These days, when Daryl Morey makes any sort of acquisition, it's typically lauded by most as a classic example of getting great value in the NBA marketplace. And, most of the time, that analysis rings true. For that reason, when Daryl Morey picked Marcus Morris with Kawhi Leonard still on the board in the 2010 NBA Draft, it was at the very least mildly perplexing.
Here's what The Dream Shake's own Tom Martin had to say about the move on draft night:
If Marcus Morris can play small forward in the NBA, I'll like this pick. If he's just another power forward for Houston to stockpile, I'm incredibly confused.
With Chris Singleton and Kawhi Leonard available, Houston chose to go with the available Morris twin instead. He can score, he can guard, but are we sure he can do that against the three? If not, I'll take Patrick Patterson and move on with my day.
Sure enough, Rockets fans witnessed Kawhi Leonard develop into an NBA All-Rookie First Team player while Morris was limited by an ankle injury and did not look the part of an NBA player in brief stints with the club. As a viewer, it was an exceptionally frustrating sight to see.
As can be said about nearly any young player's season last year, there were a number of confounding variables that may have skewed the data, the most significant of which was the lockout shortened season. For a player making a positional switch in a new system, getting on the floor and succeeding without the benefit of a training camp or many practices throughout the season was always going to be a challenge. Add in the fact that Morris battled an ankle injury for most of the season, and you can manufacture a number of reasons why Morris struggled last year.
With that in mind, perhaps Morris will be ready to turn over a new leaf and succeed in year two with Kevin McHale. After all, in his extended minutes in the NBDL, Morris looked stellar, managing 21 and 8 with excellent efficiency numbers. Unfortunately, this stint along with his tremendous career in college underlie Morris' biggest weakness thus far, his inability to translate success against weaker opponents to stronger competition.
In college and in the D-League, Morris was the focal point offensively, given free rein to isolate and score against his typically smaller and weaker defender. Given Morris' combination of strength and skill level, it makes sense that he would amass gaudy statistics against inferior competitors. Once Morris reached the NBA, defenders were able to match his physicality and his lack of explosiveness and length became liabilities. Predictably, he was often forced into weak turnaround jumpers and fall-away post moves.
Not only were his bread and butter moves less effective against NBA defenses, his struggles also had to do with the shift between being a focal point offensively to being a complementary piece. As skilled as Morris is, he is not the kind of player that the Rockets will scheme isolations for on a regular basis to get him the ball one-on-one. In order to be effective in the offense, he will have to find other ways to contribute, namely in catch-and-shoot situations.
As for the "Is he a three?" debate that we've been having since draft night, I think it's still too early to tell. I didn't get the opportunity to watch any of his action with the Vipers, and garbage time minutes in the NBA are not necessarily indicative of a player's defensive chops. Offensively, I will say that his handles looked pretty solid, much better than I expected. One look at the below video shows you how he can create mismatches and thrive.
Whatever the case may be position-wise, there is no doubt that this is a tremendously important season facing Marcus Morris. I'm inclined to say that he's safe from having his third year option declined simply because he's had so little time to prove himself, but stranger things have happened. A disappointing early season stint after an already underwhelming summer league could seal Morris' fate.
In the end, I fear that Morris is the kind of guy where the idea of the player is much more enticing than the player himself. Having a post-up three that can take small forwards in the paint and wear them out is extremely alluring, but at the same time if all he adds is isolation scoring and decent rebounding, I don't see him making much of an impact. It's going to be a veritable dog fight for minutes behind Chandler Parsons and Patrick Patterson, and while I'd love to see Morris earn a spot in the rotation, I don't know that he will be able to distinguish himself from the competition.