The Clippers swapped guard Austin Rivers for center Marcin Gortat a month ago in an attempt to balance their roster. Gortat was a member of the Washington Wizards for five years, so to get some insight on the big man, I turned to Jake Whitacre of Bullets Forever, who kindly answered a few questions for me.
1. Marcin Gortat repeatedly clashed with John Wall in Washington, and was also rumored to have issues with teammates back in Phoenix. Is he just a difficult guy to get along with? Or might he be a true locker room problem for the Clippers? How serious is that overall issue?
It’s complicated with Marcin Gortat. On the one hand, he’s a very unselfish player. He does a lot of great things that don’t get a lot of acclaim, like setting great screens, boxing people out so other people can grab rebounds, and running the floor harder than most big men, which opens things up in transition for other players. He does that stuff whether things are going well or they’re going poorly, and he’ll do them whether you like him or not. That’s who he is.
On the other hand, he has a very direct way of addressing things, no matter what the situation is. When things are going well, being transparent and open is great. When things are going poorly, sometimes it can make a bad situation worse, because he isn’t the best at sugarcoating his criticisms.
So at the end of the day, I think if you gave all the Wizards truth serum, they’d say they respected Gortat because he was consistent, played hard, and did the dirty work so other guys could shine. But after five years of dealing with him, I think they were happy to do something different, especially now that his production has fallen off a bit.
2. Marcin has declined quite a bit in the past couple years, falling from an above-average starting center to average and then below-average last season. Do you think he can he still be effective for 20 min a game next season?
I think it depends a lot on two things:
- How much does he get play with guards who work well in pick-and-roll situations? If he gets to play a lot with Teodosic, that could work out really well for him because he would be in better positions to score where he’s still effective. If he’s playing a lot with Lou Williams and Avery Bradley, that might be a little more difficult for him. He’s never been much of a low-post threat and if he’s not getting those looks on the move, you’re just going to have to hope his screens free the guards up enough to do some damage on their own.
- How well do the Clippers start the season? Gortat has talked a bit about the idea that this could be his final season, and maybe closing out his career in Orlando, where he started. If the team struggles and it becomes clear early that they’re not going to the playoffs, I think it would only be natural for him to start checking out emotionally and considering what comes next.
3. What are Marcin’s general strengths and weaknesses as a basketball player? From your general knowledge of the Clippers’ roster and style, do you think he’s a good fit?
Gortat’s biggest strength is his screening game. When you have a very guard-driven team like Washington does, you appreciate having someone who can get your best players open. Even if it’s not a traditional pick-and-roll, Gortat’s great at screening defenders off-the-ball before they can rotate over to cut off penetration, which has helped both of them in their development. He could be really good for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson in their rookie year as they adapt to NBA defenses.
He’s also a better passer than you’d expect. He’s good at making passes from the nail and can make some good passes on the roll when the defense collapses on the paint.
He’s not much of a scorer at this point, other than what he gets as a roll-man or cleaning up in the paint. His post game isn’t anything to write home about, and his jumper has never been reliable enough space the floor.
Defensively, he is what he is. He doesn’t have the athleticism to be a great rim protector, and he can get overwhelmed by some of the hulking athletic big men out there, like Joel Embiid, Andre Drummond and Hassan Whiteside, but he’s not useless. He moves his feet, he’s great at boxing out, and he has solid instincts. When you put it all together, I’d say he’s a slight minus defensively, but not someone you actively have to find ways to hide on that end.
Thanks again to Jake for answering these questions on Marcin. Look for another Q&A early next week about another new addition to the Clippers who is fresh off a season with the Wiz (Mike Scott), as well as my answering Jake’s questions about Austin Rivers, which will be posted on Bullets Forever sometime soon.