Gortat Helped The Wizkids Grow, But it Was Time For a Change | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Gortat Helped The Wizkids Grow, But it Was Time For a Change

Updated: June 27, 2018

The Wizards brought an abrupt end to Marcin Gortat’s tenure with the franchise on Tuesday afternoon when they traded way their starting center of the last five seasons to the Los Angeles Clippers for Austin Rivers. Although he was far from a fan favorite by the end of his tenure, Gortat should be credited with being a solid contributing member of the Bullets/Wizards second-best era in the history of the franchise, behind only the championship team of 1978. Gortat helped the team reach that level by showing a level of consistency that is honestly rare in sports nowadays.

The best ability is availability and Gortat played in 402 of 410 possible regular season games as a Wizard, fielding averages of 11.6 points per game and 9.2 rebounds per game. In recent years,  it was easy to point out that Gortat could not defend the rim or guard players on the perimeter.  But for the true students of the game it was always intriguing to point out the thing that Marc excelled at on the court. The NBA just started tracking a new stat called screen assists in the 2016-17 season and to the surprise of no one, Marcin was at the top of the list for the first the majority of the first two seasons of the stats existence until finally being unseated by Rudy Gobert last season. In 2016-17 Marcin Gortat lead the NBA with 6.2 screen assists per game, edging out Rudy Gobert and DeAndre Jordan. Last season Gortat was leading the stat for a good portion of the season until his minutes began to decrease, he finished 3rd in screen assists (4.5) in 2017-18 behind Rudy Gobert and Steven Adams.

There are two reasons why Gortat was such a prolific screener according to the screen assist stat:  He always set screens in Washington’s downhill style offense, and he always a willing screener. Some big men shun screening because they know their chances of getting the ball back are low and other centers purposely slip screens instead of taking on the contact, but not Gortat. He thrived off of throwing his body around with power to stonewall defenders, but still possessed enough grace to avoid clipping the defender so as to not get an offensive foul. Marcin could screen a defender to open up John Wall or Bradley Beal and if the initial action did not work, he would come back and screen again. The chemistry between Brad and Gortat was unique because they had their timing down where Gortat would sometimes flip his screening direction in the middle of the play because he was able to read where Brad was going. This lead to a lot of open jump shots for the sharpshooting Beal.

The screening relationship between Gortat and Wall was probably the most special point guard to center pick-and-roll combination in the league over the last few seasons. Wall was able to use his elite athleticism to blow by defenders when Gortat would initiate contact with them and in a game of cat and mouse, when defenders would overplay that action, Gortat would slip the screen and be spoon-fed dunk after dunk.

In the end the on-the-court relationship between Marcin Gortat and John Wall was not enough to salvage lingering issues that the two seemed to develop as teammates over the last season. It has been reported that Gortat was not happy about his reduced role coming into the season and besides Scott Brooks, the only person for him to blame was the man who had the ball in his hands most, John Wall. The Wizards tried to acquiesce to Gortat early on in the Scott Brooks era by force feeding him the ball on the first possession of every game during the course of the 2016-17 season despite that action yielding very low points per possessions. Gortat could see the writing on the wall in his diminished role before that season even started when the team brought in his presumed replacement, Ian Mahinmi on a four year/$64 million contract.

Frustrations began to boil over when Wall was injured and the team went on a stretch of games in February when the ball seemed to be moving a ltitle bit more and Bradley Beal made his “Everybody Eats” declaration. Gortat added fuel to that fire by tweeting about a great “team” win and then all hell seem to break loose in the Wizards locker room.


John Wall did not take kindly to that tweet and responded by going on the now defunct SC:6 with Michael Smith and Jemele Hill to let it be known that Gortat should be the last one complaining since he gets the most spoon-fed buckets on the team.

There was no going back to normal after this public spat between teammates and the tension in the locker room could be felt throughout the rest of the season. John Wall then doubled down on his displeasure at the end of the season by reiterating to the media members in his exit interview that he felt the team needed an “athletic big man” going forward. The Wizards may have had a moment of addition by subtraction by trading Gortat away and removing conflict in the locker room.

Tangibly the Wizards did get back Austin Rivers who is neither a good nor bad basketball player, but does give the team versatility in terms of being able to play multiple positions and will help Ernie Grunfeld actualize his dream of playing more “positionless” basketball. Rivers lacks efficiency on offense, and he isn’t a great defender, but he brings a certain type of moxie that this team needs coming off of their bench. The fact that Rivers will make $1.4 million less than what Gortat was expected to make is an added bonus and Wizards fans should expect for him to be a decent stop-gap bench performer on his own expiring contract.

What Marcin Gortat was able to help the Wizards accomplish should not be taken for granted despite how toxic the situation became towards the end. Sports is a business and it does not require for teammates to be friends, but to be good co-workers and achieve the main objective, which is winning. This is important and perhaps the Wizards felt that was no longer possible. The Wizards may not have made it to the conference finals as they had dreamed, but their 49 win season was the most in damn near four decades and as Washington sports fans have come to realize, that is something.


Troy Haliburton on Twitter
Troy Haliburton
Troy Haliburton is a native Washingtonian, and graduate of Gonzaga College High School and Morehouse College. Bylines on bylines on bylines.

Will write for food.