Markieff Morris is the do-it-all defender

Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris discusses the coming season at Media Day. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris discusses the coming season at Media Day. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX — Markieff Morris isn’t going to get by with flash. He won’t draw gasps with plays derived from freakish athleticism nor wow a crowd with an overtly polished skillset.

It’s OK. The Phoenix Suns’ rookie forward wasn’t drafted No. 13 overall to put fannies in the seats. If anything, he’ll put himself in the US Airways Center bandstands if he’s asked.

“I haven’t really figured out a role,” Morris said during Friday’s Media Day. “I’m just here to do anything, man. I’m that guy, put me in the crowd, do anything you need me to do.”

The 6-foot-10, 245 pound forward was drafted to do anything and everything, and do it with a hard-nosed attitude. As part of a reconstruction of sorts for the Phoenix defense, Morris’ role as a rookie won’t rely upon his grasp of the offensive sets so much as his tenacity in the paint.

Even out of Apex Academy in Pennsauken, N.J., Morris was always overshadowed in high school. Rivals ranked him as the 49th best prospect, 20 spots behind twin brother Marcus Morris, the 29th best player in the 2008 high school class.

Whether that was a a symptom of Markieff’s game that was more substance over Marcus’ style remains to be seen.

“I’m a defensive-minded player,” Markieff said, “so definitely (I bring) more defense, rebounding and toughness.”

Leaving the Kansas Jayhawks after his junior season, he remains a bit of a mystery coming out of college. He averaged 13.6 points and 8.3 rebounds per game last year and was considered the lesser professional prospect compared to his twin brother, who worked his way up draft boards with a more offensive-oriented game.

Marcus averaged about four points per game more than Markieff in their junior seasons, and it catered to Marcus’ projected NBA position at small forward. Quietly, Markieff made his game known in the trenches for Kansas head coach Bill Self.

Then, the unexpected happened in the 2011 NBA Draft.

The Suns picked Markieff ahead of Marcus, who was chosen by the Houston Rockets with the next pick at No. 14. To some basketball fans, the Suns’ pick was viewed as a painful recurring joke to those who knew the team’s recent history of taking the lesser-respected of twin brothers.

“Taylor Griffin, Robin Lopez, and Markieff Morris? I think the Suns are confused,” tweeted one hoops fan to Draft Express’ Jonathan Givony.

But the Suns believe they took the twin that fit the niche they needed to fill. In that sense, the Suns won out.

Morris believes the NBA lockout gave him more time to prepare for the NBA season, and now it’s a matter of finding out whether that confidence translates onto the court.

“It’s finally time to play,” Morris said. “It’s exciting, watching these guys growing up and now finally here playing with them is definitely exciting.”

Fellow big man Marcin Gortat said there’s little risk of failure for Morris, even if he’s still learning the Suns’ system on the fly. Though his practices have seen ups and downs, Gortat said he sees Morris’ effort on a daily basis.

“He’s got a lot of talent,” Gortat said. “The most important thing — he wants to work. That’s the crucial thing. He’s a smart kid, he’s coming from a good family.”

And as for becoming the do-it-all man, the rookie is already learning that the role goes beyond the court.

“Before he will become better,” said Gortat, “he will bring a few donuts — Krispy Kreme.”

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