NBA games are not won and lost by the players who start the game. They are won and lost by those who finish it. Much of the Suns’ success this season can and should be attributed to their six starters – Dragic, Bledsoe, Green, Tucker, Plumlee, and Frye – all of whom, except Frye, had their best season as a pro this year. But there is still plenty of credit due to the Suns’ bench players, and considering that Phoenix doubled the win total most people predicted for them back in October, there is plenty of credit to go around. On Sunday, I expounded on the virtues of reserve forward Markieff Morris, who also had his best season as a pro this year and made a great case for the Sixth Man of the Year award. Today the honor goes to his brother Marcus, who did a little bit of everything to help the Suns be successful this season.
Under Jeff Hornacek, Phoenix’s offense was predicated on spacing the floor with shooters to provide space in the paint for penetration. In the starting unit, every player except Miles Plumlee, shot the three well this year. But in the reserve unit, the primary shooter was Marcus Morris. Marcus knocked down just over 38 percent of his attempts from downtown this season. He was fourth on the team in total makes and accuracy from deep. He was most effective as a spot up shooter. According to MySynergySports.com, the spot up shots accounted for 17 percent of Phoenix’s offensive possessions this year, second only to transition in total number of plays. With so many shooters in the lineup, the Suns took a ton of two and three-point shots off of ball reversal this season. They ranked 7th in the league in spot up points per play, meaning spot up shots were one of the team’s most effective weapons. Marcus was Phoenix’s second best spot-up shooter behind real-life NBA Jam player Gerald Green. Going through Marcus’ game logs, it’s clear that if not for a truly dreadful January, where he shot just 29 percent from downtown and made less than one triple per game, he might have been the Suns’ most effective shooter on the season.
Like his brother, Marcus was also great in the midrange this year. His NBA.com shot chart shows where he was most effective.
As you can see, he was best when operating on the left side of the floor. Though he was an average finisher at the hoop, his production in the middle of the floor and on the baseline gave the offense another weapon when Dragic and/or Bledsoe were off the floor and kept the Suns from being too perimeter oriented.
Marcus’ combination of size and shooting was crucial to Jeff Hornacek’s success as a first year coach. Defensively, his quickness allowed him to guard small forwards when he played next to Kieff and Frye or Plumlee. But the Suns went small a ton this year. It was Hornacek’s go-to move when the game was getting away from his team. Oftentimes the Morris’ would be the de facto 4 and 5 in the small lineup. Hornacek could employ this tactic because Marcus had the size and the will to guard power forwards as well. And though the all-Morris frontcourt gave up a ton of offensive rebounds and more than 106 points per 100 possessions defensively (according to NBAwowy.com) their ability to shoot and run in transition gave the Suns a distinct advantage over most opponents.
The versatility the Morris’ provide when they are on the floor together is a truly great asset for the Suns’ offense. As I discussed on Sunday, both Kieff and Marcus were better and more willing passers when they shared the court. The majority of both players’ assists were to each other. The chemistry they displayed led to a lot easy baskets inside for Kieff and a lot of open threes for Marcus. They both still have a ton of work to do on defense, but they looked far more engaged and competent this year than they did last season.
Marcus’ biggest accomplishment this year may have been the part he played in helping Markieff take his game to a whole new level. Neither Morris did anything to turn heads in their first two years in the NBA. Even when the Suns traded for Marcus, neither of them really showed anything special. But that Suns team was going through a severe regime change. Lindsey Hunter was on his way out from the day he took over. Marcin Gortat was hurt. And the team had no identity. But watching the Morris’ at Summer League, it was clear that things were going to be different this season. Marcus and Markieff led the Suns’ squad to the championship game, thanks in no small part to this game-winning shot by Marcus.
Markieff carried that momentum through the entire year, establishing himself as one of the best bench players in the NBA. Marcus appeared in every game and contributed in a variety of ways to one of the most exciting teams in the league. But the question now is where does Marcus go from here? Is this the best Phoenix will see from him?
Below is a chart comparing Marcus’ stats from his second season in Houston (before the trade to Phoenix) and this last season.
The numbers are very similar. The marginal difference in points and FG% can be attributed to the ample amount of transition opportunities this Suns’ team had this year. His brother’s vast improvement from last season to this one suggests there is a possibility that Marcus can still blossom into something more than what he’s been. Like his brother, he could improve his shot selection to bolster his FG%. Operating in the mid-range he could do a better job of finding teammates other than his brother for open looks. And as I said before, he can always improve defensively. But whether or not those parts of his game will rise is anyone’s guess.
What would make things very interesting is if the Suns fail to retain P.J. Tucker this offseason. Would Marcus step into the starting small forward role, or would that fall to Gerald Green? The Suns have a lot of contracts to negotiate over the next two summers, and while Marcus’ is one of them, it is not very high on the priority list for now. It would be a fascinating strategy if the Suns’ front office looked to extend Marcus first, before his brother, in an effort to entice Markieff to stay and lower his price.
The questions of whether or not the Morris’ are a package deal and whether or not they will remain in Phoenix for the foreseeable future likely won’t be answered until next summer. But for now, the Suns have a versatile bench contributor in Marcus Morris whose game may still have room to grow.