Sitting on your couch, on a bar stool, or virtually anywhere thanks to the golden age in portable technology we are in makes it easy to judge players to the point that we know more about their success than they do. We expect these normal everyday people who happen to be exceptional at playing basketball to ignore the words written about them, but the truth is they read them too.
It is hard to understand that sometimes because we stick athletes on such a high pedestal that it is nearly impossible for them to come down from that and please the masses as Gortat put it in his own words, "I am human just like everyone else."
This summer for Gortat the talk has been about the players that made him, rather than the player he worked so hard to become. Yes, Steve Nash is a great point guard -- one of the all-time greats, but does he really deserve sole credit for the ascension of Gortat last season? When you look at it he was a borderline All-Star player and a strong demographic would argue that he was one without question.
"It is not like everything he touches turns into gold," said Gortat on divvying out credit where credit is due. "He (Nash) is a great, great point guard and probably the best point guard I have ever played the game with. At the end of the day there were a few other big men that played with him that did not succeed. You need a second person with some kind of skill and feel for the game to make the duo work perfectly, and I think we were working perfectly."
Overall it was a career year for the fifth year center from Poland as he entered into a conversation that includes very few players. He led the team in scoring at 15.4 points per game, which, more importantly was fourth among his peers at the center position. All of his points came efficiently and practically through the offense system at 55.5% which was sixth among other centers.
Offensively it was a career year, which had a lot to do with the play of the former Suns point guard, but even more so it was a defining year on defense for Gortat.
Gortat was fourth among centers in rebounds (10.0), fourth in double-doubles (31), and 11th in blocks (1.50) putting him in elite company across the league. Only the likes of Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, and DeMarcus Cousins were able to put together a better resume than Gortat did.
Just to mention it, Al Jefferson is a combo big that plays some center and some power forward so is in these categories despite not being a full-time five. Those career highs led to Gortat finishing just outside of that top tier of centers which includes Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, and one can argue DeMarcus Cousins at this point. He is on that next tier with Marc Gasol, Roy Hibbert, and Tyson Chandler as an overall player, which speaks more to Gortat than it does Nash.
A large number of his points and the shooting percentage can be attributed to Nash, but how many of those blocks, rebounds, and double-doubles were assisted by Nash?
That is where the argument can be made that Nash has a lot to do with the resurgence or in this case the rise of a player on the offensive end, but not on the defensive end. Those numbers are more attributable to effort, energy, and the overall skill-set of Gortat. At times he was making up for Nash's inability on defense by blocking shots and defending the rim. In that regard Nash did not make Gortat rather Gortat benefited from his play-making ability while evolving as a dynamic player on the other end of the court covering up for Nash's inefficiencies.
"I read and I heard a lot of things about me not being the same player without Steve Nash. Honestly I am the main guy that's supposed to improve a lot and prove that he (Gortat) is a good player even without Steve Nash.I am just going to try and be a better player than I was last year and be more consistent."
A lot of pressure is on Gortat to prove that he is that type of player with or without Nash and he looks forward to the challenge. He was a product of the system, the player, and his own skill last season just like he was during his time in Orlando.
Coming from the Orlando Magic to Phoenix the same challenges were presented to Gortat. He had to prove that those great performances coming off the bench were more than a flash in the pan against other reserves. Clearly he has met and exceeded those critics expectations, now he has new critics to please.
Those are expectations he is aware of and is fully capable of meeting. Last season he made the jump from just another center in the NBA to being on that second tier just below guys that make max money and are the foundations of their franchise going forward. Gortat may not be that type of player today, instead he is a key cog in what this team looks to be as they are building towards that piece-by-piece.