When the Washington Wizards traded for Marcin Gortat before the season started, there were many questions surrounding the deal. The Wizards gave up Emeka Okafor‘s expiring deal as well as a 2014 first round pick to the Phoenix Suns for the Polish Hammer. Would the trade propel the Wizards into the playoffs like management dreamed of? Could Gortat be a solid starting center without Steve Nash, who was a cornerstone of Gortat’s best years? Was Gortat worth giving up a first round pick in what is perceived as the best draft class in a decade? These were all viable questions the Wizards and Gortat faced heading into the 2013-14 season.
We got answers to all those questions. Gortat was a big reason why the Wizards made their first playoff appearance since the 2008-09. The 6’11” center averaged 13.2 points per game along with 9.5 rebounds on 54.5 percent shooting from the floor. Gortat was essential to the Wizards’ offense with his ability to run the pick and roll with All-Star point guard John Wall, while also being able to score out of the post and knocking down midrange jump shots.
The Wizards were 3.9 points better offensively per 100 possessions with Gortat on the floor. The questions about if Gortat could succeed alongside someone besides Nash in a free flowing pick and roll offense were certainly answered this year because of the variety of things Gortat did for the Wizards on the offensive end.
However, it was defnesively where Gortat made his biggest strides this season and helped this Wizards team advance in the playoffs for the first time since 2004-05. He led the Wizards in defensive win shares (an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player with his defense) with 4.0. He had the lowest defensive rating on the team with a 103 efficiency. The Wizards gave up 7.5 more points defensively per 100 possessions when Gortat was on the bench.
These numbers are all meaningless until you know that the Wizards were the eighth most efficient defense in the league, giving up 104.6 points per 100 possessions, and Gortat was the anchor. His ability to use his strength to defend in the post made it difficult for opposing frontcourts to score on him. His lateral quickness also allowed him to defend pick and rolls well. Many people had questions about Gortat’s defensive ability heading into this season, but he silenced many of those critics this season with a stout defensive year.
Acquiring Gortat was certainly worth it this year. He was a big part of changing the Wizards’ losing culture and bringing hope back to a sorrowful fan base. The Wizards may have still made the playoffs this year without Gortat because of how horrid the Eastern Conference was, but basketball in D.C. would not have had the same excitement without Gortat being apart of it. And that is why things get tricky for the Wizards moving forward.
Gortat is a free agent this offseason. The Wizards are going to re-sign him because this year’s success has finally looked replicable and management wants to hold onto that for as long as they can. The Wizards will offer Gortat around $10 million-$13 million per year. That is a hefty contract for a 30-year old who is not going to drive a team to a championship level. Gortat will help keep the Wizards relevant for the next few years, but acquiring him last offseason has the Wizards in a tricky spot moving forward for an organization with no long-term vision.
With all that said, while Gortat may have not had his best statistical year of his career, he had the biggest impact on the court this year since he was drafted in 2007. As much of a joy Gortat was on the court this season, he was even more likable off it and the people of D.C. quickly clung to him. If nothing else, it will be nice to have him around for the next few years.