Suns Notebook: Markieff Morris Focused on Getting to the Rim

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Markieff Morris knew facets of his game needed improving, but assistant coach Mark West helped him realize one area that deserved his immediate attention.

The free throw line.

It’s a space Morris knows well from the flow of the game. Almost too well, Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek thought.

Instead of taking contested mid-range jumpers, however, he wanted to see Morris cut and drive more often to the rim.

“We watched a lot of film and one thing we had to challenge is me getting a lot of free throw shots,” Morris said. “When we work out in practice or before the games, we’re doing a lot of basket moves and he’s doing a lot of fouling with me trying to finish through that.”

The last three games have seen the adjustment pay off in spades. Morris is shooting a ridiculous 68 percent from the field in that span. More importantly, he is averaging just one three-point attempt per game after averaging two per contest his rookie year and 1.6 per game last season.

Friday night against Denver, the third-year forward tied two other players for a game-high eight free throw attempts and made seven of them.

“He’s doing a nice job of not just floating around that 15, 18-foot range looking for a jump shot,” Hornacek said. “He’s powering the ball inside.”

Opponents still have to respect Morris’ shot. That wariness, combined with his quickness, has allowed the former lottery pick to drive around slower power forwards and get to the rim.

Once there, Morris can either finish or find an open teammate after the defense rotates. The latter option is one Hornacek considers underrated given the forward’s passing skills.

“I think he might be one of the best passers on the team,” Hornacek said. “He can really pass the ball. He sees things develop. That’s a huge advantage when you have a big man that can pass the ball like that.”

Morris’ passing game stems from countless games played with twin brother Marcus. Whenever Markieff was doubled in high school or college, he was quick to look for his sibling teammate first.

Not surprisingly, Marcus’ numbers have risen over the last three games as well. He is averaging 12.6 points and 7.7 rebounds over that stretch.

Dragic held out again

The much anticipated pairing of Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic has struggled to launch after a small series of setbacks to the Slovenian point guard.

Dragic missed his third straight game after suffering a sprained ankle at Oklahoma City on Saturday. He was a game-time decision on Friday night, but ultimately did not play.

Hornacek has repeatedly stressed that he does not want Dragic to rush back before the ankle is completely healed.

“We just told him, ‘make sure it’s a hundred percent,’” Hornacek said before Friday’s game. “’If you feel something, let’s play it on the safe side and we’ll try it the next game.’”

Bledsoe on Fire in Fourth

The Suns’ new go-to guy continued his torrid stretch of crunch-time shooting on Friday. He scored nine of his 17 points in the final period, keeping his fourth-quarter scoring average at 9.0 points per contest, which ranks fourth-best in the league.

Bledsoe is second only to Kevin Durant in free throw attempts per fourth quarter (3.8), and is hitting 87 percent of those.