The Suns traded for Marcus partly due to the hopes that playing the twins together would elevate both of their games. The pair played together for three years at Kansas and that worked out well enough considering both were late lottery picks. Can pairing the two together work for the Suns as well? The first step to answering that question is to identify Marcus' position. The twins may have the same face, and even the same tattoos, but they aren't completely identical.
Markieff has the body of a power forward at 6-foot-9 and 245 pounds, and that likely played a big part in the Suns choosing to draft him ahead of Marcus, despite Marcus being the better college player; Markieff had a definite position. Marcus is about an inch shorter and 10 pounds lighter, making him a classic tweener.
Leading up to the draft, Marcus called himself a Carmelo Anthony-like small forward, despite the fact that he played primarily power forward in college. Marcus basically redshirted during his rookie season -- appearing in just 18 games -- and bounced back and forth between the Rockets and their D-League affiliate while trying to make the transition to the wing.
This year, Marcus was thrown into the rotation ... but not at the small forward spot he had been learning to play. Morris started 17 games and spent the rest of his season in Houston as Patrick Patterson's back-up at power forward.
I looked through every game he played for Houston this year and tracked his time and performance at both the three and the four.
Marcus was on the court for 1152 minutes for Houston this year. 1042 of those were at the power forward spot. That is 90 percent of his minutes. Marcus appeared in 54 games as a Rocket. In 44 of those games, he played only the four. In 10 games he played both the three and four. In just two games did he spend all of his minutes at the three.
I also counted up his stats at each spot and converted them to Per-36 for an even comparison.
At power forward, Marcus averaged 14.8 points, shot 5.5 of 12.6 from the field and 2.4 of 6.3 from deep, and pulled in seven rebounds. For those that don't want to do the math, that is 43.4 percent from the field and 38.1 percent from 3-point range. Not a Per-36 number, but in total he was +21 on a playoff team. However, that number is skewed by being +40 In October and November, and he has been in the negative every month since then.
At small forward, Marcus only scored 36 points all year on 31 shots. Per 36, that's 11.8 points on 3.9 of 10.1 shooting and 1.6 of 4.6 from three, and 5.6 rebounds. The percentages were much uglier at 38.7 and 34.8 percent. He was +4, but again that number is somewhat skewed as he was +19 in his 24 small forward minutes from December to February and -15 in his 86 minutes at small forward in October and November.
Looking beyond where he played and more how he did so, I also looked up his numbers on MySynergySports.com.
Marcus spent 223 of his possessions (46.1 percent) in spot-up situations (includes pump fake and drives and plays of that nature as well; not just catch-and-shoot). He shot 36 percent overall, which isn't great. But he did connect on 55 of his 150 3-point attempts as a spot-up shooter for a more respectable 36.7 percent.
Second on the list is transition. He got out on the break for 59 of his plays, the only other play type in double figures percentage-wise at 12.2 percent of his total possessions. From what I saw, he ran to the 3-point line a lot in the open court, but that's not a bad thing as he shot 7-17 from three. When he did take it to the basket he was very effective, hitting 20 of his 26 shots inside the arc.
Marcus isolated on 47 plays (9.7 percent), but he only shot 13-42 from the field and turned it over five times. Watching his isolation plays, he's very similar to Beasley in this area of the game, meaning you can expect one thing out of his isos: pull-up jumpers. Marcus doesn't have great quickness, nor are his handles particularly advanced. That means he has trouble beating defenders off the dribble, and often settles for pull-up jumpers. Even his makes were mostly jumpers, as they accounted for nine of his 13 made field goals in isolation.
Marcus only has 100 total plays between offensive rebounding, cutting and pick-and-roll play, but he has done well in all three areas. Crashing the offensive glass, Marcus shot 18-32 from the field and scored 1.09 points per possession. Cutting off the ball, he shot 19-28 from the field, got to the line four times and scored 1.33 PPP. He's not a very good roll man, but he has done very well in the Channing Frye pick-and-pop role, as he shot 8-14 from three after setting a screen on the ball.
Defensively, Marcus's numbers aren't bad at all. He's ranked in the top 100 of every category he qualifies for outside of isolation, and he was ranked 154 in that one. That being said, I was not very impressed with his defense in the plays I watched. It's not like he doesn't give effort or doesn't know how to play defense. He just isn't blessed with good lateral foot speed. In fact, there were plays where he tried to move his feet so quickly that he lost his balance and almost fell down when trying to change directions. Honestly, in the first several plays I watched he didn't actually play very good defense, but was getting stops anyway. Either the offensive player bailed him out with a bad shot, the offensive player missed an easy shot or his help defense forced a miss. And this was against power forwards.
So far he's played two games for Phoenix, and has split time between the three and four. In his debut against Boston, Marcus played all seven-and-a-half of his minutes at power forward alongside his brother at center.
Against San Antonio, though, he played 20 of his 20-and-a-half minutes at small forward. While Beasley and Marcus were on the floor at the same time (before Beasley got benched), Beasley started off guarding the opposing power forward. However, the two of them switched basically every screen and cut, making them pretty interchangeable.
Marcus and Markieff played together at the three and four for about six-and-a-half minutes in the second half. In the two games combined, they were on the court together for 13 minutes and were -8. But this is a very small sample size and it's tough to be in the positive on this Phoenix team. I've seen some good play with both out there.
From everything I've seen, I believe Marcus Morris is best as a stretch four. He is similar to Michael Beasley in his skill-set, but whereas Beasley takes long twos, Marcus is at least smart enough to stay behind the line and go for the extra point. Overall, Marcus tends to show better shot selection and overall basketball IQ than I've seen from Beasley.
However, he is a bit of a gunner. 38 percent is not a bad number at all from 3-point range. But he takes a looot of them. Moving forward, he either needs to continue to work on his stroke and get it closer to the 40 percent range if he is going to continue shooting like he does, or he is going to learn to be more patient and selective with the threes he takes.
It looks like the Suns are going to try to play him at the three. Depending on what they ask him to do offensively, it could work out. But defensively he's going to struggle, especially against some of the better wings in the league. That being said, the frontcourt is loaded and the wing situation is dreadful. None of our other back-up wings can defend anyway, so if Marcus can knock down threes he's already a better option.
The numbers all say Marcus belongs at the four, but even so the Suns are going to play him at the three for now. Doing so will allow the twins to play together as the Suns envisioned when trading for him. We'll have to see how this plays out over the course of the rest of the season.