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

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_GReqbgeVVQ]

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.”

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