Phoenix Suns: What To Expect From Markieff Morris In 2015-16

Sep 28, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris poses for a portrait during media day at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 28, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris poses for a portrait during media day at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

In the wake of all the drama surrounding disgruntled Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris, his basketball impact has been lost in the chaos. He averaged 15 points and six rebounds per game ins 2015, and what he does for the Suns on the floor was enough for Suns general manager Ryan McDonough to say this:

While McDonough may have been speaking tongue-in-cheek there, the important point is this: Markieff Morris is good at basketball. He brings a lot to the Suns and is on a good contract, which may be why they felt no urge to trade him when he demanded it.

The Suns have benefited from Morris’ growth on the court over his four-year career. There were early questions and doubts. Morris was inconsistent and didn’t have a lot of clear skills.

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The version of Markieff Morris that has arisen over the last two seasons has been very different. He is a very good post player, decent midrange scorer, adept passer and physical rebounder. He’s worked his way into award conversations, and while his personal choices have isolated fans, most recognize his on-court contributions.

In terms of what he does well, Morris is a creative scorer who can post-up or take the ball to the rim from midrange. He’s tough and fearless, willing to drive at or shoot over anyone, even all-time greats like Tim Duncan.

His approach sometimes leads to great results. Markieff is great at dissecting defenders in isolation then attacking at the right angle at the right time.

Even though Rudy Gobert stays with him, Morris is able to adjust his shot to put it over even Gobert’s reach. This also isn’t an isolated play. Morris was the Suns’ highest volume post-up player last season, doing that 26.5 percent of the time. He feasts in the post and in the side midrange area,  and he has a variety of ways to score when he gets there.

On the flip side, Morris can get a little selfish. He goes into these possessions automatically when he gets the ball in the half-court, and sometimes it ends up going nowhere. Notice in the first clip how no one moves when Morris sets up against Kevin Love. He swallows up the possession, either because he wants to or because no one else initiates anything that could help him.

It is great when it works. Morris is like a heat check gunner in the J.R. Smith, Jamal Crawford sense. When they do their thing and rack up points, everyone loves it. The difference is that, instead of being a volume three-point shooter, he heats up from scoring inside.

Morris also has earned a reputation of being a go-to player for the Suns in the clutch. His playing style runs clock and when he hits the clutch shot, it can be a major game changer. This is his shot chart with two minutes left and a three-points-or-less point differential. Hot dang.

Markieff Morris 2014-2015 two minutes left with a +/- 3 point differential via
Markieff Morris 2014-15 shot chart with two minutes left with a +/- 3 point differential, via /

Morris can also be a gifted passer out of the mid-post. He’s great at scanning the floor and noticing missed rotations. Just as importantly, he can change from his shooting motion to delivering an accurate pass almost immediately.

His passing is an underrated facet of his game, as is the volume with which it’s used. Markieff had the highest number of passes per game — as well as the highest amount of points created off assists — of any Sun outside of their starting guards. In fact, after the guard group broke up and Brandon Knight was injured, Markieff became the secondary creator in the Suns’ offense. His three highest assist percentage months were February, March, and April, when the Suns had only one ball handler.

Morris’ passing usage will likely drop at least slightly as the Suns settle into having two shot-creating guards. However, his ability to create out of the post, when he uses it, will still be valuable.

Morris shot 32 percent from deep last season, and really only shoots threes well from the top of the floor. I’ve discussed before how the Suns’ current roster doesn’t boast a lot of deep shooting. If Morris can hit the gym and learn to expand his range, he could become an even better offensive weapon for the Suns.

The trouble is that Morris has trended away from the inside and the three-point line, opting instead for midrange shots more frequently. Again, when he makes them, it’s great. However, there’s a reason everyone hated Randy Wittman and the Wizards’ offense until the first round of the 2015 NBA Playoffs. Midrange shots aren’t as efficient, and they don’t have the added benefit of being worth the additional point of a three.

Morris has acknowledged the need for him to stretch the floor more often. Dave King of Bright Side of the Sun quoted Morris as saying

"“Coach emphasized I got to take more threes, I got to shoot more threes,” Morris said of this season. “You know, I gotta shoot them. I’m open. That’s what I was just doing.”"

Morris is one of those power forwards who gets forgotten in pick-and-pop sets or just floats outside the arc for a three. The problem is that he doesn’t make defenses pay enough for ignoring him when he does it. The reality is that there is no magic cure for this. If Morris wants to improve his shooting, the only way is for him to get in the gym and work on it.

Defensively is where Morris struggles most. He isn’t a freak athlete, so he can’t be a chase-down artist or rim protector. On top of that, he isn’t comfortable being switched on guards in the pick-and-roll. In general, he just doesn’t put forward enough effort on that end. He rotates slowly and doesn’t play physically.

Morris just casually rotates over to Jamal Crawford, then just casually meanders back. He’s not playing with energy and he tends not to.

If the Suns can get Morris to work on defense and increase his perimeter defensive ability, they could roll out a fast-paced lineup with Markieff at the 5. That lineup could be a high-octane nightmare, especially when Morris initiates cuts or corner threes from his post-ups.

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  • The problem is that the “center” in those small lineups has to be able to defend on the perimeter to make up for the lack of back-line rim protection. The Golden State Warriors can run Draymond Green at the 5 because Draymond suffocates perimeter and post scorers. Morris can’t be Green and the Suns can’t be the Warriors, but the point remains that maximizing small-ball potential depends on Morris improving his defense, among other things.

    It’s hard to predict if that will happen. If Morris wants to follow up on his Media Day quotes about reaching the playoffs and improving, adding to his shooting and defense would be a great start for him.

    With the exception that the Suns might stretch his shooting from three more this season, not much else about Morris’ on-court role should change. He’s still going to score over guys with his side post moves. However, there are still going to be times where he should play more team ball and pass.

    Perhaps Morris is only showing off to garner trade interest. Perhaps he really means to take the next step. Regardless, he’s still going to be making clutch plays and bad post-ups with the Suns this year.

    Next: 5 Steps To Markieff Morris Redeeming Himself

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