PHOENIX — Two 13th overall picks, two investments toward the future.
Markieff Morris and Kendall Marshall enter their first Vegas Summer League together, and as two marquee points of emphasis for a Phoenix Suns franchise on the rebuilding track, their experience and development are crucial to the success of the team as it moves past the Steve Nash era.
The Suns Summer League head coach, Dan Majerle, knows that while Alvin Gentry has given him the reins to do whatever he pleases with his summer squad, the utilization of the second-year forward Morris and rookie point guard Marshall will be huge entering a regular season that’s still unknown as far as roster makeup is concerned.
“I’m going to play those guys as much as I can, as much as they’re able to and give them as much experience, as many minutes, as they’re able to handle,” Majerle said. “Those two are obviously going to be our focus, so I’ll play them as much as I can.”
Morris, of course, missed out on such experience during his rookie summer, when the NBA was in the cold period of the lockout. His rookie season started off strongly, as the versatile forward quickly showed himself as an energy-booster who had the ability to stroke it from deep.
But then came the rookie wall, which was elevated by the compact schedule of a 66-game season.
His shooting numbers dropped, and at the end of the season, Morris admitted that he struggled keeping up after a couple of illnesses caught him as his body tired from the relentless schedule.
In Las Vegas Morris will gain experience, and though it’s not to be compared to the NBA regular season he went head-first into, it’ll give him a chance to work on his post moves and consistent energy.
Gentry hopes he’ll play like fellow second-year man Kenneth Faried of the Denver Nuggets, an always-relentless rebounder and energy-inducer. As far as technique goes, the Suns hope that Morris gets touches in the middle, where he can gain confidence in his post moves that complement his spot-up jumper that can stretch the floor.
“I plan on using him in the post a lot … and build his game that way,” Marjerle said. “He’s such a talented guy that he can step out and make three and he can shoot the basketball, but he’s very good in the post also. So I think one of the concerns that I’ll have is getting him down there and letting him go to work.”
And Morris knows that if anything, he has the potential to become the Suns’ main post defender and rebounder. After the season, he went home for just a couple of weeks before returning to Phoenix to work out.
“I mean, I worked on a lot of my game, every part,” Morris said. “I just want to rebound more and play a lot of defense.
“(I’m) super excited (for the season). I’m impatient, I’m ready for it to start already.”
In tune with Morris’ development is that of Marshall, who the Suns hope will build chemistry with their young big man.
Majerle said the Suns will give Marshall much freedom in their up-tempo offense during the Summer League. They want him to push the ball and then make decisions in transition, something not too unfamiliar for the guard who came out of a fast-paced system at North Carolina.
But most of all, Majerle will prompt Marshall to work with Morris in the pick-and-roll to gain a familiarity that could be the blossoming of a long-term relationship as the duo grows within the Phoenix franchise.
“Really we’re just trying to get the feel with each other,” Marshall said of his relationship with Morris.
“I brought him to the side, I was like, ‘You have any sweet spots somewhere you’re trying to get the ball?’ He said, ‘I can score from everywhere,’ so that makes my job easy.”
As for himself, Marshall said he’s working on his mobility and flexibility in order to keep up with the best NBA point guards. Offensively, he’s concentrating on his shots — on the move, off pick-and-rolls and in catch-and-shoot situations, he said.
Morris, who has one more year of pro experience, is lending advice to his rookie teammate, too. And it’s advice that Morris knows firsthand.
“He told me we had good vets that wouldn’t haze me too much,” Marshall said. “But the main thing, he told me to take care of my body. He’s staying in my ear, which is good.”
NBA SUMMER LEAGUE (Las Vegas, NV)
Date Opponent Location Time (Phoenix)
Sunday, July 15* New York COX Pavilion 1 p.m.
Tuesday, July 17 Cleveland Thomas & Mack Center 5:30 p.m.
Wednesday, July 18* New Orleans Thomas & Mack Center 5:30 p.m.
Friday, July 20 NBA D-League COX Pavilion 7 p.m.
Saturday, July 21 Memphis COX Pavilion 7 p.m.
*Airs live on NBA TV