they finished with a .500 record and missed the playoffs.

Other struggles for the Wizards thus far include Wall's jump shot, which has been questionable at best this season. 

Beal's production has dropped off from what he was doing in the preseason and the team is playing poor defense overall. 

Other notable weaknesses through three games for the Wizards include an overwhelming amount of mental errors, which have led to turnovers and poor transition defense. 

Gortat has played on enough terrible Suns teams that Wizards fans know he's good for 12 points and at least six rebounds per game no matter how many games the Wizards lose, but if the Wizards don't make the playoffs, it's not fair to blame it on this trade. 

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