Wizards

Quick Links

With his NBA window closing, Wizards' Gortat is improving with age

With his NBA window closing, Wizards' Gortat is improving with age

Few basketball players can count themselves as fortunate as Wizards center Marcin Gortat. Now in his 11th season, he's enjoyed a long and successful NBA career, and has made tens of millions of dollars along the way. 

For some, that would be enough. For some, this time would coincide with a slow decline towards retirement. The sun would be setting, the skills they accrued over that decade-plus would be fading away.

But at age 32, Gortat has somehow taken his game to brand new heights this season. He's averaging career-highs in rebounds (11.4, 7th in NBA), field goal percentage (58.6) and minutes (34.8). 

The man whom many call 'The Polish Machine' is getting stronger and more efficient with age. He has been as reliable as anyone for the 25-20 Wizards, having played in all 45 games this season.

"He tells me all the time that he’s 'The Polish Machine,' and I’m starting to believe that," head coach Scott Brooks said earlier this month.

For Gortat, there is no well-kept secret for why he continues to ascend at his age. It's about a love for the game and a simple personality trait.

"I would just say the pride. It’s just pride. Don’t take things for granted and just go out there and play," he said. "My window is closing up really fast right now, so I’ve got maybe another three or four years in front of me. I just want to use this situation. I just want to perform and just be a very good big man in this league. Just compete. I can’t imagine going to a game and just going through the motions."

Gortat, naturally, has grown wiser over the years. He may not be as quick at 32 as he was at 22, but there are other elements of the game where he has made significant leaps.

"You become smarter and you appreciate things more, definitely. You appreciate things more. Second thing, you get more experience and have more fun. You find the little details in the game that make the game easier for you. You just get more confidence about a lot of things. You’re doing all the little stuff like rebounding and setting screens and the coach is rewarding you by giving you touches and post-ups, then the game is a lot of fun," he said.

Setting screens is an area where Gortat has truly emerged. Brooks has referred to Gortat as the "best screen-setter in basketball" this season and the numbers back that up. He leads the NBA with 6.9 screen assists per game. 

[RELATED: How Marcin Gortat sets table for Wizards' half-court offense with screens]

That is a product in part due to the fact he plays with John Wall, one of the best passers in basketball, and shooters like Bradley Beal and Otto Porter. But Gortat's role as a big, mobile body who can check someone with precision and force cannot be understated. At 6-foot-11 and 240 pounds, he is not someone you want to run into.

Gortat said the reasons why he has improved at setting screens over the years are "basketball knowledge, physical preparation, timing and experience." Add it all up and he's become very confident in his ability to get his teammates open.

"They are coming off butt-naked, so they just gotta make a shot," he said with a grin.

Setting screens is among the most physical aspects of the game of basketball, yet there is an art to it. As much as screens are pure brute force, the line between a legal screen and an illegal one can be very thin. That's where the experience comes into play.

"Well, some screens are going to be illegal. That’s obvious that some screens are going to be illegal," Gortat explained. "It’s about how I’m going to sell it to the referee, if they are going to see it or not see it, bottom-line. Number two, there are a lot of people that are just running into a screen and they think they have been illegally screened, which is B.S. I’m just trying to read the situation. I’m just trying to anticipate what path the guard is going to take to avoid the screen. That’s what we have got to read and we have been doing pretty good so far."

Every time Gortat sets up for a screen, he knows some hard contact could be coming his way. Usually it's a guard running around on defense with no idea that contact is coming. That could mean an elbow or a shoulder jabbing him in the stomach or the arm, from a player running very fast.

"I’ve been playing my whole life a physical game. I’m not afraid of the contact. I’ve just gotta continue to do it. As early as you can start it in a game, the better. It can carry over throughout the whole game later on. Setting a tone, that’s the easy part," Gortat said.

[RELATED: Marcin Gortat posterizes Gerald Henderson]

Screening can be one of the more thankless parts of the game. Screens aren't reflected in a traditional box score and rarely are they the focus of highlight reels. But that doesn't mean there aren't kickbacks for Gortat. He has come to learn over the years that those efforts can lead to points when he rolls to the basket.

"If you set a good screen, then you are going to be open too," Gortat said. "It definitely translates to me. If I set a good screen, I am going to be open. That probably works best with John because they commit to John more on the pick-and-rolls. That’s going to get me open and get me opportunities to shine offensively."

"He's realizing how important he is and he's realizing how many more shots he can get when he screens," Beal said.

When asked a simple answer for why he has improved this season, particularly when it comes to rebounding, Gortat will point to his coach. Brooks has had to rely on Gortat heavily this season with backup center Ian Mahinmi having missed 44 of the team's 45 games due to injury.

Gortat likes to play a lot, but Brooks has had little choice otherwise.

"It’s just more minutes. It’s more minutes and at the same time, coach has really given me a chance to play and given me a lot of confidence. He’s kind of just leaving me out there and leaving me alone consistently," Gortat said. "I’m going to come up with some crazy stuff. Sometimes I’m going to come up with some crazy stuff and some unnecessary stuff, but he knows that ratio of good stuff to crazy stuff is like three-to-one. So, he doesn’t have to worry about anything."

How long that will continue is unclear. Mahinmi should be back within the next several weeks and backup big man Jason Smith has emerged as a consistent option on the Wizards' bench. Ultimately, Brooks would like to scale down Gortat's minutes to keep him fresh and that process has already taken place in recent games.

"It's a long season and March is playing more minutes [than ever]. I don't think he's ever played this many minutes in his career," Brooks explained. "I think he's averaging like 35 or 36 and he's played many games in the high 30s, low 40s. I don't want to do that. Like every player, they want to play. They want to play 40 minutes and they think they can. But we see the production when you play guys 40 minutes every night and it's not as high."

A lot is being asked of Gortat, to the point where his coach has publicly said they may need to reduce his workload. Yet, 'The Polish Machine' has shown no signs of slowing down.

[RELATED: Gortat comes up big for Wizards in tough matchup vs. Towns, Wolves]

Quick Links

Bradley Beal passing Wes Unseld on Wizards' scoring list a reminder of his place among franchise greats

Bradley Beal passing Wes Unseld on Wizards' scoring list a reminder of his place among franchise greats

WASHINGTON -- John Wall, Bradley Beal, Wes Unseld. That's how the Wizards' all-time scoring list reads from No.'s three through five after Monday's Wizards win over the Pistons, as Beal moved into sole possession of fourth place with a good chance of passing Wall before the season is over.

Unseld remains the most accomplished player in Wizards/Bullets franchise history as an NBA champion, 1977-78 Finals MVP, 1968-69 league MVP and rookie of the year plus a Hall of Fame induction. But Beal passing him is another reminder he already has a place among Wizards and Bullets luminaries.

"That's an honor because that list is full of greats, true Wizards and Bullets legends. To be a part of that is an honor," Beal said. 

Within the context of Wizards franchise history, Beal has already separated himself as one of the best to ever suit up. In addition to being fourth in points, he is the all-time leader in three-pointers, sixth in assists, seventh in steals and 10th in win shares. He also has the single-season record for threes. That's not bad for a guy who is 26 years old. 

The Wizards/Bullets franchise, of course, doesn't have the same historic success as others like the Celtics and Lakers, but it has been around for 59 seasons. During that time 444 different players have appeared in a game for them.

The franchise goes all the way back to 1962 when they were known as the Chicago Packers. Along the way, there have been more losses (2597) than wins (2142), but many All-Stars and decorated players have come through.

Continuing to make his mark on the Wizards/Bullets franchise seems to be genuinely important to Beal. During his halftime interview with NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller, he mentioned the team's Baltimore days when discussing the Unseld feat. Back when he signed his contract extension in October, he explained the decision partly in terms of creating a legacy in Washington and taking the franchise to places it hasn't been in a long time.

On Monday, he alluded to those goals again.

"I never would have dreamt of that or thought of that coming here. To still be here is an honor, too. I'm just taking it in full stride. I've still got a lot more basketball to play, so who knows where I'll end up," he said.

Beal is well on his way to being widely known as one of the best players in Wizards/Bullets history. If he plays many more years in Washington and doesn't leave on bad terms, he will likely have his jersey retired someday.

But in order to reach the true top tier of Wizards/Bullets greats, he will have to lead them to some playoff success. Getting to the conference finals, where Washington hasn't been since the 1970s, would certainly stand out.

Still, if you were putting together a roster of the best players in Wizards/Bullets history, he would already be included.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

MORE WIZARDS NEWS:

Quick Links

Despite place in standings, Wizards believe playoffs aren't a pipe dream

Despite place in standings, Wizards believe playoffs aren't a pipe dream

WASHINGTON -- This may be the most realistic and self-aware Wizards team we have seen in a while. It wasn't long ago they had a penchant for talking big about what they believed they could accomplish. Nowadays, knowing where they are in the standings, their expectations are much more measured.

They know they are 12th in the Eastern Conference, even after beating the Pistons on Monday. They know their 14-28 record, which is 14 games under .500 and has them on pace to win 27 total games, isn't good.

But the Wizards are allowed to dream and they say making the playoffs is still something they would like to do.

"That's the goal, that's every day for us. [It's] in the back of my mind," shooting guard Bradley Beal said.

"I watch the games, I watch the standings and everything. We're not talking about it," head coach Scott Brooks said. "If that comes into play [we'll see]. The seventh and eighth seeds, the records aren't great."

There is certainly a case for that. The two teams currently occupying the bottom two playoff spots in the East have sub-.500 records. The seventh-ranked Magic are 20-23 and the Brooklyn Nets are in eighth with an 18-24 mark.

Last season, the Charlotte Hornets held up the Eastern Conference playoff bracket with a losing record as the eighth seed. They went 39-43, not good but still a much better pace than the Wizards are currently on. To win 39 games, they would have to go 25-16 the rest of the way.

Though they have shown some positive signs, going 4-4 in their last eight games, that would require going to a completely different level in the second half of the season. Still, there is no harm in maintaining their goals.

Beal, for one, has envisioned a way it can happen.

"Especially once All-Star hits, that second half is just flying. We have to tighten up and try to get some wins here before the break because that's usually the time when teams like to ease off the pedal a little bit. We have to take advantage of [that], that advantage of our schedule, take care of our bodies, and rally together," he said.

If the Wizards really, really wanted to go for the playoffs, they could try to add some pieces before the Feb. 6 trade deadline. But that should not be expected. In fact, this year's deadline for the Wizards likely won't be affected much at all by the playoff picture.

It's hard to envision them being buyers and they may not be able to be true sellers, either, due to injuries and other factors. Also, there is a belief in the front office that keeping a close distance in the playoff race could be a nice incentive for their young players, that having something to work for later in the season could help their development.

If the Wizards did somehow make the playoffs or even get close, that would be quite the surprise and it would say a lot about the direction of the organization. But in the long-term, it would seem to be more beneficial if they continue on their current course and end up with a top draft pick.

The Wizards right now have the fifth-worst record in the league. That would net them a lot of ping-pong balls for the draft lottery.

It seems likely that's where this season will end. But it doesn't hurt to try.

"We just want to play. We just want to finish the second half of the season playing better," Brooks said.

The Wizards are only four games back in the playoff race. Stranger things have happened.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

MORE WIZARDS NEWS: