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Monte Morris brings immediate impact for Pistons: ‘He just knows how to play’

There’s no going back, parachuting Monte Morris into all those moments the Pistons suffered from self-inflicted wounds and amending the record. But whatever the record might have been if Morris hadn’t missed the season’s first 43 games, you can’t convince anyone associated with the Pistons that it wouldn’t have been something considerably north of 4-39.

The record with Morris: 1-0.

Michigan’s 2013 Mr. Basketball after leading Flint Beecher to state titles as a junior and senior, Morris’ lifelong dream of pulling a Pistons jersey over his head was delayed several months by a lower-back injury suffered during training camp and then a thigh injury – which eventually required a platement-rich plasma injection to spur healing – incurred during the rehabilitation from the back injury.

“Man, I feel good,” Morris beamed after helping the Pistons to a 113-106 win over Charlotte on Wednesday despite being limited to 11-plus minutes after his extended layoff. “I was so hype on the bench. It was hard for me to be like that when I was in street clothes because I couldn’t go out and fight with my guys. It’s fun. It’s contagious.”

Morris wasted no time making his mark, draining a 3-point shot on his first possession when he checked in with 4:02 left in the first quarter and, three possessions later, working into the mid-range area to drain a 10-footer. When Charlotte went on a 9-2 run early in the third quarter to wipe away a five-point Pistons lead, Monty Williams got a quick timeout to rush Morris back into the game.

And what happened next underscored how badly the Pistons missed the steady, turnover-proof hand of Morris. The Pistons have seen 9-2 runs turn into turnover-fueled 25-5 runs too often this season. In fact, back-to-back turnovers from young guards Jaden Ivey and Killian Hayes preceded Williams’ timeout at 7:34 of the third quarter.

Here’s what happened on the next four possessions:

  • Morris drew Charlotte’s defense to him and spun the ball out to a wide-open Bojan Bogdanovic at the 3-point line, restoring a one-point Pistons lead.
  • Morris worked his way inside Charlotte’s defense to hit a runner and boost the lead to three points.
  • Morris spotted Isaiah Stewart posting up a Hornets guard in transition and lobbed a pass inside to him, forcing a Charlotte foul and retaining possession for the Pistons. On the ensuing possession, Morris showed his craft in a pick-and-roll set in baiting Charlotte’s defenders to overcommit and finding Jalen Duren open to convert a 6-footer in the lane for a five-point lead.
  • Morris again punched a hole in Charlotte’s defense on penetration and again found a wide-open 3-point shooter, Hayes, who converted to complete a 10-0 run that took less than two minutes.

If you could have dropped those two minutes into even half the Pistons losses this season, they’d be in a much different place today and the conversation surrounding them would sound equally dissimilar. The Pistons sit 29th in the NBA in turnovers (15.6) and last in opponents points off turnovers (19.7). Over Morris’ six-year NBA career, he’s averaged an absurd 1.1 turnovers per 36 minutes against 5.6 assists.

“I don’t go out there not trying to turn the ball over. I just make the right play,” Morris said. “I try to throw it to the jersey (of) whoever’s open. I’m here for a reason and just helping the team grow in that. If that’s my role, then I’m going to play that 110 percent.”

“He just knows how to play,” Williams said. “He has his own pace. You can see what he was doing in pick and roll. His pace, to hold the guy off and create the pocket space for our bigs to catch and then his threat of him knocking down a shot is huge for us. His poise and his experience is something we desperately need.”

That was the blueprint for the off-season trade to bring Morris from Washington when he became available after the Wizards wound up netting Tyus Jones – it’s a debate whether Morris or Jones was the NBA’s best backup point guard of recent seasons – from the three-team trade the Wizards facilitated that saw Marcus Smart and Kristaps Porzingis exchanged by Boston and Memphis. The Pistons were frightfully young in the backcourt with Cade Cunningham, Hayes, Ivey and rookie Marcus Sasser. Morris would be the guy to calm the waters when games got sped up.

“He was a big part of our off-season,” Troy Weaver said. “Giving us stability. His shooting and him being able to aid that young backcourt that we have. Him not being in hurt us, but it’s part of the deal. You don’t cry over spilled milk. You continue to trudge ahead.”

The trudge gets a little less onerous now with Morris back and Cade Cunningham likely to join him when the Pistons host Washington on Saturday.

“I feel like there’s going to be plenty more wins to come,” Morris said. “I feel like we’re getting closer. Once we get Cade back, it’s going to be a whole different dynamic of a team. I feel we’ll come together.”