When Marcin Gortat was still on the Orlando Magic playing behind Dwight Howard, most analysts considered him the best back-up center in the league. Gortat rarely got much of a chance to display his skills though because he was playing behind arguably the best starting center in the league as well.
However, after a disappointing start to the 2010-11 season for Robin Lopez, the Suns jumped at the opportunity to acquire Gortat in a deal that sent Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson, and Earl Clark to Orlando in return for Vince Carter's expiring
body contract, Mikael Pietrus, and of course the Polish Machine himself.
But because Gortat had received so little playing time in the spotlight prior to this trade, there were still quite a few relative unknowns about his game. Many Suns' fans expected a hard-nosed, physical center on both offense and defense...after-all, his name was the Polish Hammer, right?
Well as it turned out, not only were most of those preconceived notions about his game wrong, so was his nickname (he prefers the Polish Machine, not the Polish Hammer).
While Gortat is regarded as a tough defensive player, his offensive game turned out to be much more finesse than powerful. But that wasn't necessarily a bad thing.
Many fans and analysts were shocked by his incredible agility and quickness around the hoop, and while he didn't dunk the ball as much as many fans hoped, he surpassed most expectations about his ability, and quickly became of of the most important components of the Suns' offense.
At the start of the 2011-12 season, the expectations for Gortat's production were high. And at least for the first half of the season, he not only met those expectations, but exceeded them as well.
Then came the second half of the season...
While the rest of the team was finally playing well together, Gortat seemed to regress. The player so many fans considered an all-star snub was suddenly being criticized from every angle.
But was he really playing as badly as it seemed?
Here is a comparison of Gortat's stats before and after the all-star break:
The reason I wanted to show these stats in comparison to each other is that, in all honesty, I expected a bigger disparity between them...as I'm sure most of you who are reading this did as well.
While his first-half numbers are certainly better in every category, the drop off in production for the second half of the season doesn't seem nearly as drastic as our eyes may have perceived. Without going through each category, what it all boiled down to is basically one less point, and one less rebound per game.
So why did it seem like Gortat was so much less effective in the second half of the season?
I think it has more to do with perception than actual performance.
His play before the all-star break stood out more in a positive way since he and Steve Nash were basically the only two consistent players on the team. Similarly, since the rest of the team finally started playing well at the same time that Gortat's play began to decline, I believe it magnified his struggles and made them seem worse than they actually were.
Here are his overall basic stats for his last two seasons in Phoenix:
Here are his advanced stats for the last two seasons as well:
Looking at the above numbers, you can see that Gortat had a better overall season last year than he did in his first partial season with the Suns.
His rebounding average was more or less the same while his points per game, defensive rating, and PER were significantly better. In fact, he led the team in all of those categories plus blocks and field goal percentage as well. Not to mention, he was also the only player to play in all 66 games last season and also led the team in minutes played.
Here are his stats compared to the rest of the team:
If I were grading Gortat compared to other centers in the league I would give him a B+, but since I am grading him based on his play for the Suns and his importance to this team, I am going to give him a solid A for last season. I would grade his first half performance as an "A", and his second half performance as an "A-" because of his slight drop off in the second half of the season, which I believe was mostly due to being worn down and tired over playing so many minutes in such a compressed and intense season. But all-in-all, Gortat had an excellent year.
I believe his play last season was was much better than many fans and analysts think, and I believe he was instrumental in not only helping to carry this team in the first half of the season, but also to the impressive yet ultimately ill-fated playoff push the Suns made in the second half of the season--which many fans simply don't give him enough credit for.
*All statistics used were provided by Basketball-Reference.com