3 goals: Markieff Morris – more of what Marcus brought to Pistons would be A-OK

Markieff Morris was available to sign a bargain deal with the Pistons because an injury-marred 2018-19 season tamped down production from career norms.
Zach Beeker/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

(Editor’s note: Today continues a series looking at the 17 players – 15 under standard contracts, two on two-way deals – who comprise the 2019-20 Pistons roster heading into the home stretch of the off-season. Today: Markieff Morris. Coming Friday: Khyri Thomas.)

Believe it or not, Marcus and Markieff Morris are not identical twins. The Pistons will happily take the nearly identical experience of Markieff as they had for two seasons of Marcus, though.

The Pistons engineered one of the most lopsided trades of the decade in getting Marcus Morris in 2015 – plus Reggie Bullock – for the minimal cost of a second-round draft pick five years out. In 2017, after two seasons of Morris as a starting forward, they turned him into Avery Bradley, subsequently traded along with Tobias Harris and a No. 1 pick for Blake Griffin.

In his two seasons with the Pistons, Marcus Morris proved one of the NBA’s best bargains, playing consistently hard and fearlessly. While Markieff – drafted 13th, one spot ahead of Marcus in 2011 – was seen as strictly a power forward coming out of Kansas, Marcus was viewed as more of a combo forward.

Both twins have become more proficient 3-point shooters over the years, responding to changes in emphasis of the game. Marcus is now primarily a power forward and Markieff – at 6-foot-9¼ as measured at the 2011 NBA draft combine, a half-inch taller than Marcus – is likely to play some center as well as power forward for the Pistons.

Dwane Casey’s practice is to present his players with a three-item card with their core values to the team before training camp starts. In keeping with that protocol but with a twist, we’ll look at the three goals for each player on the roster heading into the 2019-20 Pistons season. For Markieff Morris, those are …

RE-ESTABLISH YOUR VALUE – While Marcus Morris played for $5 million a season over his recently expired four-year contract, Markieff Morris played for $8 million a year. While both were with the Suns, they agreed to a unique offer put forth by Phoenix management: $52 million over four years for both, split however the twins decided. Markieff’s career was more established at the time, so he took more. Markieff’s value took a hit last season, though for dubious reasons. He suffered a neck/spinal injury that cost him about six weeks, though he returned for the final two months. After averaging between 11.5 and 15.3 points a game and at least 5.5 rebounds for five straight seasons while playing at least 25 minutes a game, Morris’ numbers tapered off to 9.4, 4.6 and 22 last season split between Washington and Oklahoma City. When an overheated market saw much of its cap space exhausted in the first 72 hours of free agency this season, Markieff was left looking for a spot that would give him the best chance to re-establish his market value. (Marcus Morris wound up signing a reported one-year, $15 million deal with New York after backing away from a two-year, $20 million agreement with San Antonio.) Markieff Morris signed a reported two-year deal with the Pistons, the second a player option, for part of the $3.6 million biannual exception. The motivation for Morris to play well and opt out of his deal next July will be strong.

EMBRACE THE SYSTEM – There is every likelihood that Casey’s offense will fit well with Morris’ mindset. Casey is a full convert to the value of an analytic shooting chart – he preaches “shot spectrum” religiously – and more than encouraging of letting open shots fly to the point of viewing passing up open shots in the same low esteem as bad shots or turnovers. Morris, always a willing shooter, has moved from taking roughly 20 percent of his career shots from the 3-point arc to 30 percent two seasons ago and 42 percent last season. He’s also improved his 3-point accuracy from below league average for his first five seasons to above average in seasons six (.362) and seven (.367) before a dip in his injury-marred eighth season to .335. Given the quantity and quality of the 3-point shots Casey’s system produced in his first year with the Pistons, it’s fair to guess that Morris’ 3-point attempts and accuracy will improve in 2019-20.

MAKE CASEY’S DECISIONS EASY – The Pistons go to training camp with Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond their unquestionable top players and certain starters at the two power positions. Behind them, it’s up for grabs. Thon Maker ended last season as the primary backup at both spots, a burden that likely placed too much on his shoulders. He figures to come back a stronger and better equipped player entering his fourth NBA season benefiting from the familiarity he gained by spending nearly three months with the Pistons to end the season. Christian Wood, a waiver-wire pickup after a wildly productive G League season capped by an impressive eight-game cameo with New Orleans to end 2018-19, could prove another legitimate option. But Morris could make Casey’s frontcourt puzzle come into focus by claiming not only all backup minutes behind Griffin but converting his toughness and veteran savvy into making himself a viable option to become part of the solution for backup center minutes, too. At 6-foot-9¼ and a listed 250 pounds, Morris has the frame to stand up to pretty much any second-unit center. He isn’t going to be a classic rim protector, but – much like Marcus Morris – his toughness and willingness to sacrifice his body is a hallmark of Morris’ eight-year career that should serve the Pistons well.

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