Recent reports indicate that the Suns are turning to the Morris twins to fill the floor-spacing role vacated by Channing Frye. Are they up to the task?
This summer the Suns have taken their dual-point offense to even greater heights with the signing of Isaiah Thomas, and added scoring punch through the draft with T.J. Warren, who might be ready to contribute immediately if his early showings in Las Vegas are any indication.
Thomas and Warren both possess undeniable instincts for getting the ball through the cylinder, and in an offense based around tempo and putting relentless pressure on opposing defenses they figure to fit like a glove.
However, an obvious blemish remains on the Suns' efforts this summer in the departure of Channing Frye, exacerbated by the fact that Markieff Morris is currently the only true power forward on the Suns' depth chart.
Stalled Markets and the Dog Days of Summer
The obvious ideal addition to fill Frye's stretchy shoes would be Kevin Love, but it doesn't appear that Flip Saunders and the T-Wolves are in any rush to move their All-World power forward.
Phx Suns discussed trade for Kevin Love yesterday/ would need 3rd team involved/ Suns do not have the right assets for deal
— Jude LaCava (@judefox10) July 13, 2014
This is nothing to be discouraged about; as long as Love is still a Timberwolf, the Suns will be in the discussion. And despite LaCava's assertion, the Suns have plenty of assets -- it's just not the right time for the T-Wolves to accept them yet.
Basically, if I'm Flip Saunders the only way I'm dealing Love directly to the Suns now is if either Dragic or Bledsoe are included.
And if I'm Ryan McDonough, the only way I'm directly trading for Love now is if both Dragic and Bledsoe are off the table.
So it goes.
As much as the sanity of the fans involved is compromised, there is no impetus on either side of the trade docks to force a deal right now, a full seven months before the trading deadline. There's a reason that these disgruntled star player storylines take so long to be resolved -- until the clock really starts ticking there is simply no incentive to settle on a deal that is anything less than stellar.
The Suns are holding onto their assets very tightly, and they're going to keep playing chess instead of losing patience and breaking out the checkers board. Be grateful for that, even as the Chinese water torture of summer begs to drive you insane.
In the meantime, the Suns appear to be turning to their own roster for a stopgap solution.
McDonough & Ennis discuss Thomas' addition. Markieff & Marcus Morris will be #Suns stretch-4 options with Frye gone. http://t.co/8MvGMiQPYR
— Paul Coro (@paulcoro) July 13, 2014
Per Coro's article:
It would be hard for the Suns to replace the stretch big-man element of Channing Frye, who departed for Orlando in free agency. That could happen internally.
"Markieff (Morris) has worked on his range," McDonough said. "Markieff is a good player and scores in a different way than Channing most of the time. We see Marcus Morris in that role some as a stretch four who can spread the floor. He shot a great percentage from 3-point range last year. We think he'll play some small forward and power forward."
Let's pretend this is true for a moment, even though McDonough's quote hardly matches Coro's tweet. If Frye's role will indeed be assigned to the Morris twins, will the summer of 2014 yield immediate improvement for the Suns? They have continued to stockpile assets with Warren, Tyler Ennis, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Isaiah Thomas figures to be a lock to outplay the modest contract he was signed to, but have they done enough to exceed or even match their win total of 48 from last season?
Mo' Morri, Mo' Problems?
Despite their breakout seasons in 2013/14, the Morris twins present more questions than answers if they are going to move up the depth chart.
Markieff was indispensable at times as a frontcourt scoring threat, scoring 13.8 PPG in a variety of ways while playing nearly as many minutes off the bench (26.6) as Frye did in the starting lineup (28.2). He was also third on the team in FTA/36 minutes with 5.5.
However, despite his increase in scoring production his 3P% fell to .315, which he will have to improve if he is to create any space in the paint when spotting up outside. The irony here is that his emergence coincided with him spending less time on the perimeter. Do the Suns really want to take him away from the areas in which he is most effective for the sake of keeping the offensive scheme static? Is employing a stretch big worth eliminating a frontcourt scoring threat?
Also of concern, will he be overexposed as a starting PF? Is it reasonable to increase his minutes and workload without expecting some drop in production?
See what I mean about questions?
While Markieff's improvement was more noticeable, Marcus made a niche for himself as a spot-up combo forward last season, knocking down a stellar 38% of his attempts from deep. He wasn't bashful about it either, hoisting 5.2 3PA per 36 minutes.
Like his bro, Marcus also showed some midrange skills, shooting .486 on 109 attempts from 10-16 feet, which surprisingly topped Markieff at .478 on 186 attempts.
Playing time at the small forward position will likely be at a premium with Gerald Green, T.J. Warren and perhaps Archie Goodwin all vying for minutes behind the newly re-signed P.J. Tucker. Coupled with the departure of Frye this should result in more minutes for Marcus as a power forward, and if he can sustain his shooting percentages he will make life much easier for Dragic, Bledsoe and Thomas.
At 6'9 and 235 he should have enough size for a true power forward, but it would help if he offered some tenacity when battling the big guys. He tends to play smaller than he actually is, which might be the only thing holding him back from being a full time stretch-big.
Oh yeah, defense
Both of the Morris twins will have to produce on offense if they're going to be spending more time down low on defense. They both lack the length and instincts to be reliable paint defenders, and more minutes for the twins might in turn put a greater onus on the development of young centers Miles Plumlee and Alex Len, who have only played a combined 136 regular season games.
The good news here is that they won't exactly be replacing a defensive stalwart in Frye, and there may be enough natural growth at the center position and within the scheme of Mike Longabardi to mitigate the effect of the Mo Bros' shortcomings.
If guys like Carlos Boozer and Zach Randolph can be a part of an elite defense, there is hope for the Morri.
If all else fails, there is enough scoring talent on this roster to drop 130 points with a bad hangover.
Within the context of summer popcorn headlines about Kevin Love and Chris Bosh, it's difficult not to be a little disappointed at the thought of replacing Channing Frye with nothing more than two guys who served behind him on the depth chart last season.
On the other hand, you could do a hell of a lot worse than two guys coming off of breakout seasons and heading into a contract year. If the Morris twins indeed head into the 2014/15 seasons with increased roles and a chance to climb into the "A" tier of the 2015 free agent pool, they'll have all the motivation they need to turn in another career year.
At a shade under $3 million per twin, the Suns would again be getting a ridiculous bargain.
Even more than last season, this Suns team will begin and end with their backcourt. Any hopes of stopping the Suns will rest upon containing Dragic, Bledsoe and Thomas. Even then, Gerald Green might pop off for 41 points.
They have established the best guard rotation in the NBA, and they accomplished this feat in a single calendar year. There is still work to do, but I can imagine plenty of worse scenarios than giving the Morris twins a chance to prove themselves before they hit free agency.
Let's see what they can do.
Well, at least until February.