Writing to Poland About Marcin Gortat | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Writing to Poland About Marcin Gortat

Updated: February 24, 2015


Just before the 2015 NBA All-Star break, I answered some questions about Marcin Gortat and the Washington Wizards for Polish outlet, OFENS.co (via TAI’s Polish correspondent, Bart Bielecki).

Bielecki, who posed the questions, kindly translated my answers and the next thing you know, I’m in Poland (at least my pixels are). Keep reading for native English version; click here to see what it looks like in Polish if you are so inclined.

[NOTE: Stats used via Basketball-Reference.com, ESPN.com, and NBA.com/stats for the 53 Washington Wizards games through Feb. 9, 2015.]

Gortat was only 77,000 votes shy of making his first All-Star appearance. Were you surprised by such a good result?

I was pleasantly surprised, especially since the starter he was closest to knocking out was Carmelo Anthony. Much of such is an indicator of the “Gortat Brand,” as Marcin would say. He’s candid, off-the-cuff, and personable, and as it turns out in this new media world, fans like that a lot more than your typical jock-type who simply recites mundane and empty cliches. This, and being on a Wizards team that started hot, probably led to Gortat getting votes from around the U.S. (and world), and not just the eighth-largest media market that is the Washington, D.C. area (some might mention Maryland and Virginia at this point). Now I wish Wizards fans (and bloggers such as myself) would have done more to boost All-Star voting for Gortat on Twitter. It would have been a slice of apple pie to unseat Carmelo with All-Star weekend being in New York and all. Not sure if the NBA powers-that-be would have ‘let’ that happen—no Brooklyn Nets deserve to be All-Stars and, were it not for being voted a starter, Carmelo doesn’t deserve to be one, either.

Marcin didn’t make the All-Star team after all. Do you consider him a snub?

No. And this was before his recent slump. If voting still was more strictly positional—two guards, two forwards, and a center instead of three frontcourt players and two backcourt players—then Gortat would’ve had more of a case. Otherwise, he’s been too inconsistent this season to be considered close to a snub (even though Shaquille O’Neal was a fan).

If the Wizards were to have two All-Stars, who would you choose besides Wall?

Part aesthetics but more because of the intangibles he offers to the team, it would be Nene. The six straight games Nene missed with foot issues from late-November to early-December weren’t that big of a deal if you’re looking to discount anything. And sure, each of Paul Pierce (15.5) and Gortat (16.5) currently have higher Player Efficiency Ratings (PER) than Nene, 15.4. But if you look at ESPN’s relatively new Real Plus-Minus (RPM) stat, Nene is ranked 37st in the NBA (3.15), the second-best Wizard after Wall (ranked 7th, 5.84). After those two: Bradley Beal ranks 103 (0.87), Pierce ranks 110 (0.68), and Gortat ranks 122 (0.38). Furthermore, Nene’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus (DRPM) ranks 12th in the NBA (3.56). The Brazilian clearly Washington’s second All-Star.

Many people in Poland, including basketball journalists, refused to vote for Gortat. He is sometimes criticized here for having a huge ego, for being big-headed, and also the fact that he’s not always there for Polish National Team. Is there anything about him that Americans don’t like?

Gortat certainly has an interesting relationship with Poland, doesn’t he? At least in the written, translated word on the Internet. Let’s start with this: Gortat loves his country, where he came from, his heritage. He has a lot of Polish pride. I also think he loves the United States, a lot. Nothing wrong with that. I’m from the U.S. (live in the U.S.) and also love other countries (but none more than my own). Such is life.

Some interesting comments, to me, come from an interview with Gazeta Wyborcza.pl in July 2014, as tranlated in English for TAI by Bartosz Bielecki. Gortat:

“Poland has a different mentality, too. I can see it now. A large part of our nation are haters, jealous people, anonymously-writing Internet morons. In America there is not so much hatred. If I was so full of hatred in the States, saying that this guy plays bad, that guy missed shots, why am I not playing, then people would tell me: so make it happen that you play like that, that you make shots. I had to get rid of this trait myself.

“We’ve got people in our country that come home from work and they’re resentful that they have to go to work again the very next morning. They feel grief and jealousy that somebody has something, that someone has accomplished something. There are a lot of people in Poland that speak their minds out on topics that they have no idea about. If someone looked through the articles about me, they wouldn’t believe that I still play ball. How many mistakes I made, how unprepared I was, how weak and untalented I was… Today I’m playing in the best league in the world and I’ve just signed a big contract. Sometimes journalists ask me what my goal is. I reply that it’s to be the best and win as many games as possible. Then, when I struggle, they write, ‘Who is he? Is he nuts?’ What should I say then? That I came to lose all the games with the National Team?”

In America? Well, I will say that Gortat got ‘threatened’ by Chicago Bulls fans, but whatever. Gortat had more thoughts on Poland (and America) in an interview in the October-December 2014 issue of Champion magazine, also translated by Bart for TAI:

“I think we are slowly moving forward. I left Poland 12 years ago. I was in Germany for four years, I’m starting my eighth year in the U.S. now. I’m inviting different American friends to Poland because I don’t think we have to be ashamed of anything. We will not soon have highways or restaurants like there are in America, but really we got nothing to be ashamed of, we are developing. But it doesn’t matter who will rule Poland, no matter how many Gortats there are in the NBA, we won’t make a jump to a higher league if people won’t start functioning a little better. Everyone should start the change from within themselves.

“I think it’s high time we stopped looking at the people around us and started concentrating on ourselves. Unfortunately, in Poland still, if someone achieves success, people are pointing fingers at him and talking behind his back. People start nitpicking and speculating how, of course in an illegal way, he achieved the success.”

And in the same interview, should he ever run for president of Poland:

“I once laughed that if I ran for the president my slogan would be: ‘Focus on yourself. Start from yourself. Stop complaining. You have to go to work for 12 hours—change that so you only have to go for four hours, and so that is enough to provide for your family.’ “

And finally, Gortat on where he calls home:

“Yes. In the States there is a house in which I’m living now, but the USA has so many heroes and athletes that I’m not needed there.”

In the end, what about Gortat do Americans not like? Not much, really—Americans love some Gortat. They’d like him to shoot less jump shots and appear to finish better at the rim/miss less bunnies, which means acting like an actual hammer sometimes, probably.

As far as Poland? Sure, the Gortat Brand is sometimes caught up in its own celebrity. It would be hard for most not to do. I can’t attest to how Gortat feels about Polish people, he’s his own man. I’d just advise not to use the word “hater,” don’t worry about those who you think define the word, don’t talk about fashion just wear fashion, and don’t focus on the negative.

Do you think that the ‘14-15 Wizards are better than the last year’s squad? If so, what do you think was the key to improvement?

That’s hard to say now. Washington’s ceiling of improvement from last season could only rise as much as John Wall and Bradley Beal could push it. Wall has stepped up his game this season. He’s ranked second amongst NBA point guards, seventh amongst all positions, in RPM (5.84) and first in DRPM (2.54)—last season those rankings were 18th (2.22) and 25th (-0.44) respectively. Any improvement from Beal isn’t as evident via Real Plus-Minus stats. He’s ranked 19th in 2 guard RPM (0.87) and 45th in DRPM (-0.47)—last season he ranked 28th amongst NBA guards in RPM (-0.53) and 23nd in DRPM (0.08). Beal really needs to step his game up for the Wizards to raise their ceiling from last season.

Otherwise, I think the jury is still out on whether Paul Pierce’s leadership and half court scoring, along with Kris Humphries’ midrange shooting and rebounding, is a greater plus than Trevor Ariza’s 3-point shooting and defense (he was guarding Damian Lillard the other night) and Trevor Booker’s toughness and athletic defense (he’s been used more as a 3 in Utah instead of the 4 he was with Washington).

Marcin hasn’t been consistent this year. He can score four points one night, and then 20 another night. Does it affect the results of the Wizards?

You bet it does. The Wizards can only seemingly compete with the best teams in the league when fully healthy and with each of their top seven players, at least, on their A-game on a given night. After John Wall, I would say that it’s important for Gortat and Nene to be equally engaged—more than any other Wizards.

Via Basketball-Reference.com, there is a statistic called Game Score. It was developed by John Hollinger, formerly of ESPN and now with the front office of the Memphis Grizzlies, and aims to be a “rough measure of a player’s productivity for a single game.”

When Gortat’s Game Score is greater than 13.0, the Wizards are 13-0. Washington’s record when others have a Game Score over 13.0: Nene: 6-1, Wall: 23-10, Beal: 7-5, Pierce: 7-4.

How Gortat and the Wizards (i.e., John Wall’s Wizards) learn how to develop consistency together is one of the top three keys to post-All-Star break success (the others being 3-point shooting and more dribble-drive attacking off the bench).

From 1 to 10 how would you grade Gortat in the first half of the season? And how does your grade relate to what you have been expecting from him before the season?

If the 1-to-10 scale is based on the worst and best that Gortat can be (and not in the context of other players), I’d say that it’s fair, if not slightly generous, to give him a 7 out of 10.

I say “generous” in part because of the scrutiny of how one performs after signing a big contract. Otherwise, his advanced metrics are down—PER is 16.5, down from 17.6 last season and from his career average of 17.4. Gortat’s Real Plus Minus of 0.38 is ranked 20th amongst NBA centers, right between Meyers Leonard and Timofey Mozgov. Last season Gortat’s RRM of 4.12 was third amongst all NBA center.

Maybe a 6.5 out of 10 is more fair.

Marcin is getting the lowest minutes as a starter in his career. For the fans in Poland that is quite worrisome. What would you point to as the reason for the  shortened playing time?

Gortat is playing barely two minutes less per game under his four-year average of 31.4, so I would not be too concerned. The Wizards, for one, don’t wanted to exhaust the Polish Machine too much in the first year of a five-year contract with him turning 31 over the All-Star break. Gortat is also a running big man. He is expected to earn the points he loves so much by using his athleticism to beat most other centers down the floor with a calculated head start and helped by the jets of John Wall. All of this simply contributes to the need to manage Gortat’s minutes, so it’s a good thing for his career.

What you will see people note is that Gortat only averages 4.4 fourth quarter minutes per game this season, 1.5 minutes less than last season. Part of this is because Gortat and other starters simply haven’t been needed in many fourth quarters. Twenty-six percent (26%) of Washington’s fourth quarter minutes have been spent with a lead larger than 10 points. The two most-used fourth quarter lineups feature Andre Miller, Rasual Butler, Kris Humphries, and Kevin Seraphin. Sometimes, however, if Washington is struggling with offense, Randy Wittman will turn to smaller lineups. A lineup using John Wall, Bradley Beal, Rasual Butler, Paul Pierce, and Gortat is the fourth-most used in the fourth quarter this season (24 total minutes). The same lineup featuring Nene at center instead of Gortat has played 23 minutes, and a small unit featuring Humphries at center has seen 15 fourth quarter minutes.

Infer what you want with this knowledge: Gortat’s small-ball fourth quarter lineup is minus-5 in total plus-minus while Nene’s lineup is plus-26 and Humphries’ is plus-4.

Gortat’s stats went down compared to last season. Has his game dropped a bit too or is it simply a result of limited playing time?

I’ll break it down to two telling stats:

#1) Missing from (somewhat) close range — Gortat’s field goal percentage from 5-to-9-feet is down to 27.7 percent from 41.4 percent last season. More than one-fifth of Gortat’s shots come within that 5-to-9 feet range, so a 13.7 percent drop from such a close range will destroy the numbers and the eye test. Hard to point to any particular reason other than to say most of it’s probably in Gortat’s head.

One interesting thing to note: John Wall collected assists on 33 percent of Gortat’s made field goals in 2013-14. This season that number is up to 40 percent. I would have expected it to be less.

#2) Gortat is passing the ball less — he’s averaged 0.8 less assists per 100 possessions (down to 1.9 from 2.7). Seems minimal, especially since 1.9 is better than his career average of 1.8. However, Gortat’s Assist Percentage (an estimate of the percentage of teammate field goals assisted while on the floor) is down to 5.8 after being a career-high 8.4 last season. Again, doesn’t sound like much, but last season’s figure was still one of the best passing seasons in franchise history from a big man who could also score. Washington’s offense counts on ball movement, and the willingness of both Gortat and Nene to share the ball matters just as much as Wall’s development as a point guard. In other words: keep the ball moving, less shooting.

Wittman often decides to play small-ball in the endings of games. The lineup with Wall, Beal, Butler, Pierce, and Nene or Humphries provides good shooting, but don’t you think Gortat’s defensive presence is missed then?

Yes, that can certainly be true. But, as relayed above, the small-ball fourth quarter lineup featuring Gortat at the 5 is not as successful versus opponents, in a relatively limited sample size, as lineups featuring Nene or Humphries. Wittman generally won’t turn to a smaller lineup unless it’s reactionary to a matchup from an opponent or if he’s desperate to make up a lot of points in a hurry. When this happens, Nene’s perimeter defense, still significantly better than Gortat’s, is helpful when opposing small-ball lineups try to force switching off ball-screen action. I also think Nene’s offering on offense is more diverse than Gortat’s. Nene is much more capable, and willing, to use his size to back down defenders on the block and employ his quick reflexes to get to the rim (instead of a long, fading, close-range jumper or a running, Patrick Ewing-style hook shot, which seem to be Gortat’s favorite moves when operating closer to the hoop).

Do you think that what we have seen so far may suggest that Gortat’s minutes will also be limited in the Playoffs, since Gortat has not always been on the court when the Wizards were trying to close out tough games in the regular season so far?

It all depends on the opponent and the game’s matchups. You’ll see more Gortat against teams like Chicago (especially), Cleveland, Charlotte, and perhaps Toronto (depending on how much Dwane Casey is willing to play Jonas Valanciunas in the fourth quarter). Against teams like Atlanta and Miami you might be less likely to see Gortat play heavy minutes. Of course, playoff basketball is said to be more plodding, methodical, and frontcourt focused—the Atlanta Hawks seem primed to wreck that. Still, you could see Randy Wittman wanting to flex Washington’s size with multiple big man combinations in the postseason, regardless of opponent.

What about the chemistry between Kris Humphries and Gortat? From time to time, especially on defense, I feel like they get in each other’s way. Do you think, they’re fine together on the court?

Almost 97 percent of Gortat’s minutes this season have been spent next to a traditional ‘power forward’—Nene, Kris Humphries, or Drew Gooden. Gortat hasn’t seen a minute next to Kevin Seraphin and has played only five minutes alongside DeJuan Blair, whatever position it is that he plays.

The Wizards are 8.4 points better than opponents per 40 minutes when Gortat and Nene play together (771 total minutes). They are 3.1 points better when Gortat and Humphries play together (603 total minutes), and 0.9 points worse than opponents per 40 minutes when Gortat and Gooden are on the floor (128 total minutes).

All of this is to say that Gortat and Humphries aren’t all that bad on the court together, as long as both know their role on offense and play to their strengths. Humphries is in the game to basically operate in three spaces: 1) the midrange (for 2-pointers beyond 16 feet—37% of his shots come from this range and he makes 42.4% of them); 2) the short corner baseline where he serves as a nice safety valve when opposing defenses take away Wall and Gortat pick-and-roll action; and 3) the glass for rebounds.

Gortat simply needs to do his part by being aware of floor spacing, not settling for jumpers too much, and being active in the pick-and-roll game.

What’s the area of the game that you would like to see Gortat improve in?

Taking up space, taking up more space, setting multiple screens, imposing his value of getting the ball on the move upon John Wall and Washington’s offense, and somehow growing a larger butt so he can sometimes move opposing bigs out of the way (but not too big of an ass, you still want Gortat to be able to run the floor.)

Kevin Seraphin continues to improve. Do you think we may see him replace Gortat in the starting five eventually?

This season? Not a chance, and that’s 100 percent for defensive reasons. Seraphin has improved on defense, slightly, but the overall numbers still don’t lie.

The Wizards allow opponents to score 99.9 points per 100 possessions overall (DefRtg). With Gortat on the court, the team DefRtg drops to 96.7. With Seraphin on that court, the Wizards’ DefRtg skyrockets to 105.0. So, yes, the Wizards give up 8.3 fewer points per 100 possessions to the other team when Gortat’s at center instead of Seraphin.

If “eventually” means past this season, right now it does not seem likely. Seraphin will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and his agent is Rich Paul, who happens to also be the agent for LeBron James, Eric Bledsoe, Tristan Thompson, Ben McLemore, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Norris Cole, and Cory Joseph.

Seraphin will almost certainly get paid—probably overpaid—this summer, and it likely won’t be by the Wizards. Thompson, Cole, and Joseph will be restricted free agents this summer, so Paul will be certainly using his leverage as LeBron’s friend on several fronts.

What can the Wizards really achieve this season? How far in the playoffs do you predict they’ll go?

The water is still cloudy but a current shake of the Magic 8-Ball might say “No dice” in terms of NBA Championship or even NBA Finals for the Wizards. At this point, without a significant roster upgrade and continued health, I could say that Washington is capable of “sneaking” into the Conference Finals in the East. But unless they are playing Chicago, I’m not sure they come out against any other top team in the conference—Atlanta, Cleveland or Toronto—over the course of a seven-game series. The Wizards would, at least, be more capable of beating the Cavs than the Hawks or the Raptors. It will be interesting to see if the franchise stays on a proclaimed course of patience (as the bench gets littered with veterans), or if they make a risky move with the path to the Finals still relatively visible.


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Kyle Weidie
Founder / Editor / Reporter / Writer at TAI
Kyle founded TAI in 2007 and has been weaving in and out the world of Wizards ever since, ducking WittmanFaces, jumping over G-Wiz, and avoiding stints on the DNP-Conditioning list. He has covered the Washington pro basketball team as a member of the media since 2009. Kyle currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.