San Antonio Spurs: Examining Marcus Morris’ defining qualities
By Dylan Carter
There are plenty of reasons to be excited about the San Antonio Spurs’ signing of forward Marcus Morris, considering his overarching plethora of talents.
While a portion of San Antonio Spurs fans believe the team to be stuck in their ways of the past, recent free agent acquisitions have shown that general manager R.C. Buford is trending toward the future of the game. As seen by the roster construction of the 2019 NBA Champion Toronto Raptors, versatility on both ends of the floor is absolutely necessary to generating winning basketball.
The signing of former-Celtic Marcus Morris – along with the sign-and-trade for forward DeMarre Carroll – proves that Buford is building this team for the modern game. San Antonio only has one true center on the active roster in Jakob Poeltl, affirming that they’ll utilize more small ball like the rest of the league.
Morris, 29, excels in this league as a fundamentally sound pure scorer with the ability to hit from outside or create his own shot with exceptional handles for a player of his position. ‘Mook’ averaged 13.9 points and 6.1 boards per contest on 44.7 percent shooting from the field and 37.5 percent shooting from deep.
As the Spurs look to improve their chances of advancing in the playoffs, they’ve acquired an individual that lives for the heat of the moment. Through nine playoff games this season, Morris improved his shooting splits to 51.9/45/74.2 while stabilizing a Boston squad that dealt with a plethora of issues stemming from Kyrie Irving’s imminent departure and the staggered development of the team’s enticing youth.
While San Antonio’s roster is littered with rising talent, their young players seem much more prepared to compete at the highest level. Defensive menace Dejounte Murray has made his championship desires loud and clear while Derrick White, Lonnie Walker and Bryn Forbes bring team-first mentalities to the hardwood.
Morris is going to fit in perfectly with this squad for his competitive nature and ability to impose his will on matchups, regardless of their status or skill level.
Next: Unwavering versatility on offense
Unwavering versatility on offense
For a player of his build, Marcus Morris possesses unquestionable footwork. From the triple threat, Morris can dictate the motion of his defender and pound the rock as he creates a shot for himself, takes it to the rack for an elegant finish or kicks the ball out to a teammate.
One-dimensional players, unless they’re shooters, are largely a liability in the modern league. Everyone, in one way or another, needs to serve as a secondary playmaker with an increased emphasis on ball movement and player gravity. Not only does Morris dictate the motion of his defenders, but he can score on all three levels.
Although it was a season of peaks and valleys in terms of three-point shooting, Morris’ season average leveled out at a respectable 37.5 percent from behind the arc. He made 41.2 percent of his triples from above the break, many of which came off of pick-and-pop opportunities. The aforementioned versatility that Morris brings to the table is exemplified beautifully through his ability to set screens and read defenders to decide whether a roll or a pop would better suit a given situation.
If there’s one thing Gregg Popovich respects from his players, it’s situational awareness. There’ll be plenty of times when things aren’t going well for DeMar or LaMarcus where the team will defer to Morris, allowing him to create something for himself or others.
Carrying an individual offensive rating of 128 in the postseason, Morris is a jack of all trades that should be able to slide into the Spurs’ lineup perfectly. As a viable option at the starting power forward position, sending LaMarcus Aldridge back to the center where he excelled last season, Morris carries a chip on his shoulder that’ll result in winning plays in the Alamo City.
Next: Combining physicality and defensive instincts
Combining physicality and defensive instincts
You can’t win a championship without at least a little bit of grit on your roster and Morris provides just that. It’s no secret that Popovich has an affinity for players that are willing to bring some nasty to the hardwood – he empowered individuals like Bruce Bowen, Avery Johnson and Manu Ginobili over the course of his coaching career with the Spurs.
Morris has that fiery attitude within him and he’s not afraid to show it. He may not have the physical attributes necessary to battle against centers down low, but he certainly has the passion to match them up. Utilizing a great natural feel for the game, Morris is a smart defender who’s not afraid to throw his body around when his team needs him to.
Stats don’t necessarily back up Morris’ ability as a one-on-one defender, but his physical nature and stick-to-itiveness make him a major upgrade from Davis Bertans in terms of defense. Bertans’ defensive inabilities were hugely exposed in the postseason while Morris’ defensive intensity elevated. Popovich needs someone like Morris on this team that knows how to flip the switch come April when the bright lights shine, and the postseason begins.
In the Celtics’ first-round sweep against the Indiana Pacers, coach Nate McMillan credited Morris as the anchor of his team’s defense. McMillan describes Morris as “A guy that really establishes their defense. He gets after the best player and they feed off that,” according to a quote by Celtics.com reporter Taylor Snow.
While he’s not going to rack up a lot of defensive stats, Morris is able to switch against most forwards and put his body into them, keeping them from attacking the rim or backing him down in the post. He’s not the strongest perimeter defender, but he sticks with his opponent and finds ways to bother them without being overzealous and committing a lot of fouls.
Putting Morris alongside someone like Rudy Gay, whose length and shiftiness allows him to step out on shooters and limit deep shots, is going to cover up some of his faults and put the Spurs in position to generate excellent team-defense.
Next: Showing up when he’s needed most
Showing up when he’s needed most
You can never have too many closers in the NBA and Morris has proven himself to be a reliable option in the clutch. A metric analysis by Adam Fromal of Bleacher Report published in February claimed Morris to be the fifth most clutch player in the NBA for his 1.667 points per clutch possession with a sample size of 18 clutch possessions.
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Simply put Morris shows up when his team needs him most and the Spurs are in need of closers. For as many steps as DeMar DeRozan took in his first season in the Alamo City, it’s clear that he can’t be relied upon as the team’s sole closer. The same goes for LaMarcus Aldridge, who generally remains consistent toward the end of games, but never truly elevates his play in high-intensity moments.
The season hasn’t even begun, and the playoffs aren’t a guarantee in the heated Western Conference, but San Antonio is confident in the development of its group with the new additions to the roster. Playoffs are on the mind, especially after the disappointing Game 7 loss suffered at the hands of the youthful Denver Nuggets last season.
Morris is the type of player to lay it all on the line to improve his team’s chances at achieving victory and the Spurs will likely lean on him at the end of games as someone that opposing defenders may forget about with DeRozan and Aldridge posing the team’s preliminary scoring threat.
You never know when you’ll need a key rotation player to knock down a crucial shot, but it’s nice to have someone available that’s reliable in those situations.