After being selected with the 51st pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Monte Morris played just 25 minutes in his rookie season while on a two-way contract. Then, in the 2018 offseason, the Nuggets converted Morris’ two-way contract to a fully-guaranteed deal, which further showcased the belief the team had in the former Iowa State Cyclone.
Although Denver also signed Isaiah Thomas last summer to add some depth at the point guard position, Morris was given the opportunity to be the team’s backup point guard as Thomas recovered from previous injuries.
Morris took that opportunity and never looked back. As he showcased throughout his four-year college career, Morris displayed his steady ball-handling and playmaking on the bench unit, while also filling in admirably as a starter called upon.
In the end, Morris averaged 10.4 points and 3.6 assists per game in 24 minutes per game, as he played in all 82 regular-season contests. As a starter in six games, Morris’ numbers increased to 15 points, 5.3 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game, and he connected on 55.4 percent of his shot attempts (including 43.5 percent from three).
The most important aspect of Morris’ game is his dependable playmaking. As a point guard, bringing the ball up the floor and initiating the offense is a primary responsibility. The key to being successful in that role is setting up teammates for success and limiting turnovers. As Morris has displayed throughout his playing career both in college and at the NBA level, he is one of the best in the league in that respect.
During the 2018-19 season, Morris finished second in the league with a 5.71 assist-to-turnover ratio (among players that played in at least 20 games). When Morris was on the floor last season, Denver’s turnover percentage decreased by two percent, which ranked in the 92nd percentile according to Cleaning the Glass.
While Morris’ breakout in the 2018-19 campaign surprised many, he simply continued to execute at the elite level he established in college. Across his four years at Iowa State, Morris set the NCAA record for assist-to-turnover ratio at 4.65. Furthermore, Morris has four of the top seven single-season assist-to-turnover ratios that have been recorded by the NCAA (the data goes back to 2008).
When Nuggets head coach Michael Malone inserts Morris into any game, he can feel confident that his young point guard will provide a steadying presence for the offense, regardless of the situation.
Morris’ play at the point can stabilize teammates as well. “For him to come in as the backup point guard, which was a role people questioned coming into the season, I don't think there are any questions about it now and that's all because of how he played,” Will Barton said in his end-of-the-season availability. “How he ran the team, never turned the ball over, he was steady the whole year. To have a young guy like that in his first season, that's big time.”
However, given the structure and style of Denver’s offense, it’s not only important that Morris can thrive with the ball in his hands. As is expected of the Nuggets’ other guards, Morris is relied upon to make plays off-ball, through cuts and 3-point shooting.
Last season, Morris showcased that ability to play alongside Denver’s playmaking centers. Morris connected on 41.4 percent of his 3-point attempts and 45 percent of his attempts from the corners last season. The 24-year-old guard also displayed his keen awareness of the court and when to make a cut towards the rim and was able to finish at a 64 percent clip within three feet of the hoop.
With Morris almost always playing alongside one of Nikola Jokić or Mason Plumlee, he will balance his time with the ball with his ability to thrive and contribute in an off-ball role. Throughout his time in the NBA and his college career, Morris has shown that he can be successful in both roles, which will further boost Denver’s strong bench units in the 2019-20 season.