Hornacek Using Morris Twins’ Chemistry, Versatility

by Matt Petersen

Markieff and Marcus Morris are in the midst of career years, and both credit the man they’ve dubbed “H”, as in Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek.

Among the many reasons they respect the man who manages their minutes, there’s this: Hornacek ensures they’re placed in lineups and situations that maximize their abilities as individuals and as the life-long duo they’ve been.

The Morris twins (a combined 23.7 ppg, 10.5 rpg off the bench) headline the Suns’ scoring punch off the bench, which has helped prevent a letdown when several starters take a breather.

Their chemistry is the other part of their success. Having played together from childhood through college and now in the NBA, Hornacek recognizes that they guarantee at least 40% of any five-man lineup’s chemistry.

“They know where each other is at all times,” Hornacek said. “They’re going to pass it to each other.”

Knowing that tendency to find one another exists, the Suns’ head coach uses it to draw up specific plays.

“If we say, 'we definitely want this pass to happen', let’s get it to one of those guys ‘cause we know he’ll throw it to the other spot,” Hornacek said.
Markieff is usually highlighted as the passer in those scenarios, often holding the ball at the high post while Marcus establishes deep position by himself or by using down-screens.

Once he has, Markieff is usually spot on with the delivery.

“I think Markieff is one of the best passers on our team, and he’s probably one of the best big men passers in the league,” Hornacek said. “He can really see things happen and we try to put him in positions where he can make those passes.”

The twins’ impact has been as much about individual improvement as unleashed teamwork. Markieff is averaging the most shot attempts per game of his career (9.6) while hoisting the fewest amount of three-point attempts per contest (0.9) after launching two treys per game his rookie season.

“We talked to ‘H’ a lot in the summertime,” Morris said. “He wanted me to go from outside in but not lose the three-point touch.”

Markieff appears to have taken the advice to heart. He’s more than doubled his career high in free throw attempts per game (3.9) while shooting a personal best 49.4 percent from the field. He’s often featured on post-ups now, where he will usually pivot out and face up before driving to the rim.

“He’s able to take a big guy and, if a guy gets up on him, he’s able to drive by him,” Hornacek said. “If he steps off him, he’s a good shooter from that 15-to-18-foot range. He’s being smart about when to drive it and when to shoot it.”

Morris’ versatility extends to the other end of the floor, where he has manned both the power forward and center positions off the bench. Quickness and strength is required for such defensive assignments, as Markieff found out when he was utilized almost exclusively at center in the NBA Summer League.

With rookie center Alex Len overcoming a sore foot after ankle surgery, Morris has been utilized even more at center. An improved offseason workout regime and diet left him better prepared for the adjustment.

“As long as I’m on the court, you can put me wherever,” Morris said. “We’re a small team and sometimes I’ve got to spend some minutes at center and I’m fine with that.”

Meanwhile Marcus has flourished while being featured as a main offensive weapon off the bench. Hornacek will often signal for the rest of the team to clear out when Morris’ combination of size (6-9) and quickness create a mismatch in one of those two areas.

Morris will then go to work from the wing, either pulling up for a jumper over a smaller defender or driving past a slower forward. The third-year forward has proven particularly lethal from midrange, shooting 54.3 percent from 8-16 feet away from the basket.

“I’ve been talking to “H” a lot,” Marcus said. “He knows my game, so anytime he thinks I have a mismatch, he’s going to let me go.”

Hornacek’s knowledge of and appreciation for Morris’ game extends back to 2011. At that time he was an assistant coach with the Utah Jazz, who had Marcus in for a pre-draft workout. The Suns’ head coach has been confident since arriving that he could succeed in the NBA as a small forward despite some pundits’ labeling him a “tweener.”

Morris has rewarded that confidence with much more than isolation plays. He has proven capable of running the floor well on the break while shooting over 45 percent from three-point range this season, a career high.

“I’m a basketball player,” Marcus said. “I can play the three and the four, so I think that’s a luxury for me to have. A lot of times people say tweeners don’t stick as much, but this league is starting to get smaller fours and bigger threes. I think I can roll with either.”

Hornacek in turn has been able to play him at either position, often alongside Markieff when he is playing center.

Regardless of positions or lineups, Hornacek has seen first-hand what both brothers insisted when they were reunited in Phoenix last season.

“They know how to play together,” he said.

Like the twins already do, credit Hornacek for cashing in on that fact.

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