Marcus Morris, yet to play his first game in a Pistons uniform at The Palace, already has something striking in common with Pistons fans: a deep and abiding appreciation for Rasheed Wallace.
Morris first began attending Wallace’s basketball camps in their shared hometown, Philadelphia, as a kid. He began his high school career at the place Wallace became a highly coveted prep All-American, Simon Gratz, before committing to Dean Smith and North Carolina.
“I’ve known him since I was 12. Every time he’s on the East Coast – Philly, New York – he hits me and my brother and we go train with him,” Morris said after a workout at the Pistons practice facility this week. “He’s shown us a couple of things. I’ve been telling the players, ‘I’m not going to show you everything I’ve got right now. You’ll sit on all my moves.’ But Sheed said he’s going to come out here some time and we’ll get some good work in.”
During his time with the Pistons, Wallace would routinely dazzle onlookers after practice by launching left-handed 3-pointers with natural ease. His bag of trick shots ran deep. Morris has watched Wallace’s aplomb with his off hand and began to work on his left-handed shot, as well.
“He encouraged me to shoot left-handed shots,” Morris said. “Just because he shot so well with it. I was like, man, how do you do that? He was, ‘Every day – shoot with your right, shoot with your left.’ That’s what I’ve been doing.”
Morris hopes to bring some of Wallace’s otherworldly versatility, skill and Philly verve to the Pistons. After being initially knocked for a loop by the July trade from Phoenix and being separated from identical twin brother Markieff, Morris has embraced coming to the Pistons.
“I’m in Detroit. I’m here. I don’t even think about that stuff anymore. I’m here.”
And he sees this as his best opportunity to sink roots and carve out a role after 1½ seasons in Houston and 2½ in Phoenix.
“Yes, it is. In Phoenix, I thought I should have started at the three. The guy that’s there now (P.J. Tucker) might have been a better defender, but as an all-around three, I thought I was the best we had. And I thought a lot of players thought that, too. But there’s a lot of opportunity here. I have a chance to come in and start right away. I’ve been in the league for five years. It’s nothing new to me. I have started my share of games. It’s not like I’m new to it. The only thing that’s new is that it’s the East Coast now.”
And that he absolutely sees as an advantage, nearer his roots and a family he remains close to. His grandfather, Morris said, will get to see him play that much more often now. He thinks they’ll like what they see, in part because Morris has rounded out his game and feels ready to seize the opportunity, in part because he likes the way he sees the offense evolving.
Morris learned as a rookie in Houston the importance of the 3-point shot in the NBA.
“When I left college, I never shot threes. I played for Houston my first year and I didn’t play and they told me I had to become a 3-point shooter. All summer, I just worked on shooting, shooting, shooting. Working on it so much that it’s now a major part and you need that mix. That’s the mix I needed, to extend the floor, and now playing with Detroit I think I’ll be able to get a better chance to show my all-around game.”
The Pistons are prepared for the opposition – at least those with the personnel to make it work – to guard Morris with their power forward and put a small forward on Ersan Ilyasova or Anthony Tolliver.
“I hope so,” Morris grinned. “I hope so. That’s the great thing about having Ersan and AT, having them at the four and calling for pick and rolls and getting that switch and being able to attack those guys. That’s going to work in our favor.”
Van Gundy plans to replace the post-up game that Greg Monroe provided with a dose of it from other players, Morris among them. That suits him, too.
“That’s always been a part of my game. With being a big three, I’ve got to utilize that. I don’t want to stand out on the wing and I’ve got a smaller guy on me. That tended to happen a lot in Phoenix where they didn’t utilize the mismatches. And I think that’s going to be a mismatch.”
Morris has also worked hard to develop a mid-range game, he said, and feels empowered to use it with what he’s seen of Van Gundy’s playbook, unlike some teams – Houston, most prominently – that expressly discourage mid-range shots in favor of 3-pointers.
“Being in an open system, sort of, how this is going to be, I can really be able to work at just getting open shots, create open shots for myself and my teammates.”
Morris sees versatility around him, too, after scrimmaging with his new teammates over the past two weeks. He sees himself primarily as a small forward, but he says he can guard pretty much every position but center. Stanley Johnson, he said, has caught his eye and thinks they’ll be able to play together whenever Van Gundy calls on them to do so.
“We’re big together, playing at the same time. I also love him at the two. That’s an advantage to have a big three and a big two,” he said. “I think it’s going to be real interesting to see how Coach mixes us in there together. I think he’s going to be a big thing in the league. I’m excited to see how good he’s going to become.”
He’s also supremely interested in seeing how good he can become, given the most certain role he’s had during his time in the NBA. And if he reminds Pistons fans of anyone in his carriage – another certain Philadelphian, perhaps – it won’t entirely be by accident. Morris knows the public image of Wallace doesn’t have much to do with the Wallace he’s come to know, who does so much good work but always deliberately out of the spotlight.
“That’s what made his career what it was: ‘Don’t take my kindness for weakness. When I step between those lines, I’m going to be a (colorful expletive). When we get off the court, I’m back to normal. I’m a regular human being,’ ” Morris said. “That’s what made him the player he was.”