The Wizards dominated Joakim Noah, who won the Defensive Player of the Year award, and Gortat and Nene gained the national spotlight for the work they did near the hoop.
That series win only took them so far, and now the Wizards find themselves facing a very important offseason after losing to the Indiana Pacers in the conference semifinals. The paring of Gortat and Nene could be split up with Gortat becoming an unrestricted free agent, and Trevor Ariza is also due for a new contract.
After seeing what Gortat can do down low with Nene and the other power forwards, the Wizards’ first goal of the offseason needs to be signing the 30-year-old Gortat to a new contract. Gortat works well with Nene in the frontcourt, and with the upcoming pool of free agents, keeping Gortat around is the best option for the Wizards moving forward, and here’s why.
Gortat and Nene are a Great Pairing
In the midst of the Chicago series, I went more in-depth into this pairing and why it works so well. But here’s the summary: They both bring something different to the table.
As we saw in the series against the Bulls, Nene can shoot a mid-range jumper effectively. He shot 43.35 percent from mid-range in the regular season, and 44.16 percent in the playoffs. Take this play in Game 1 against the Bulls, for example.
Meanwhile, Gortat can play closer to the rim, scoring on tip-ins while playing with his back to the basket. Gortat can also set picks better than Nene, creating opportunities for John Wall and Bradley Beal, while Nene is used more as a second kick-out option at 14 feet or so.
Out of all of Washington’s five-man rotations, the rotation of Wall, Beal, Ariza, Nene and Gortat had the highest winning percentage when that was the rotation that played the most minutes. In those games, the Wizards won 68.5 percent of the time, according to 82games.com. That unit also had the best plus/minus out of any of the other rotations.
In the regular season, the standard Gortat/Nene rotation had a better plus/minus per game (2.6) than the Golden State Warrior’s rotation of Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, David Lee and Klay Thompson.
By far, the Wizards were a much better team when Nene and Gortat were working together on the floor, as shown in the playoffs. On defense, both Gortat and Nene are solid defenders at the rim, while Nene can defend a little farther out toward the perimeter than Gortat.
In the playoffs, Gortat allowed just under 51 percent shooting for opponents at the rim, with Nene allowing 47.2 percent. This is a frontcourt that can do great things when healthy on both ends of the floor, and the Wizards can’t afford to lose that because of what it meant to the team this season.
Gortat Holds up the Frontcourt When Nene is Hurt
At this point in Nene’s career, it’s no secret that he’s going to get injured at some point. In his two full seasons with the Wizards, Nene has missed a combined 48 games. This year, he appeared in 53 games and will be 32 by the time next year starts.
But, if the Wizards can’t rely on Nene to play all 82 games, Gortat can be that guy to bring stability to the frontcourt. Gortat only missed one game all season, and in his previous two seasons with the Phoenix Suns, he played the entire lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, and would have finished the next season strong, were it not for an injury.
If Gortat doesn’t return, who will take over for him at center, and who could play power forward if Nene misses time? Drew Gooden often filled in for Gortat when he needed a break and he played some time when Nene was out, but his contract is up. Trevor Booker, Al Harrington and Kevin Seraphin all have expiring contracts (although Seraphin and Booker do have qualifying offers).
Gortat is just too valuable for the Wizards to let him go, considering Nene’s injury history. Besides the aforementioned rotation with Nene and Gortat, the second most successful lineup in terms of wins was Wall, Beal, Ariza, Booker and Gortat. So while it may be possible to plug in a bench player for Nene when he is hurt, it’s tough to replace Gortat.
According to Basketball-Reference’s Player Season Finder, Gortat is only one of three centers in the history of the Washington franchise in the shot-clock era to average at least 13 points and nine rebounds per game in a season while shooting 54 percent.
And in crunch time, Gortat was the best Wizard by far. In the fourth quarter this season—or in overtime with less than five minutes remaining—and when neither team is ahead by more than five points, Gortat shot 58.7 percent this year according to 82games.com; that is the 15th highest percentage in crunch time in the league.
Although a lot can be made of the pairing of Gortat and Nene, Gortat can stand on his own as a great center.
Gortat is the Best Option at Center This Offseason
Looking at the future for the Wizards, Gortat is simply the best option at center. If they don’t bring Gortat back, then who plays center?
Seraphin is the only true center who could possibly come back from the current roster, and he isn’t a starter. Looking at the upcoming free agents besides Gortat, there’s not much out there. The Wizards could pursue Greg Monroe of the Detroit Pistons who is a restricted free agent, but they don’t have all that much cap space. After Monroe and Gortat, it really falls off at center.
Frye has a player option to stay in Phoenix, and then the next-best option is Andrew Bynum, and there’s no way the Wizards go in that direction with his baggage.
Contracts for big men in the NBA are inflated because they’re so rare, so bringing back Gortat won’t be cheap. But Emeka Okafor made $14.49 million this year to not play at all, and Roy Hibbert made $14.28 million, according to ESPN. If the Wizards can bring Gortat back for $12 million a year or so, that’s great value for a big man.
Pursuing the much younger Monroe is an option, but with a new regime in Detroit taking over, he probably won’t be available as a restricted free agent. Plain and simple, Gortat is the best available option for the Wizards.
Following Washington’s exit from the playoffs, Gortat told CSN Washington’s Ben Standig that he’d “love to be back” on the Wizards and he referred to the Wizards as “we.” He wants to come back, and the Wizards need him back.
All stats were from NBA.com/Stats unless otherwise noted.