Despite a summer of controversy for Markieff Morris regarding his tenure with the Phoenix Suns, there is no concrete evidence to suggest his struggles with the team go beyond a cold start to the season.
Markieff Morris has been a lightning rod for controversy ever since issuing his proclamation that his future would not be in Phoenix over the summer. While he has not uttered a peep about it since, that has not stopped speculation — fair or not — over his commitment to the Phoenix Suns this season, speculation that has been exacerbated by his poor play to start the season.
But identifying whether a player is actually phoning games in or is simply mired in an ill-timed rough patch is easier said than done and goes beyond whether a player merely has posted poor statistics. Luckily, NBA.com's stats pages are home to a number of different analytics that delve deeper into a player's game than points and rebounds alone.
For instance, according to SportVU, Morris has been moving around the court at an average speed of 3.81 miles per hour, which is not only the slowest speed on the team but is the third-slowest amongst all power forwards in the NBA behind only Dirk Nowitzki (3.69 MPH) and Blake Griffin (3.79 MPH). And considering he plays fewer minutes per game than either Nowitzki or Griffin, fatigue is not a viable explanation for his leaden feet.
But while Ol' Molasses may be moseying around the court this season, he is actually doing so at a faster clip than 2014-15. Morris was downright pokey last year, with a speed of 3.67 MPH that was 8th-slowest in the entire NBA. In fact, both his offensive speed and defensive speed are increased this season over last.
|Average Speed (in miles per hour)||Average Offensive Speed (MPH)||Average Defensive Speed (MPH)|
These numbers would appear to indicate that Morris' effort compared to last year is actually improved and not being negatively affected by lingering ill feelings towards Suns management.
Similarly, Morris also doesn't appear to be doing anything to actively damage the flow of the offense.
Morris is averaging 1.89 touches per minute this season as opposed to 1.67 last season but is holding the ball for less time this year than last (1.45 seconds to 1.56 seconds). By comparison, teammate Jon Leuer is holding the ball for 1.37 seconds per touch this season while San Antonio's LaMarcus Aldridge does so for 1.58 seconds and Chicago's Pau Gasol does for 1.62. For Morris, the reduced time spent holding the ball is a result of his increased passing numbers, as he is making 1.22 passes per minute this year as opposed to 1.09 the year before.
When you consider that Morris is also averaging the same number of dribbles per touch as last year (.59), it becomes harder to argue that his presence in the offense has been more detrimental to ball movement and flow this season than last season.
"I think starting the year [the offense] was spread out; he just wasn't knocking down shots," coach Jeff Hornacek said about Morris' impact on the offense.
And that has been the problem. The team hasn't played worse with Morris because he's lollygagging out on the court, and the ball is actually sticking in his hands less than last season. The team appears so much worse when he is on the court because his offense has been nothing short of putrid.
While Leuer has been solid all season and Mirza Teletovic has finally found his stroke, Morris continues to labor. Of players who are playing at least 20 minutes per game in the NBA, only 27 are shooting worse than Morris' career-worst 36.8 percent from the field. His 3-point shooting (26.9 percent) and free throw shooting (66.7 percent) are also career lows.
If you break his offense down further, it gets worse. Last season, Morris shot 43.4 percent on pullups. This season, that's down to 32.3. Same story with catch-and-shoot opportunities, where last season's percentage has dropped from 39.5 to 27.8. Catch-and-shoots from beyond the arc have also fallen off, from 32.5 percent to 28 percent.
As well this season, Morris is shooting 28.1 percent on post-up opportunities, 23.1 percent on isolation opportunities, and 29.2 percent on spot up opportunities.
In short, Morris couldn't buy a bucket if they were in the bargain bin and he'd just won the lottery, and that kind of scoring inefficiency will make any offense look bad.
Compounding the problem is Morris' career-high turnover rate. He has committed 20 turnovers through his first 10 games and is averaging 2.9 turnovers per 36 minutes. Of those turnovers, five have been bad passes, six were a result of losing possession of the ball, and nine were of the dead-ball variety (stepping out of bounds, offensive foul, etc.).
This is where the speculation about Morris gains some validity. On one hand, these struggles could be nothing more than a player pressing as he tries to find his rhythm with the team. After all, he did show up well after everyone else had reconvened in Phoenix for voluntary workouts, putting him behind the curve in that respect.
However, it is also fair to ask if Morris' focus is as sharp as it was last season. While he may be with the team physically, it still hurts the team if he is not fully engaged mentally. When the Detroit Pistons came to Phoenix earlier this season, Marcus Morris said that his twin "doesn't look happy" in Phoenix.
"He just don't look comfortable," Marcus added. "He don't look too excited."
It's impossible to know how much of what Marcus said was true and how much was him just stirring the pot, but for his part, Markieff doesn't sound too concerned over his slumping play.
"It's early," Morris said in an azcentral.com article a little over a week ago. "The thing about me is I try to keep my confidence high no matter if I'm missing or making shots. It doesn't bother me at all. Eventually, they'll start falling for sure. I'm not going to miss for 82 games."
And the sooner Morris' offense returns to form, the better for Phoenix's chances to continue making noise in the West.