Time for the Morris twins to step up


The NBA does not abide stagnation. Teams chase titles at all costs or dump their warp cores to bottom out. There is no in-between. The one place teams never want to be is stuck in the middle. The middle leads nowhere. It’s the one place in the NBA that’s entirely devoid of hope. In the middle, there’s no championship rings or franchise draft picks on the horizon. There are just eight seeds and shattered dreams.

Stagnation isn’t any more tolerated in players. The NBA is a “what have you done for me lately?” league. Much like the stock market, the NBA requires consistent growth and return on investment from its players. From the perspective of many GM’s, pundits, and fans, any player who is not improving might as well be declining. LeBron James excepted, a player who simply maintains his value from one season to the next isn’t really that valuable at all. This is especially true for young players. This is the problem the Morris twins face.

Markieff and Marcus Morris are decent NBA rotation players. They’re not valuable contributors on a contender but they aren’t a complete travesty either. They’re the definition of middle of the road (ESPN’s #NBARank had Markieff and Marcus at #247 and #262 respectively.)

Phoenix drafted Markieff Morris with the 13th pick in the draft two years ago. He had a solid rookie campaign with a few impressive highs and the expected rookie lows. He followed that season up with a stellar performance in the 2012 Las Vegas Summer League which got everyone a bit too excited about his progress. Then last season kicked off and Markieff showed no improvement. Surrounded by new faces on a team with no identity, the big man from Kansas looked lost. The hope from Summer League had vanished before Thanksgiving.

But Phoenix didn’t give up on him. After a mountain of losses and a coaching change, the Suns acquired Marcus from the Rockets, in no small part because they believed that bringing the brothers together could unlock both of their potentials. The move didn’t pan out right away, but but that probably had more to do with the immense dark cloud that hovered over the Suns after Lindsey Hunter took over and Marcin Gortat went down with injury.

The 2013 Summer League was a glimmer of sunshine through the thick haze left over from the 2012-13 season however. The Morris twins along with rookie Archie Goodwin and human Swiss Army knife P.J. Tucker led the Suns to six straight wins before falling in the inaugural Summer League Final to Golden State. One or both of the twins was in double figures in every game of the tournament. Marcus led the team in scoring and three-point shooting. Markieff was second on the team in points and FG% and tied for first in rebounds. The first rule of NBA analysis is never to get excited about Summer League play, but at this point, I’m looking for anything positive when it comes to the Morris’s development.

Marcus’s impressive shooting, along with the return of Channing Frye, proved that the Suns should be able to really stretch the floor from the power forward spot this season. This will create more space in the paint for Gortat and the other bigs to operate. Likewise the threat of legitimate perimeter shooters will create more opportunities for Dragic and Bledsoe to get to the hoop.

Markieff showed much improved shot selection and rebounding tenacity in Vegas, two things that have really been lacking from his game thus far in his career. If the brothers can play inside-outside the way they did this summer, it should give coach Hornacek a great deal of offensive options and flexibility, especially in the half court. But if the twins cannot translate their Summer League performances to the regular season, they may end up fighting each other for limited minutes.

For better or worse, the Morris twins are most likely a package deal moving forward. Whether they remain with the Suns long term or move on to another team, I don’t see them splitting up. Neither one has really set himself apart from the other, and the general wisdom is still that they’ll be better together. That wisdom endures because these two have literally played basketball together their entire lives. We assume that much familiarity should lead to incredible chemistry on the court. We think because they’re twins they should be able to predict one another’s movements and throw back door alley-oops with their eyes closed. But that just isn’t the case. This isn’t hockey and they aren’t the Sedins. If one was a crafty point guard and the other an agile big man, they’d have a pick and roll for the ages, but unfortunately they’re both power forwards. There just aren’t going to be a lot of opportunities for these two to dazzle the crowd with their chemistry on the court. But off the court may be a different story. If having these two on the same team keeps them both more focused and happy, then more power to them. But if that focus doesn’t translate into more production, the Morris’s may be out of work before they hit restricted free agency.

Because they are still on rookie contracts, the twins’ 2014 options have to picked up or declined by October 31st. As of right now, there’s no indication the team intends to decline their options. While declining would free up some cap space, not having Marcus and Markieff under contract for 2014-15 makes them poorer trade assets this season. Next summer will be the real reckoning time for both players which makes this season a de facto contract year. The brothers have 82 games to show the Suns’ front office what they can do.

Whether or not they’ll take the next step as pros remains to be seen. What is clear is that with a successful Summer League campaign and a full training camp under their belts, the Morris twins have never been in a better situation to succeed.