Marcin Gortat was outstanding in 2011-12, his first full season as the Suns' starting center. The Polish [insert noun of choice here] put up a double-double with over 15 points and 10 rebounds per game and was a devastating finisher in the pick-and-roll alongside Steve Nash.
With Nash's departure, a drop in production was to be expected. However, I don't know how many of us expected to see his numbers decline across the board. Gortat was still effective and his numbers aren't bad by any means, but due to a combination of a couple different factors, he was not the difference maker he was the year before.
Gortat saw a decrease in points, field goal makes, field goal attempts, field goal percentage, rebounding and PER from a season ago. He put up his lowest true shooting percentage and effective field goal percentage since his rookie year. He put up career lows in win shares per 48 minutes, total rebound percentage and offensive rating.
Some of this drop-off in play can be attributed to losing one of the greatest distributors in the history of the game. However, Gortat is a good player and more than simply a product of Nash. There has to be more to his decline than simply getting a new point guard.
Grading Gortat with respect to his peers
There are 34 centers that played at least 20 minutes per game in at least 40 games this season. Among those, Gortat ranks 24th in points per 40 minutes (14.5), 19th in rebounds per 40 (11.0), 14th in field goal percentage (52.1) and 10th in blocked shots per 40 (2.1). That averages out to about 17th out of 34 regular rotation centers. Right in the middle gets him a C.
Grading Gortat with respect to expectations
Gortat's per 36 averages of 13.0 points, 9.9 rebounds and 52.1 field goal percentage were below his career averages of 13.9, 11.1 and 54.7. However, those are still pretty solid numbers for an NBA center, and he did lead the Suns in rebounds, blocked shots and field goal percentage.
Considering expectations and Gortat's ability versus actual production, I'd give Gortat a C-.
Grading Gortat with respect to improvement
I think it's pretty clear from the above numbers that Gortat did not improve, and in fact took a step back in his play. That gets him an F.
Gortat had a very clear role last year. With Nash at the point, Phoenix spread the floor with shooters and ran the pick-and-roll on almost every single play. Gortat's role on offense was to set good screens and roll to the rim, and he did it very well.
However, this year's team was very different. Instead of pick-and-roll maestro Nash, Gortat had the more aggressive Goran Dragic running the point. Instead of sharp-shooting Channing Frye spacing the floor at power forward, he had Luis Scola whose range only extends out to about 18 feet. Instead of the likes of a more effective Shannon Brown, Michael Redd and Grant Hill, Gortat had the likes of Michael Beasley and P.J. Tucker on the wing; guys other teams don't respect nearly as much.
When Gortat set screens, Dragic came off looking to shoot far more often than Nash did. When Gortat did roll down the lane, he often found one or two extra defenders clogging the lane instead of staying home on shooters. Often enough, Gortat didn't even attempt to roll, knowing that Dragic was either going to shoot himself or that he wouldn't find much room to operate anyway.
Grading Gortat's fulfillment of his role
The truth is, Gortat and the rest of the roster did not mesh. The composition of the roster did not allow him to play his game. However, as Gortat said back in April, that shouldn't matter.
"I learned from a great great coach, Stan Van Gundy," Gortat said. "I learned one thing it doesn't matter what going on around, you got to come out every single night. If you don't do that, there's a 1000 kids behind you ready to get your spot."
Gortat didn't do that this year. There were plenty of games where he didn't show up and was a complete nonfactor. He struggled to finish plays on a regular basis. He didn't give it his all.
Gortat was put in a difficult situation and he by no means failed, but he definitely did not play as well as he should have. Splitting the difference between failing and excelling, he gets a C for having a very average season.
CONCLUSION AND OVERALL GRADE
Marcin Gortat just didn't fit on this team. He also has one more year on his very affordable contract. At 29 years old, he is in the tail-end of the prime of his career. Considering these three factors, and the fact that as a quality center Gortat should have solid value on the open market, it is probably time to trade him for assets to help in the Suns' rebuild.
However, there is no need to just give him away. If the Suns can't find a deal that gives them solid value in return, it's not the end of the world. With a few new players on the wing, a new coaching staff and more time to build chemistry with Dragic, I would expect a better season next year from Gortat. He's not a great fit for this roster, but that doesn't really matter as this roster is not good and should be shaken up as much as possible. Perhaps the new coach can better utilize his strengths. Then when his contract is up, the Suns can re-evaluate. Gauge the market, decide whether or not they want to keep him around, and move on from there. Worst case scenario, the Suns get some more cap space for 2014-15 when the team may be ready to make a splash in free agency.
Averaging together his grades, it gives him a C-: a below-average grade for a below-average season.