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2018-2019 Clippers Exit Interviews: Marcin Gortat

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The Clips Nation 2018-2019 Clippers’ exit interviews will start with the long-departed big man, Marcin Gortat.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Los Angeles Clippers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Name: Marcin Gortat

Age: 35

Years in NBA: 12

Position: Center

Key Stats: In 16 minutes per game, averaged 5.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.4 assists across 47 games (43 started). Shot 53.2% from the field and 72.9% from the free throw line (1 attempt per game).

2018-2019 Salary: $13,565,218

Future Contract Status: Unrestricted free agent

Summary:

Marcin arrived from the Washington Wizards last year in a trade for guard Austin Rivers. The trade, which occurred between the NBA Draft and the start of free agency, was done primarily to even the Clippers’ guard heavy roster and prepare for the departure of franchise center DeAndre Jordan. The expectations for Marcin were to be a stopgap center for the 2018-2019 season, holding the fort until the center of the future arrived via draft, trade, or free agency. And, that’s what he did, more or less.

Marcin started much of the first half of the season, sitting only four games in favor of Boban Marjanovic. When the Clippers got off to their fantastic start to the season, Gortat was at least a small part of the reason why. He was able to set good screens on offense, particularly for Tobias Harris, was an acceptable rebounder, and just generally filled in the gaps on both ends of the court. His defense was subpar due to slow feet and lack of a second leap around the rim, but the Clippers were playing so well that it didn’t matter much.

As the season went along, however, Marcin’s play dipped, especially in December, when he was simply awful. In that month, he shot under 40% from the field, an atrocious number for a big man who took almost all his shots near the rim. His lack of explosion as a finisher was clearly on display, and it hurt the offense a lot. He perked up a bit in January, but his defensive liabilities remained, and units with him on the court continued to fail. He only played two games in February before the Clippers made their series of trades at the deadline, and Gortat was subsequently waived to clear room for the incoming players, as Ivica Zubac’s arrival made him expendable.

Strengths:

Marcin Gortat has had a long, well-regarded NBA career for a reason: he’s a highly competent big man who’s great at the fundamentals of basketball. In particular, he sets some of the best screens in the entire NBA. He led the Clippers in screen assists per game, averaging 3.6 (and 7.8 points off them) in just 16 minutes. That beat out Montrezl Harrell (3.3, 7.2) and Ivica Zubac (3.0, 7.1), both of whom played more minutes per game than Gortat did. Screen-setting is extremely unglamorous, but incredibly important to modern NBA offenses. Gortat’s ability in that regard can’t be understated.

Outside of screens, Gortat also just generally knows where to be on the basketball court. He’s fantastic at rolling to the rim (though not necessarily at finishing, anymore), and boxes out well defensively. Gortat is also a quietly good passer, adept at interior passes to fellow big men, dishes to cutters, and dribble hand offs. Passing big men are valuable to keep an offense moving smoothly, and Gortat more than checks the boxes of a useful passer in the halfcourt. Defensively, again, Gortat’s positioning is mostly there, especially in a drop-down defense, and he tries hard on both sides of the ball.

There were no complaints about Marcin’s offcourt/locker room presence, and he seemed to take his various benchings well enough (as well as any NBA player takes them). He played hard, and seemed to fit in well with the group of players the Clippers had together to start the season. On nights when he was really feeling it, Marcin still had some moments, especially on the offensive end, and he definitely helped the Clippers win a few games early on.

Weaknesses:

At this point in Marcin Gortat’s career, he just doesn’t have the skills or tools to play big, consistent minutes in the NBA. Outside of unique superstars like Karl-Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid, or Nikola Jokic, good NBA centers fit into one of two molds. The first group are the big, athletic centers who provide vertical spacing on offense in the pick and roll, and stick close to the rim on defense due to their shot blocking (Rudy Gobert, Clint Capela, formerly DeAndre Jordan, etc.). The second mold is versatile scorers who are just good enough defensively to hang in (Nikola Vucevic, Jonas Valanciunas). Gortat used to be more in line with the first group, though he was never athletic as those guys. Still, he could roll hard, and was a strong finisher (his nickname was the Polish Hammer) in the painted area. He was just good enough on defense to get by, and was a very solid rebounder.

Years past his prime, Gortat can no longer finish strong against contests from other centers. When opposing big men challenged his shot, he generally got rejected, had to throw up a hook or touch shot, or passed the ball out. His rebounding was fine, though not quite as good as it used to be, but the defense wass no longer passable. While he still provided at least somewhat of a presence at the rim due to sheer size, he’s not quick enough to hang with guys like Embiid or Towns, and not athletic enough to challenge Gobert or Capela. He’s also far too slow-footed to do the kind of hedge and recover defense that is mostly used in the NBA right now, instead sinking towards the lane and allowing pick and roll ballhandlers to shoot.

While the biggest complaints were about Gortat’s defense, it was his lack of offensive game that hurt the Clippers. Lacking a superstar player in their starting lineup, the Clippers had to utilize a balanced attack offensively, and with Gortat not producing, and Avery Bradley misfiring, many of their key lineups struggled on that end. To wit: of the three lineups Marcin was a part of that received more than 100 minutes, one was really good defensively, one was fine defensively, and the other was awful defensively – but all were significant negatives due to ghastly offense. Part of the problem wasn’t really Marcin, but that the starting lineup was a bad fit. On a team with more offensive creators, and someone who could have spoonfed him easy buckets, he might have looked more useful. Alas, that team was not the 2018-2019 Clippers, and they looked far better with Ivica Zubac starting his stead.

Future with Clippers:

Marcin was not picked up by any team after the Clippers waived him, though there were rumors that a few contending teams were interested in him. Aged 35, and fading quickly over the past couple years, Gortat’s NBA career might be at an end, though it’s possible he’s signed for another year as a 3rd big man, or soldiers on in Europe. The team that signs him will probably not be the Clippers, however, as they’re likely to re-sign Zubac as their starting center, and have Montrezl Harrell as a key player in that position as well. Gortat showed some love to Clippers’ players on Twitter after he was waived, including young big men Angel Delgado and Jonathan Motley, so it’s possible he returns to the team as a big man coach – but unlikely.

Final Season Grade: C-

In the end, Marcin Gortat performed his role about as well as I thought he would, or as could be reasonably expected of him. He wasn’t great, and some of his weaknesses were directly related to the Clippers’ midseason struggles, but he showed up and did his best, and had some nice moments.