Stuck in the middle: How the Morris twins reflect the Suns' uncertainty

There’s no rule book on being a bad NBA team. It’s one reason for the ongoing discussion of tanking being a legitimate option or a sorry excuse for what used to be called “rebuilding.” The Phoenix Suns and especially president of basketball ops Lon Babby have maintained they are against it. And though they’ve done things such as rest Goran Dragic, it’s arguable whether they are indeed tanking.

The Suns didn’t approach this season with the intention to tank — clearly. Because they’ve been so bad, it’s hard to determine what looks like tanking and what is simply losing.

The Suns are stuck in the middle, and part of that issue stems from their rebuilding ideology prioritizing building culture rather than developing young talent. It’s not necessarily the wrong move for the Suns to take a different approach. Again, I see the value in building a hard-nosed locker room. And we won’t know until, one would think, next season as to whether this culture sticks to whomever returns to Phoenix.

Back to the ideological arguments we go.

Like the team, the Markieff and Marcus Morris are stuck in the middle on another level. While I agree that there’s no such thing as a “tweener,” they can be labeled just that, because neither has a basketball identity.

The Morris twins’ future as either pieces or assets is the most concerning issue heading into the offseason. Where teams like Orlando and Cleveland, not to mention some playoff powers, have seen their second-year pros grow by leaps and bounds, it’s a wonder what’s gone wrong with the Suns’ two second-year forwards.

Establishing individual identity and confidence

Hunter is an old-school coach but is OK with mistakes, and he’ll tell you that every opportunity given. What he’s not OK with is any lack of effort. Whether Michael Beasley and the Morris twins can find consistency at this basic level is a very obvious issue.

Yet, the problem with the Morris twins is deeper than anything about Beasley, Kendall Marshall or Wesley Johnson. We know who the last three players can be in the league, regardless if their potential is tapped. Beasley can be an elite scorer if he finds mental stability. That’s been recounted. Johnson also projects as a pure scoring threat. And Marshall has a role as a mini Andre Miller if he improves.

Meanwhile, the Morris twins are what, exactly? Add motivational issues to the list of concerns, and it’s a wonder how the Suns will deal with the twins. While Marcus was apparently the spotty Markieff battery, Hunter has recently been faced with finding a Marcus battery. So much for that “synergy.”

“I was challenging him also because I felt like he was kind of feeling sorry for himself,” Hunter said of Marcus before last week’s game against Golden State. “I don’t know where he was mentally – we had a good talk and I said, ‘Look, if I’m not playing you or whatever the situation is, the best way to do it is to come bust your butt in practice and prove to me you deserve to play.’ That was my message to him.”

Schematically, Marcus has proved to be a more perimeter-oriented player than Markieff, but he also has no go-to move.

Neither of the two are efficient enough shooters to be volume shooters, and neither have any stand-out ability to attack the rim from the perimeter, the post or otherwise. Marcus is 202nd in the NBA in true shooting percentage this year while Markieff comes in at 334th, according to

Marcus leads the Suns by finishing around the rim at an impressive 85 percent, according to, which alludes to his ability to slash off the dribble on pump-fakes and off the ball as well. After that, neither has any semblance of a mid-range game.

At the least, the two either aren’t being utilized property or aren’t being developed. Markieff, for example, has only been used off pick-and-rolls on a 10th of his total attempts this season (0.92 points per possession) but his most-frequent shot is the spot-up. See the lack of improvement in Markieff’s game from his rookie season, and it’s hard to put anything on coaches, either. Defensively he allows the same 0.92 to opponents in isolation situations and 0.98 overall, according to mySynergySports, not good considering he’s viewed as a defense-first type of player.

So what if the two lottery picks were selected 13th and 14th for their defense? That’s problematic for the time being as well.

Both have lapses significantly longer than a play here or there, and even when locked in, they always appear to be a step behind. During last season’s exit interviews, Alvin Gentry openly hoped Markieff would capture a mindset similar to Kenneth Faried. It wasn’t just a true thing that the forward needed to work on playing with a consistent motor, but a chillingly blunt comment considering Faried was selected nine picks later in the 2011 draft.

Meanwhile, Faried’s established NBA role isn’t the only one that has made readers at VotS fill comment threads with updates on players selected after the Morris twins. All of the below have taken major steps in their second season in the NBA, at least in terms of proving they have one skill that gives them potential to become long-term pros.

The Morris twins still have time to be late bloomers, but it’s uneasy to consider the improvements of several of their 2011 NBA Draft classmates.

The following might be painful to read for Suns fans, but it’s evidence that this upcoming draft has potential no matter the expectation. It’s also a hopeful reminder that we shouldn’t yet throw Marshall into the pit of busts before next season comes to a close.

A not-so-short list of 2011 NBA Draft selections taken after the Morris twins

Kenneth Faried (22nd overall) — The undersized power forward is a key figure in the athletic Nuggets’ team. He’s a rebounding machine who resembles former Suns forward Shawn Marion in a number of ways. He doesn’t need coddling to produce and doesn’t need plays to be run for him. Every ounce of his production comes off energy. And he’s an example that effort should not need be taught.

Kawhi Leonard (15th overall) — An established wing defender, Leonard was picked right after the Morris twins at No. 15. At the very least, he’s already proved to be a key contributor to a championship-caliber team. He can play solid defense and hit open shots, enough to have already carved out a long NBA career.

Iman Shumpert (17th overall) — The gem the Suns wanted to grab but didn’t, Shumpert is playing for an injury-plagued Knicks team that recently was shipping out Carmelo Anthony as a center. That means Shumpert was playing small forward and doing just fine, thank you.

MarShon Brooks (25th overall) — Though he’s been hidden in the Brooklyn rotation, Brooks has an identity. He’s a pure scorer in the purest sense, and he’s capable of going off when given the chance to play extended minutes. Though he’s known as a gunner, he is shooting a fine 46 percent from the field in his second season.

Chandler Parsons (38th overall) — A jack-of-all trades type of forward, Parsons will fill up the box score. He’s a perfect fit for Houston’s up-tempo, spread the floor system because he’ll take what defenses give him. He’s simply a smart basket-ball player who reaps the benefits despite any physical limitations. He shoots 38 percent from three and averages 15.3 points, 3.5 assists and 5.4 rebounds per outing.

Nikola Vucevic (16th overall)– An unlikely but worthy Most Improved Player candidate, the center out of USC is a double-double machine and one of Orlando’s several steals this past year. The rebuilding Magic would take the 22-year old for Marcin Gortat any day. He has 15 games of 15 or more rebounds.

Tobias Harris (19th overall) — Another impressive grab for the Magic, Harris was a bench-scrub for the Bucks who is showing star potential since given the opportunity. He and Vucevic went for 30 points each on Wednesday, and Harris contributed 19 rebounds to boot. In 24 games with Orlando, he’s averaging 16.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, two assists and 1.4 blocks a game.

Jimmy Butler (30th overall) — The injury-plagued Bulls have relied on Butler’s defense often, but in the often-criticized offense of Tom Thibodeau, it’s arguable Butler has untapped offensive potential. He is averaging 16.2 points per game in his last 10 while playing heavy minutes.

Isaiah Thomas (60th overall) — OK, so the Suns and everyone else missed on Thomas. The undersized point guard is still making everyone outside of Sactown pay. As the Kings’ season winds down, he’s playing 32 minutes per game and rifling in 19.7 points and 5.2 assists per game over his last 10 games.



  • m.i.milliman

    They’re not stuck in the middle, they’re dead last.

  • bill.thomas

    A good analysis. The Morris’ Bros. need a lot more time in the gym and time with developmental coaches (and spending time having Hunter yell at them over boneheaded mistakes or lack of effort is not what I have in mind as “developmental coaching).

    From the respective shooting percentages, it looks like Marcus is by far the better shooter, with Kieff having a lot of trouble even with his close in shots—you would think every team has a regular Dwight Howard guarding him down low.

    These guys really need to develop their shooting moves.

    As far as Beasley is concerned, that comment really captured it—all he needs is some mental stability and to ignore whatever “gremlins” may seem to be lurking.

  • azbballfan

    Lets face it, the Morris twins need consistent minutes to produce

    both Morris twins barely play compared to all the other players the article mentioned

    The Suns were too busy acquiring veteran talent like Scola to bother developing the 1st morris and then benched the 2nd morris for hard to tell reasons.

    consistent playing time, and playing through mistakes on a team that puts player development 1st is the key, instead of this pipe dream that the Suns are going to compete for the 7th or 8th seed in the playoffs

    memo to babby and blanks….

    why sacrifice development of players YOU hand picked in order to play a meaningless 4 games in the playoffs where we play the best team in the NBA most likely and get bludgeoned 4-0?

    The Suns are terrible at developing talent!

    its hard to fault the morris twins when the front office thinks that marginal playoff team is the goal of the season and the suns have like 5 power forwards on their roster

    You either develop them and they become a key part of the team, or use them as assets and ship them off to say, Sacto for their lotto pick and jimmer fredette or something

    we need new player development people, a new front office and a new coach is really what we need

    and no, i dont consider the coaches yelling at the players for missing a rotation or something “coaching”

  • Scott

    So … the Lakers are still a game ahead of the Jazz, but Kobe appears to have blown his Achilles tendon.

    Sorry it had to come to this, but I gave the Lakers every opportunity to lose graciously.

    (Puts away voodoo doll.)

  • Scott

    As for the Morris twins, being both tweeners and twins, I suggest we coin the word “tweiners” to describe them. ;)

    Seriously, though … I like them and I wish they could find a way to turn the corner and succeed. But I believe their backs are against the wall and if they’re still with the Suns next season it will be their final chance. New talent is always coming into the league, and if the Morris brothers can’t reliably score, they’ll have to move aside to make space for players who can.

    Having said that, there isn’t anyone on the Suns who shouldn’t be spending all summer working on their shot, with the possible exception of O’Neal, whose irregular heartbeat might point instead to retirement.

  • Scott

    Argh … that should be “twieners” … why isn’t there a spell check on newly minted words? :p

  • hawki

    Don’t know why I came here tonight
    got the feeling something ain’t right
    so scared I’ll fall off my chair
    wondering how I’ll get down the stairs

    clowns to the left of me
    jokers to the right
    here I am
    stuck in the middle with you

    Bob Dylan

    actually, sounds appropriate for the Suns situation.

  • Dominik

    Markieff looked quite comfortable as Gentry gave him a shot as a starter. Off the bench, well… he had a bunch of good games, that’s it.
    After being put back on the bench, it looked as if he had lost his passion, it really seemed like he was lost. He recovered from that, but compared to Faried, Butler, Vucevic oder Shumpert, his intensity is low. I mean really low.

    I can’t say a lot about Marcus, only thing I noticed off the stat sheet is, his shooting looks more stable.

    I can’t tell why, but I never saw those guys as defense-first-minded. Possibly ’cause of the defensive lapses I witnesses during the season. Not tight enough on the perimeter, not stromg enough to avoid post-ups and unable to secure a good rebounding position (Markief considers himself a rebounder… Sorry, disagree).

    Once more, I can’t judge Marcus here, simply because I saw him playing to few minutes so far.

    Considering the trades made before deadline, at first I couldn’t understand why they accepted Haddadi’s contract (whose contract is guaranteed for next season, accoring to, which simplay took capspace. In the end, he had some nice effords off the bench. I wonder what he’s capable
    of, if he’s in shape.

    I still don’t see a reason for that Marcus Morris trade.
    It’s a senseless move, if you had a look at our roster before. Markieff, Beasley, Frye… Three guys, who aren’t known for their defensive effords AND rebounding. Adding a fourth player matching that describtion… Even more pick & pop, even more long 2s, even less drives and post-ups. IMO totally the opposite of our team’s needs. I don’t understand that move and I possibly never will.
    Now, if I add their lacking motor to the mix, I can’t see those two guys becoming the players, who can help the Suns long-term.

    If Gortat and Scola are actually being shipped in the offseason, without proper compensation or at least true talent, we better get set for another season like that.

  • Scott

    @Dominik -

    Hmm. There’s an error somewhere, then. Haddadi is listed here on VotS has having a non-guaranteed contract for next year.

    BTW, a totally separate note … anybody else getting stale Suns ads popping up the last several weeks?

    I just had an ad on a page asking me to get tickets for a March 28th Suns game. (Time machine sold separately.)

  • Scott

    Heh, now on VotS I’m being offered tickets for Suns vs Wizards, March 20.

  • Azbballfan

    Thats a really good point, intensity! other than the Dragon who on this team plays with intensity?

    Maybe P.J. Tucker? Wes Johnson?

    Dudley used to be that guy but hes barely played since the allstar break

    You look at the morris twins, and even someone like Bismack Biyombo has improved in his 2nd season

    Their peak seems to be “decent starters, roleplayers”

    and right now its something like “utility bench guys”

    The Suns need to clean house at the 3 and the 4 position and get people in here who will defend and rebound

    Markief has had a few decent games in that reguard but nothing consistent

    with Channing Frye saying hes 90 percent sure he will play next year, this was supposed to be Markiefs year

    but it hasnt happened, and the Suns need to make a decision about their future this off season while they still have value as guys on their rookie deals

    We need a complete and total franchise reset at everything but point guard

    unless you want to trade Dragic for a rookie PG in this draft that is

    the whole front office and team need to be reset

    blanks plan hasnt worked out at all, and now we are stuck with players that dont defend or rebound,, development guys that cant get them to turn that corner, and coaching thats just not effective

    Hunters job is defined by the current roster impvoving and that hasnt happened at all

    we need a complete and total reset and why not start this summer, we have draft picks and cap space

    getting rid of beasley would be addition by subtraction in of itself

    Scola, the Morris Twins and Gortat have some value get something for them

    we have atleast 2 1st round picks and 1 2nd rounder, we need to get people that can defend and rebound

    Jared Dudley needs to moved, Johnson should be resigned if he wants something reasonable

    Marshall is a good backup pg with alot of holes he needs to fix in his game

    if we can get a future 1st rounder for him, i would take it

    Hopefullly the Lakers lose the last 2 games and the Jazz win their last 2

    getting that extra late lotto pick would really help us turn it around

    i dont care that the draft is only 2 1/2 months away, any one with a brain can look at youtube and do amateur scouting or take whatever the scouting department already did

    this is a critical draft for the Suns, and it needs to be done right, that means shoving blanks outta here and getting someone that knows what their doing

  • Scott

    I like the idea of keeping Dragic, as I can see where having experience at your starting PG is important, and doubly so for a team struggling to rebuild. It’s a natural leadership position.

    Also, by now Dragic must be realizing that Suns coaches are constantly surrounding him with guys who don’t get to their spots, who don’t execute. This was a problem before he got traded by the Suns. He’s learning to compensate.

  • Kevin Zimmerman

    I’ll look into the ad issues, guys.

  • Scott

    @hawki -

    I didn’t notice it originally, but you attribute the lyrics to Bob Dylan when “Stuck in the Middle with You” was written by Gerry Rafferty and Joe Egan (playing as Stealers Wheel). Rafferty later wrote “Baker Street” and “Right Down the Line.”

    Not a big point, of course, but there it is. :)

    (Moar cowbell!)

  • Scott

    @Kevin -

    I see the old ads everywhere, not just here.

    Three times today they’ve also tried to sell me tickets to a game with the Wolves on the 22nd. ;)

  • Dominik


    Yeah, I checked that section on VotS, too.
    Nevertheless, what I got in mind is, that his next contract year is a player option. In fact different websites contain different information.
    Some say it’s non-guaranteed, some say it’s partially guaranteed(
    Got two different sources telling me, his contract is fully-guaranteed (one of them is basketball-reference, the other is called rotoworld, which came up as I googled for more information).

  • Scott

    On Haddadi … Spotrac says 2013 non-guaranteed.

    Coro says “team option.”

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