Phoenix Suns Summer League preview: Learning opportunity for Markieff Morris

Markieff Morris will headline the Phoenix Suns' Summer League team in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Paul Connors)

Markieff Morris will headline the Phoenix Suns’ Summer League team in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Paul Connors)

The NBA announced the schedule for the 2012 Las Vegas Summer League on Thursday. A record 24 of the league’s 30 franchises will field teams in this year’s exhibition. For the Phoenix Suns, this 10-day stretch in July will be the first step in a much-needed youth movement. At the center of that movement will be power forward Markieff Morris.

Because of the lockout, Morris and the rest of last year’s rookie class did not have a traditional offseason. The 2011 Summer League was the first casualty of the lockout but certainly not the last. Because the owners and player’s association took so long to reach an agreement, preseason training camp was massively compressed, and players who were new to the NBA had a true trial by fire.

This season will be different. For Morris, this offseason will provide a great opportunity to grow as a player and build on a solid rookie campaign.

This year Markieff showed flashes of being a strong contributor at the power forward position. He wasn’t afraid to shoot the ball. He battled on the glass. And perhaps most importantly, he never looked intimidated.

He consistently behaved as though he belonged on the court. Unfortunately, as is the case with most rookies, Morris’ first year was also marred by inconsistency. Summer League and a proper training camp should help Morris solidify his game and take it to the next level for the upcoming season.

Shooting tops Morris’ improvement list this offseason. Markieff connected on 34.7 percent of his 3-point attempts, which isn’t terrible for a first-year player. He hit just under 40 percent of his total field goal attempts, however, and that figure is nowhere near good enough. His ability to shoot from outside makes him a versatile offensive player, but he must get much more aggressive and efficient in the post and midrange.

With long arms and a big body, Morris has the physical traits to be tough matchup for most NBA power forwards — especially when paired with center Marcin Gortat. Morris just needs practice and repetition to gain the scoring confidence necessary to be a true inside-outside threat. Other areas for improvement include defensive awareness and conditioning. Morris played just under 20 minutes per game this year. If he wants a bigger role on the team next season, he’ll have to earn it.

Whether it’s this season or one in the near future, the Steve Nash era in Phoenix is ending. This is the time for new players to step up and assert themselves as valuable members of the team. For Markieff and the Suns’ eventual first-round draft pick, the time to prove themselves is now.

The Summer League team will be coached by Suns’ Assistant Dan Majerle. The rest of the roster is still up in the air, but fan favorite Zabian Dowdell could make a return. The games will be played July 13-22, and all 60 will be shown on NBA TV. Here is the Suns’ schedule:

Sunday July 15 – New York vs. Phoenix, 1 p.m.

Tuesday July 17 – Cleveland vs. Phoenix, 5:30 p.m.

Wednesday July 18 – New Orleans vs. Phoenix, 5:30 p.m.

Friday July 20 – NBA D-League vs. Phoenix, 7 p.m.

Saturday July 21 – Memphis vs. Phoenix, 7 p.m.

Tags: Markieff Morris Nba Summer League Phoenix Suns

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