Marcus Morris: ‘I’m here to be a Piston – I feel like I’m home’

Back when Marcus Morris felt a little numb and a little betrayed by his out-of-the-blue trade from Phoenix, Stan Van Gundy’s welcome-to-the-Pistons pep talk was typically blunt, honest and direct.

“Short version, he told me to be in the best shape I’ve ever been in in my career and I think I am,” Morris said. “Told me to continue to score the ball how I do. Continue to work on your mid-range game and still work on your threes, because I’m going to stretch you out at the four. Said continue to be comfortable and be confident and come to show everybody what you can do.”

Van Gundy isn’t surprised by what Morris has shown everybody he can do so far – 19.3 points a game on nearly 50 percent field-goal shooting, plus 7.7 rebounds and a team-leading 38 minutes a game – but he’s probably in the minority.

“It doesn’t surprise me he’s playing a lot of minutes because he’s been our most efficient guy,” Van Gundy said. “He’s a guy that we were able to go to the other night with things breaking down to get us good shots. And he rebounds the ball, too.”

Morris, 26 and with four NBA seasons behind him, says what Van Gundy told him motivated him to work harder than ever this summer. He’d heard other coaches talk of grand visions for him and then find the reality far different.

“A coach can say anything, but if you come and you’re not that player they thought you were, it’s easy to take it back. ‘Oh, he’s not really as good a scorer as I thought he was’ or ‘He’s not a great defender or the greatest shooter.’ We kept in contact a lot this summer and he told me exactly what he wanted and that’s what I based my summer around.”

Morris was brilliant in his last game, the overtime win against Chicago, scoring 26 points and hitting 10 of 15 shots, most of them of the type that NBA analytics dissuades – contested, mid-range jump shots.

“He knows that’s my game,” Morris said. “When I was in Houston” – noted for its slavish devotion to analytics that steer players to 3-point shots or layups – “they didn’t allow me to play my game. And the mid-range game is my game. I enjoy it. There are only a few guys in the league that still play in there. I give a lot of credit to the coach and a lot of credit to my teammates for just allowing me to be confident. They’re throwing it to me in those positions.”

“Marcus is a guy we can go to and isolate and can shoot a high percentage on mid-range jumpers,” Van Gundy said. “Across the league, it’s not a high-percentage shot. We know that. But everything is based on individuals. It’s not based on a league-wide average. The league-wide average on those shots might be 37 percent, but Marcus is shooting 52 percent. He shot better than that in the preseason. It’s an efficient shot for him and for us right now.”

A few more things that make Van Gundy and Morris’ teammates confident of throwing him the ball: he takes very good care of it with just four turnovers so far in 114 minutes and he’s a willing and able passer.

“He plays the game pretty well under control,” Van Gundy said. “He’s not a guy that’s out of control or trying to go too fast. He’s very methodical, which helps him in terms of avoiding mistakes.”

“I don’t really turn the ball over because I’m not trying to do too much with it,” Morris said. “If I see a guy open, I’ll make the easy pass. If I make a turnover, I might dribble off my foot or something like that. Other than that, I’m not really trying to do too much. I’m getting to a spot on the court when I think I can score the ball, just playing my game.”

Morris entered and exited Kansas considered the slightly better player than his identical twin, Markieff, though Markieff went one spot ahead of him on draft night to Phoenix while Marcus was picked by Houston. Markieff has had the more productive NBA career so far, though, perhaps in part because he was the easier to play to define. One inch taller and not quite as athletic or versatile, Markieff was pegged all along as a power forward, Marcus as a … well, that’s where the problem arose. Was he an oversized small forward or an undersized power forward?

“I thought the versatility should’ve helped me more than hurt me,” he said. “When you have a guy who can guard multiple positions and stretch the floor, whether you’re at the three or the four, I think that’s an advantage. We watched a team (Golden State) just win the championship with a 6-6 power forward (Draymond Green) who played center. If that’s not that type of versatility, I don’t know what is.”

Morris is clearly relishing the opportunity created for him by the July trade and appreciative of the trust he feels from Van Gundy. However cynical he might have been at another vision from another coach, he couldn’t be happier with the circumstances now that delivered him to Detroit.

“I just feel comfortable and I think when any player gets to feeling comfortable, your game goes to another level. But I’m not taking anything for granted. I’m going to continue to work. I’m not blowing that off. I’m happy. I’m going to continue to be one of the leaders of this team, one of the vocal leaders of this team. I’m just grateful and blessed to be in a situation where I can finally play basketball to my capabilities.”

The trade for Morris came on the heels of the June draft where the Pistons grabbed a player, Stanley Johnson, they felt good about adding to their incumbent nucleus – Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Morris is elbowing his way into the same status – and that’s his intent.

“For sure. I’m here. I’m sticking,” Morris said. “You play the Pistons, you’re going to see five guys on that court. You’re going to have to keep me in your scouting report, because if not it’s going to be a problem. I’m here to be a Piston. I like the toughness. I feel like I fit straight in. I feel like I’m home. I’m ready to go. Happy to be here and ready to contribute.”