Monte Morris: 'I'm a Much Better Player Now Than I Was Then'
Few players have lived in the gym in the weeks since the end of the Nuggets season as much as Monte Morris.
“He’s in there twice, three times a day,” Nuggets president of basketball operations, Tim Connelly said. “I can’t wait for summer league.”
Neither can Morris.
The stakes have never been higher for him.
The Nuggets have an opening at the reserve point guard spot with Devin Harris hitting the market as an unrestricted free agent. Morris, a second-round Nuggets draft pick last year, has been working to get his chance to fill that spot. He’ll get his first oppotunity to show Nuggets’ brass that he deserves the spot starting in July at summer league in Las Vegas.
“I just want to show everybody that I can be a backup point guard in this league, playing behind Jamal (Murray),” Morris told Altitude Sports and Nuggets.com. “I want to be able to show everybody that I’m capable of doing it. I’ve been working my tail off this summer and all of last year for this opportunity. Everything happens for a reason. I’ll get my opportunity. I’m going to run with it once I get it.”
Morris, on a two-way contract, spent the majority of the 2017-18 season with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in the G League, and it was a complex assignment. It started off with Morris – a lifelong point guard – playing more off the ball as a shooting guard. And that was a hidden benefit. Improving his jump shot was near the top of Morris’ to-do list, and with the Vipers, he had a regular spot from which to do it.
Then due to trades and other roster moves, Morris was shifted back to being the primary ball-handler. He was brought up to the Nuggets for three games, one of which was at Houston on Feb. 9, where Morris flashed his potential in scoring 10 points with six assists and three steals. Meanwhile, when the G League season was said and done, Morris finished with averages of 18.0 points, 6.7 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals.
“The G-League definitely helped me stay game ready,” Morris said. “Not getting complacent with my game and just keeping everything sharp. Now, we’ve been playing pickup and things like that. The game has slowed down for me a lot as opposed to when I first got here and started in training camp; everything was moving so fast. And I was just so locked on one side of the floor. So, I would definitely say the G League helped me, and playing workouts at a high speed is definitely exciting and helping me also. I’m just ready to play summer league and display my talent.”
He’ll be one of the focal point players on the summer league team. And there are already directives and some numbers he’s aiming to hit.
“I talked to coach (Michael) Malone, and he just wants me to lead the summer league in assists while also getting mine, and three or four rebounds a game,” Morris said. “So, he wants me to have a complete stats sheet across the board, and I’m looking forward to running the show and getting all my teammates involved and having fun.”
When he hits the court in Las Vegas, Morris will be a stronger player. As of now, he says he’s weighing in at 183 pounds, which is nearly 10 pounds heavier than what he was when he was drafted. Morris will be closer to 190 when summer league arrives.
“I eat a lot, probably every two or three hours I try to get something good,” Morris said. “I’ve been eating a lot of pasta and just drinking Muscle Milk. I never used to drink Muscle Milk ever.”
Now, he does.
There is a little wait-and-see as to how he’ll carry the added bulk. Speed is the foundation of Morris’ game, and he doesn’t want to lose any of it.
“I’ve never been this heavy in my life,” he said. “So, I don’t know how I will react to that weight. But, we can try it. I’m going to keep lifting, and if I keep gaining then naturally I’m happy with it. Instead of it just being all at one time.”
The payoff, Morris knows, will be in his durability in a rough-and-tumble NBA. Morris will be able to hold his own much better on a nightly basis as well against stronger players.
And with strength no longer an issue, he can get down to concentrating on his game, which is what he wants. The Nuggets could sign him to a standard NBA contract if he earns the backup job.
“Last year, I think I showed a few flashes, but I’m a much better player now than I was then, mentally and physically,” Morris said. “I know my job is to go out there and make everybody’s job easier and make everybody better with me being a point guard and a vocal leader out there.
“So, I’m just ready to show that I can be that leader and get everybody in focus, and everything in flow. So, I know the game of basketball is put the ball in the hole, but for my position I have to do a lot of other things out there, and I want to show everybody I can run a team.”
Christopher Dempsey: firstname.lastname@example.org and @chrisadempsey on Twitter