Markieff Morris can use this summer to become the Suns’ defensive specialist

Posted by on May 15th, 7:32 pm

PHOENIX — Markieff Morris isn’t one to make excuses.

Neither the fact of being a rookie nor having only a slim few weeks of training camp time were anything he could control, and looking back at the 2011-12 season, Morris knows that this offseason is monumental in terms of his career trajectory with the Phoenix Suns.

“I played a whole lot,” Morris said in late April. “I could learn quick with it being the lockout. Basically, coaches put me out there to play.

“Without having a long training camp and preseason,” he added, “I think it affected me a little bit, but that’s not an excuse. I’ve always been a basketball player. It was just another season.”

However, the 6-foot-10, 245-pound rookie admitted that he hit the rookie wall. It was the cause for uneven play that saw his shooting percentages dip — Morris shot 40.3 percent from beyond the arc before All-Star weekend and only 25.5 percent after — and sickness that kept him on the sidelines.

Examining himself after the season, Morris sees where he can be useful in the future.

Now it’s all about the work he puts into it.

“I said to Markieff this is the most important summer of his career,” said president of basketball operations Lon Babby. “He’s got to come back a better player. If he doesn’t come back a better player than he left then that’s on him, but it’s also on us to give him that kind of development.”

Head coach Alvin Gentry gave Morris an average of 19.5 meaningful minutes per game and that experience should go a long way toward his first true offseason as a professional where his development as a defensive specialist could blossom.

The skill set is just icing on the cake.

While Morris averaged 7.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 0.7 blocks per game, it was his effort on the defensive end that stood out.

During his rookie campaign, Morris was third on the Suns’ team in defensive win shares and second in defensive rating, according to BasketballReference.com.

“I definitely think I can be a great defender in this league,” Morris said. “I just want to be a part of this team, come in with energy always.”

On the flip side, Morris has a long way to go offensively. He was only more efficient than Ronnie Price in both offensive win shares and offensive rating, according to BasketballReference.com, and Morris’ 39.9 percent field goal percentages for the season was also second-to-last on the team.

Strength and structure will be two keys in improving the all-around game of Morris, who said he will use Summer League as an avenue for improvement. Once he adds muscle to his frame, that effort on defense will come through even moreso, as will a cure for the physical fatigue caused by the brutal schedule.

“He gave us a toughness that we don’t get from anybody else, and that’s good,” Babby said, “but he’s got to learn the pace of an NBA season and he’s got to bring it every single night with an intensity.

“He got tired, so that was part of it,” Babby added, “and then he’s got to develop obviously from the skills standpoint and physical standpoint, all those things.”

Improvements for Morris

  • Finding consistency with the jumper. Morris’ 34.7 percent field goal percentage from three-point range was maybe a bit misleading. He started off the season on a tear, shooting 55.6 percent from long range in four December games and continued a solid pace by hitting 46.7 percent on threes during 16 January games. Obviously, that drop-off was to be expected, but with more strength to battle fatigue and more shots put up over the summer, Morris could become a legitimate stretch power forward along the likes of Channing Frye.
  • Staying out of foul trouble. Strength should also help Morris stay in games simply by keeping him out of foul trouble. The forward said he’d often get bullied in the paint — Kevin Love and Paul Millsap were two tough guards, he said — and would further the damage by overusing his hands.
  • Revving up his motor. Babby said it best during his meeting with the media a few weeks ago, adding that Morris has”got to turn his motor up and have a certain intensity.”

Kevin Zimmerman is the lead blogger and editor for Valley of the Suns. He is also editor of AZDesertSwarm.com, an Arizona Wildcats\’ blog, and a contributor at SB Nation and Pac-12.com.

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Tags: Markieff Morris · Phoenix Suns · Phoenix Suns Analysis

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Scott // May 15, 2012 at 10:01 pm

    Defensive specialist wasn’t what I had in mind for Morris this offseason. I think his defense is fairly good, and it will get better as he continues to play.

    I also agree that his shooting touch is basically there, but his legs weakened as time went on, causing him to miss more shots later in the season. Some of it was probably mental fatigue as well. If he continues getting court time, all this will naturally correct itself. He’ll get stronger.

    What I’d like for him to practice is the pick and roll. He seems to be more mobile than Frye, more creative, and more comfortable driving. He just doesn’t have a built-in repertoire of moves and a comfort with playing in that role.

    If he gets good at the pick and roll / pick and pop, he’ll be better suited to replace Gortat, Warrick, and Frye on offense. That gives the Suns more flexibility on the court, and it gives the Suns’ GM more flexibility on who to keep and who to trade.

  • 2 steve // May 16, 2012 at 7:43 am

    Morris’s team defensive ratings are better than I would have imagined they’d be. However, if I’m not mistaken, his points per possession against in the post was quite awful this season (bottom 15% of the league or so). I could be mistaken about that, but I’m fairly certain that’s right.

    I think Morris did a fair job on D this season, but I think he definitely needs to improve as an iso defender if he’s going to be considered a “defensive specialist.” At this point, I think Frye is as good or better with iso defense. Not to say Frye’s terrible, but Morris definitely can’t be content with being “as good as” Frye if he wants to be elite.

  • 3 Ty-Sun // May 16, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    I think Morris’ offense will take care of itself with improved conditioning. And defensive improvement should lower his number of fouls and give him more playing time overall. I hope the Suns do at least as well with their first round pick this year.

  • 4 Mark // May 17, 2012 at 10:26 am

    •Here are the moves that I would do.

    1. Amnestied Josh Childress, or trade him if some team is willing, ha…

    2. Trade Warrick & 2nd Round Draft pick to Dallas for Shawn Marion. Dallas is trying to get rid of him, and the Suns could take on $3M more a year for a better player than Warrick. Marion provides his rebounding/defense and doesn’t need the ball in his hand.

    3. Resign Nash. Don’t get carried away with the cost, but be fair. 3 year deal in the $17M range ($7M first year, $5.5M Second, and $4.5M in last)

    4. Try and sign Lamar Odom. The Arizona Republic mentioned it, and it is close to L.A. This scenario would only work if he is willing to make it work (Attitude Adjustment).

    5. Resign Telfair, Hill (if healthy), and possibly Lopez (if no other options are better)

    6. F.A. Signing – I will state there are only a couple of players the Suns should target. They shouldn’t stretch to overpay a guy that isn’t Dwight Howard or Deron Wiliams. I don’t think either of these guys will even look at Phoenix unless Nash starts recruiting. Suns good ship back Gortat, Frye, Dudley, and a pick for Howard, but highly doubtful. Here are some other options:

    A. Kevin Garnett – 3 year deal ranging in the $25M range

    B. OJ Mayo – 5 Year deal ($7-8M a year)

    C. Ray Allen – If Garnett comes, why wouldn’t he…

    D. Michael Beasley – I wouldn’t offer any big contract, but maybe a mid level

    7. Future Pick – JAMES HARDEN – There is no way Oklahoma will be able to sign Harden to the type of money that the Suns good offer in a year. This strategy would require to hold off on any long term investments until next year. Well worth it. He eventually good take over and play point guard after Nash.

    8. Possible Resigns – Shannon Brown/Michael Redd. I don’t think you can have both come back because both will want more money. 1 maybe

    Realistic Line-up:

    C – Gortat, Lopez
    PF – (Garnett or Odom), Frye, Morris
    SF – Marion, Hill, Morris
    SG – Mayo, Dudley, Draft Pick
    PG – Nash, Telfair

    I checked the salaries and this is a $66M team salary with Garnett, or $62.7 with Odom (assuming he gets a contract in the amount he is suppose to get paid next year).

    The Best thing about this line-up is that the contracts that you have taken on aren’t lasting that long. Marion has 2 years, Odom/Garnett 3, Nash 3, Hill 1. You still could go after Harden in a year if you wanted, or could dump contracts in trades at the deadline.

    Good moves need to be made in order to keep going. I like the Suns targeting SG Rivers or Lamb in the draft, but they probably wont be there.

  • 5 Nathan // May 17, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    I’m all for taking a flier on some of the under-utilized young bench players that teams might be willing to part with. Anthony Randolph and Michael Beasley both need better homes, and it seems like MIN recognizes this as well, considering how close they were to shipping Beasley off to LA for a late pick. Both players have a lot of potential, especially Randolph who hasn’t had a consistent playing environment his entire career.

    Chase Budinger could probably be plucked from Houston. Cheaply, as well. They’re over-stocked at SF with both Chandler Parsons and Marcus Morris needing minutes(Morris was sent to the D-League because of no available playing time). He’s coming off his rookie deal, and since Houston isnt’ really doing anything other than waiting for a blue-chip player to come along, they probably would let him walk instead of paying him and letting him steal playing time for last year’s picks. He’s a well-rounded player with shooting ability, he’s young, and he’s a former Wildcat….he’d be welcomed in Phoenix for sure.

    In fact, I wouldn’t mind renting out our cap space for dead-weight contracts in return for picks and young players, sort of what Cleveland has been doing.

  • 6 steve // May 17, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    “In fact, I wouldn’t mind renting out our cap space for dead-weight contracts in return for picks and young players”

    Exactly what I’ve been thinking.

  • 7 B. Cray Z. // May 18, 2012 at 8:47 am

    Like what Mark says.

    Suns, however, don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Just need to correct mistakes in the recent past, like trading Matrix & bench guys.

    Does look like, in Morris, we used our pick for the better twin. Hope his good attitude will make him determined to grow his game.

    Wish Babby were gone. Don’t trust him to to do what is good for the team. MUST reunite that killer bench unit. Let’s go SUNS!!!!

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