Marcin Gortat knows what it takes to be a big man in the modern NBA. The former Wizards center spent 14 years in the league, including five for some good teams in the nation's capital, and saw firsthand how basketball transitioned into a game dominated by guards and wings.
In Washington, Gortat helped support the team's young, star-studded backcourt as John Wall and Bradley Beal found their footing. He was a veteran presence in the post as Wall and Beal grew from talented youngsters to bona fide All-Stars.
This year, the roles in Washington are somewhat flipped. It's the backcourt starring Beal and Russell Westbrook that is the veteran backbone of the team, while young talent in the frontcourt is still growing. And the combination has worked really well, in the eyes of somebody who has been in that position for.
"There are times when you need a big. And obviously having a big who can set a screen, who's going to rim run, who's going to rebound the ball and protect the rim, you always need a guy like that," Gortat told NBC Sports Washington's Pregame Live crew ahead of the Wizards' matchup with the Mavericks on Saturday. "And [Gafford], I think in the last game he had four blocks, four steals, and if he's going to bring that every night I mean geez, you're probably looking at one of the best defensive bigs in the league, if not the best. That's definitely a great addition to the team."
Gafford has provided a spark to the Wizards' frontcourt since being acquired in a trade with Chicago and Boston. He immediately formed a connection with Westbrook on the court and is averaging a career-high 10.8 points per game, 2.2 blocks, 0.8 steals and 6.0 rebounds - all in just over 18 minutes per contest.
Gafford is the young piece who might be the future of the position in Washington, but he's not the only member of the center rotation enjoying a strong stretch of play. Robin Lopez and Alex Len each bring unique abilities to the Wizards' frontcourt as well. And all of this is happening without Thomas Bryant, who looked like one of the team's best players before a torn ACL ended his season before it started.
But while the frontcourt has helped key the Wizards' recent hot streak, Gortat still sees a roster in need of improvement.
"I still believe there's a long way to go for the Wizards. I still believe that Tommy [Sheppard] and the whole front office have to improve the roster and continue to look for opportunities to get the roster better," Gortat said. "But like I said before there are a couple interesting pieces that we should keep for the future because they are definitely going to be good. If they're going to continue to develop and get those minutes, they are definitely going to help the team."
For Chris Miller's full interview with Marcin Gortat, tune in to Wizards Pregame Live Saturday at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington as the crew gets you ready for the Wizards to take on Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks.