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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]

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Source: Wizards will have competition with teams like Lakers, Clippers for restricted free agent Bobby Portis

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USA Today

Source: Wizards will have competition with teams like Lakers, Clippers for restricted free agent Bobby Portis

This summer is shaping up to be lucrative for NBA free agents and big man Bobby Portis is well-positioned to cash in. After spending the final three months of the 2018-19 season with the Wizards, Portis is already seeing a healthy market develop ahead of the June 30 start of the league's negotiating period, NBC Sports Washington has learned.

The Wizards are likely to first extend a qualifying offer on June 30 to make him a restricted free agent. According to Spotrac.com, it will be about $3.6 million and that will give the Wizards the right to match an offer sheet from another franchise.

But teams are already indicating they want Portis, who is just 24 and coming off a season in which he averaged a career-high 14.2 points and 8.1 rebounds in 50 games. That market includes 5-10 teams and could grow once free agency opens.

Portis is expected to draw interest from the Lakers, Clippers, Jazz, Bucks, Magic and Knicks among others, NBC Sports Washington has learned.

Despite restricted free agency, Portis has a few things working for him. For one, there are a lot of teams with cap room. Spending won't reach 2016 levels, when the new CBA spiked the salary cap, but there will a lot of money to go around.

Also, guys in Portis' tier will only be helped if the top free agent options continue to dwindle. Klay Thompson looks more likely than ever to stay in Golden State after tearing his ACL. Winning a title could increase the odds Kawhi Leonard re-signs in Toronto, according to reports. And Kevin Durant's torn Achilles has thrown a wrench into the plans of teams with the most money to spend.

There is also the possibility Kemba Walker stays in Charlotte. And Kyrie Irving signing with Brooklyn, if it happens, would leave others exploring backup plans.

Portis isn't directly competing with any of those players, but could benefit if the top options are off the market. His name will only move up the list if that is the case.

Portis also has a unique selling point going for him. He shot 39.3 percent from three this past season and held a 40.3 percent clip to close the year in his 28 games with the Wizards. Three-point shooting is more valuable than ever and he brings that to the table at 6-foot-10.

Portis, who averaged 3.8 three-point attempts per game this past season, was one of only six players 6-10 or taller to shoot at least 39 percent on 3.5 attempts or more (min. 50 G). 

The question for Portis will be whether he gets the money he wants. He turned down an extension with the Chicago Bulls last fall just hours before the deadline to sign one. According to the Chicago Tribune, the deal was worth about $50 million and he wants to be paid in the range of $16 million annually. His asking price was partly why the Bulls traded him to the Wizards in February.

Even if the Wizards clear money, and they are expected to free up some by declining Jabari Parker's $20 million team option by the June 29 deadline, Portis could price himself out of Washington. It might not even take $16 million per year for that to happen.

The Wizards are set to operate through free agency with interim team president Tommy Sheppard at the helm, as the Washington Post reported on Tuesday. Sheppard making the call increases Portis' odds of staying, but that doesn't mean the price will match for both sides.

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UNC's Coby White talks Wizards workout, North Carolina and John Wall's legendary mixtape

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UNC's Coby White talks Wizards workout, North Carolina and John Wall's legendary mixtape

In Tuesday's Wizards Talk podcast Chris Miller sat down with point guard Coby White, a projected lottery pick from the University of Carolina. 

On Monday, the Wizards worked out White and college teammate Nassir Little in the franchise's highest-profile workout this year. Despite being projected higher than No. 9, White was enthusiastic about the opportunity. 

"These mock drafts are cool, but it's not the real deal," explained White. "If I was to slip and Washington were to select me, I'd be in a great place."

White's passion combined with his impressive skill set enabled him to become the all-time leading scorer in North Carolina high school history. Growing up he followed John Wall, as did every hooper in North Carolina, and he still remembers Wall shredding apart defenses on his legendary high school mixtape. 

"His mixtape was lit," professed White. "The style he played with was uncomparable to anyone else."

What many people don't know about White was that growing up, his dream school was Duke. Once he got to Chapel Hill, however, Roy Williams, his teammates and UNC's winning tradition won him over in a heartbeat. 

"They didn't care how much you had coming in, Coach Williams never promised me playing time," said White. "He just promised me 'I'll be the hardest coach you ever had and I'll try my best to make you the best you can be.'"

At Thursday draft, White's life will be changed forever once he hears his name called and shakes Adam Silver's hand. For Wizards fans, hopefully, that won't happen before the No. 9 pick

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