As a Polish NBA fan, I have been watching Gortat's development quite closely since he came over to Phoenix. Since my non-player-related-favorite NBA team (the Milwaukee Bucks) has been playing horrible basketball due to injuries, I've focused on watching Suns games and hoping that I can see Gortat develop and help a team that is struggling to recapture its identity.
I must say that the Suns improved gameplay has been fun to watch and I've grown pretty fond of this team and its new playing style. Gortat has indeed developed quite nicely and is now a firm part of the rotation. The question, however, lingers - how important can he be to the team in the long run? Is he a potential all-star or just a solid rotation player who will not really make a difference? I believe he actually can be a key part in the team's success, and after the jump, I'll try to focus on the points that most people have overlooked.
1. Rookie status
I can already see the incredulous stare - what the hell is this guy talking about? We're talking about an NBA veteran, who's been to the playoffs, played a couple of seasons for a championship contender - what is this about rookie status?
Well, the problem with Gortat is that he's been a career backup for a long time. Not only that, he's been a very specific backup - the backup for an absolute star player on a team where even the star player doesn't actually get too many offensive looks (they're changing it this season, but for the past two season, the center position in Orlando was very much overlooked on offense). This means that, in terms of an offensive game, he's basically a rookie - he hasn't been able to play offense at all in Orlando. He only got rare pick&rolls from Nelson and Redick and was never allowed to show any real plays in the post. Couple that with his late basketball start and you have a player who's got a ton of upside on the offensive side - simply because his starting point is that low. Notice how Gortat has improved his pick&roll awareness basically on a week-to-week basis - that type of progress is one usually restricted to rookies, not third-year veterans.
This is something that was questioned back when Gortat appeared in the Suns lineup and while the fears that Gortat is unathletic have been slightly reduced, he's still considered by many to be of average athleticism. That is simply not the case. Back in the Orlando days, Gortat got the top score of the entire team on a physical evaluation, he's shown extreme feats of athleticism - the only thing he does lack is a little explosiveness. The problem with Gortat is not athleticism, it's being able to use that athleticism on court (see point 1 above). He's learning, though - look at the Kings game, where he managed to lay in a ball jumping over two defenders in the paint - there aren't many players in the game capable of that. When he realizes how potent his athleticism can be with respect to offensive post moves, his post game will be a lot better.
3. Basketball IQ
This is not a feature you really look at very carefully in most big man, but Gortat has plenty of this. First of all, he gets excellent looks for most of his players - he almost never forces shots or makes bad decisions. He doesn't hesitate to pass to find open teammates, nor to take the open shot when that is the best option. Moreover, he has the necessary smarts to mix different elements into his game - he has been quoted to take the best moves from various players playing different positions and indeed, his game shows that those aren't pure boasts - his free throw shooting has improved tremendously, no doubt a credit to the free throw lessons given by NBA-record holder Steve Nash, the same holds for his jumper - the three point shot in the Boston game was not only nice because of the result, but also because of the shooting motion that was very technically sound for a seven-foot guy. In the Kings game, there were also flashes of Gortat's developing post game - he did get a travel violation, but he did manage to dribble the ball in between two defenders. Due to his intelligent work ethic, one can hope that for most moves Gortat actually choses to develop, he will figure out the nuances. Coupled with his above-average athleticism, that spells a promising future.
4. Court vision
Again, a rare feature in NBA big men - being able to pass from the post. Gortat is not only a very capable passer, he possesses a rare quality - court vision. Being 7 foot tall, he's able to see over help defenders and he actually uses that capability very well, not just passing the ball to the nearest perimeter player, but also often creating for his teammates. He's also very adept at passing out of double teams, which is a pleasant surprise considering it's not a skill he's had many chances to develop. With the Suns offensive system, which in its most effective version is basically 4-out 1-in with four three-point shooters, Gortat commanding double-teams and then passing out to the open shooter is a recipe for instant success when the pick-and-roll is being excessively guarded.
5. Veteran attitude
Gortat has that nice veteran attitude that makes the entire team better - while he might sometimes be controversial with his frankness, he's nevertheless positive with the comments he makes and never makes purely derogatory comments, always focusing on things that will improve the team's gameplay. It does seem that his defensive attitude has rubbed onto the Suns already - this might come in handy when the Suns make the playoffs (which I firmly believe that they will do).
While Gortat is not your model NBA-star - typically, a physical freak with insane explosiveness that is capable of insane individual feats - he still has a unique skillset that was completely underutilized in Orlando and is only now being used properly in the Suns model. He might not become a career 20-10 guy - but if he managed to become a 15-10-4-2 guy (points-boards-assists-blocks), that would also be all-star worthy in my book. Don't overlook the guy's specific skills - he might surprise you yet.