Position Breakdown: Centers
In 2011-12, Suns center Marcin Gortat proved that he was a starter in the NBA. Now he wants to prove to everyone that he can be an All-Star.
Coming off a year where he became just the eighth player in Suns history to average a double-double, Gortat is looking to make one more leap forward in his career.
“I’ve always thought that he was a great runner and a great athlete for a guy that size,” Suns head coach Alvin Gentry said. “I think he’s tried to work on his post game and I think he’s gotten better at that.”
Besides sharpening his post moves with legendary center Hakeem Olajuwon during the offseason, Gortat spent his summer powering his native country of Poland during the FIBA European Qualifier Tournament.
The “Polish Hammer” knew that his game would have to evolve over the summer. Last season, no player in the NBA benefitted from the pick-and-roll as much as Gortat.
Although he totaled career highs in points (15.4 points), rebounds (10.0 boards) and blocks (1.50 blocks), the pick-and-roll won’t be as much of a focal point of the offense as in the past. Now, with more of the offense being run through the high post, Gortat will have to find other places on the court to score.
“I think he has to go to his strengths and his strengths are that he is a pretty good 15-foot, 18-foot shooter,” Gentry said. “We’re trying to continue to work on him as far as power moves, but I think he’s as good as a runner as there is in the league for a guy his size.”
If anything can be said about Gortat, it’s that he’s efficient. He was one of only three NBA players last season to average 15 points,10 rebounds and 1.50 blocks a night, and the other two were All-Star starters Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum.
In addition, his 56-percent shooting from the field not only led the team, but was the fifth-best mark in the NBA. Now he just needs to add the finishing touches to his offensive arsenal.
“He’s trying to be more of force down there but it’s not going to happen overnight,” Gentry said. “He’s a face-up player, so for him starting to play with his back to the basket, it’s going to take time.”
But if that time ever arrives, the Suns will have an All-Star for years to come.
The Suns added O'Neal for his shotblocking.
(Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images)
When Robin Lopez was traded to New Orleans and it was learned that Channing Frye would be sidelined for some time, the Suns’ backup center job opened up. After sifting through several applicants, Phoenix’s front office offered the position to a six-time All-Star.
That man was Jermaine O’Neal.
O’Neal is entering his 17th season in the NBA after being drafted out of high school in 1996. In Boston last season, despite being hampered by wrist injuries, O’Neal averaged 5.0 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 22.8 minutes a night.
O’Neal’s size and experience will be relied upon to help anchor that second unit.
“He gives us a presence on the inside,” Gentry said. “He’s a rim protector and just a physical presence. That’s something that you can always use as a team and what I see him bringing to the table.”
The 6-11 center contemplated retirement before undergoing the Regenokine treatment on his knee that Lakers guard Kobe Bryant made world-renowned. Between the procedure and rigorous offseason conditioning, O’Neal decided to lace them up at least one more year in Phoenix.
The thinking behind acquiring O’Neal was that he should help the squad defensively. Since 2000, only three NBA players have more blocks than O’Neal: the Spurs’ Tim Duncan, former NBA Defensive Player of the Year Ben Wallace and the Knicks’ Marcus Camby.
And just as recently as the 2009-10 season, O’Neal led a defensive-minded Heat squad in charges drawn. So as the Suns focus on bolstering the defensive side of the ball, expect O’Neal to contribute in that area.
If he does, the Suns may have a former All-Star re-applying for that position next season.
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