Early Returns on Marcin Gortat for the Washington Wizards Are Promising

Jonathan MunshawCorrespondent INovember 21, 2013

Marcin Gortat has been an effective offensive player for the Washington Wizards this season, although the team's defense has suffered.
Marcin Gortat has been an effective offensive player for the Washington Wizards this season, although the team's defense has suffered.Ned Dishman/Getty Images

After a come-from-behind win over the Minnesota Timberwolves and a blowout (up until the last four minutes) of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Washington Wizards should be pleased. 

The team's performance has really picked up, and their last-minute trade for Marcin Gortat is paying off. 

Through 11 games, Gortat is averaging 12.4 points and 9.3 rebounds, while shooting 52.2 percent from the floor. All three of those numbers have the Polish Hammer on pace to improve over last season when he was with the Phoenix Suns

But there's reason for Wizards fans to be cautious about Gortat's performance (aside from this failed ball fake), and what the Gortat/Okafor swap could mean for the team in the long run. 

Before we get to the concerns, it's important to point out that the returns on the trade are promising thus far because of Gortat's strong performance shooting under the hoop and his play when on the floor with Nene. 


Strong low-post scoring

Coming into the start of the season, Gortat's offensive ability was a known factor. He is a significantly better scorer than Okafor has or ever will be, as he's shown through the first slate of games of the 2013-14 season. 

The center currently ranks fourth on the Wizards in field-goal shooting—mainly because of his low-post scoring. 

Inside eight feet from the hoop, Gortat is shooting 65.08 percent from the floor, according to NBA stats. And, he's favoring that shot, attempting over 55 percent of his shots from eight feet or closer, also according to NBA stats. 

Compare that to Okafor, whom NBA stats shows as shooting about 9 percent less from inside eight feet last year than Gortat this season.

Head coach Randy Wittman is mainly using Gortat in Washington's pick-and-roll, which is giving him open chances in close. Gortat has also been able to develop somewhat of a turnaround jumper, which he rarely breaks out but has been effective when using it. 

Heading into the season, Wittman said he was impressed with Gortat's pick-and-roll play.

"He's a guy that can run the floor. He's a big, a pick-and-roll guy...I think he's going to fit in well like that with John [Wall], and he's got good hands," Wittman told Monumental Sports following the trade. 

Gortat is attempting over 55 percent of his shots from inside eight feet, making 65.07 percent of them.
Gortat is attempting over 55 percent of his shots from inside eight feet, making 65.07 percent of them.NBA.com/Stats

Gortat's threat down low has obviously helped the rest of the offense as well. Washington currently ranks No. 13 in the league in scoring offense, and Gortat's presence in the paint has cleared up space around the perimeter, allowing the Wizards to rank No. 5 in the NBA in three-pointers made per game. 

Say what you want about Gortat's defense this season, but there's no doubt his presence has improved Washington's offense. 


Good chemistry with the starting lineup, especially Nene

The Gortat trade naysayers knocked the Wizards for wanting to play Gortat and Nene together on the court, two big men who prefer to play in the paint and aren't particularly fast. 

But so far, Gortat and Nene are playing well together; although, Nene's individual numbers haven't been particularly impressive. 

Gortat has recorded five double-doubles already this season, with Nene adding on an average of 15.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. 

Last season, when Nene and Okafor played together on the floor, the Wizards shot just 41.1 percent from the floor, according to Basketball Reference, while they are shooting 54.6 percent so far this year (Basketball Reference does not have two-man lineup statistics for this season).

Granted, Nene still hasn't been injured this year, but so far, the Gortat/Nene combination seems to be working well.

It has become difficult for teams to cover Gortat and Nene down low, which will often leave one of them open for a short jumper. 

And, the chemistry doesn't stop there. According to Bullets Forever, the Wizards' starting lineup of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza, Nene and Gortat has a rating of 22.5 per 48 minutes, which ranks No. 5 in the NBA among lineups that have played at least 50 minutes together (as of Nov. 13). 

Now, promising doesn't necessarily mean this trade is going to be flawless, and here's why fans should be hesitant to say this trade was completely worth it.


Poor team defensive play

Say what you will about Okafor's offensive ability, but he was a force on defense. Washington finished last season No. 8 in the league in scoring defense, but it is currently No. 24 in that same category so far this year. 

Gortat is on pace to surpass Okafor's blocks-per-game average from last year, but the team as a whole often looks lost on defense. 

Prior to Wednesday's win over the Cavaliers, the lowest number of points a team had scored on the Wizards was 92, with nine teams scoring 100 or more points through 11 games. 

As a team, the Wizards are pulling down an average of 30.5 defensive rebounds. However, when Nene and Okafor were paired up last season, Washington was recording about five more defensive rebounds per 48 minutes, according to Basketball Reference

To go back to the Okafor/Gortat comparison, let's look at a statistic called defensive rating, which estimates how many points a player allows per 100 possessions. 

Through 11 games this year, Gortat has a defensive rating of 103. But for the 2012-13 season, Okafor allowed about four points less per 100 possession, according to Basketball Reference. 

This could also signal a change in team philosophy by the Wizards. After being successful as a defensive team, the Wizards are becoming a shoot-first team that would much rather score 110 points than go for a 90-87 defensive battle. 

It's tough to say if going offense-first will be a good or a bad thing for the Wizards at this point in the season, but it is safe to say that, so far, Gortat has been a successful player in Washington.


*All stats used are as of Nov. 21 and are from NBA.com unless otherwise noted