After receiving the ball just inside the arc, the Los Angeles Lakers clear out the right side of the floor. The player launches forward toward the right elbow, his defender urgently chasing. He pump fakes to bait the defender, absorbs the contact and gingerly shoots, finishing over his younger brother, Marcus Morris Sr. The Los Angeles Lakers ran an isolation play for Markieff Morris, a sign of increased trust in a player who has stepped up when necessary.
It’s no secret the Lakers have faltered without LeBron James and Anthony Davis. But when a team loses its superstar duo, it yields an opportunity for players to earn more minutes and trust among the coaching staff and fellow teammates.
While Los Angeles has consulted Dennis Schroder, Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell to produce more in their shifts, it’s been Morris who has quietly amplified his production since play resumed after the All-Star break.
In the 13 games since the second-half schedule commenced, Morris has averaged 10.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 0.5 blocks while shooting 45% from the field, 37.3% from 3-point range and 83.3% at the charity stripe in 24.3 minutes of action.
All numbers are improvements from his regular-season averages of 6.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.3 blocks, 42.6% field goal percentage, 34.2% 3-point percentage, 73.2% free throw percentage and 19.4 minutes.
To put it another way, he has upgraded his execution in a larger role.
That’s exactly what the Lakers need, even if it doesn’t directly translate to wins. The frontcourt has been an area of ambivalence for L.A. this season. Davis hasn’t played since mid-February, Marc Gasol has improved, but the acquisition of Andre Drummond adds more dubiety to his role and Harrell primarily occupies the paint.
With Morris’ recent form, he has predominantly supplied the Lakers with a consistent 3-point and rebounding presence. That’s immensely valuable in today’s league, and his stock will only rise alongside a healthy James and Davis because of the gravity they pull on opposing defenses.
A portion of Morris’ best production has stemmed from non-corner threes. In these locations, Morris is converting on 42% of his jumpers since the commencement of the second-half schedule, good for the 74th percentile among players in his position, per Cleaning the Glass.
Because the Lakers possess various ball-handling and off-ball threats — Schroder and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in this play — Morris becomes the beneficiary for additional operating room.
In transition, Schroder commands the attention of both Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez. Pay attention to the left of the frame. After Schroder resets once Middleton clogs the layup lane, Caldwell-Pope slashes through the middle of Milwaukee’s defense, targeting Jrue Holiday, the player guarding Morris.
Caldwell-Pope is someone who defenses respect as an off-ball shooting threat, and it manifests here as Holiday tags onto him to help Giannis Antetokounmpo. However, Antetokounmpo rotated onto Morris too late, and Morris remained composed as he drilled the three over Antetokounmpo’s outstretched contest.
Morris has taken his minacious 3-point jump shot to furnish more scoring closer to the basket. On short mid-range jumpers — shots from the free-throw line or just outside the right and left low blocks — Morris is shooting 65%, slotting in the 98th percentile; it doesn’t get much better than him from that area.
For a 6’9″ player, having this percentage isn’t easy to cultivate because of the opposing length that could obstruct the vision to the basket. But Morris amalgamates verticality, timing and balance to remove potential barriers.
In this play against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Lakers run a two-man set between Morris and Wesley Matthews. Matthews attacks left but reverts to a pass to Morris and follows it up for a dribble hand-off (DHO). However, Matthews is just a decoy.
Faking the DHO allows Morris to waltz into the space Matthews just departed. He attacks left, lifts up, times his release so Jarrett Allen — one of the league’s premier shot erasers — can’t block it and stays balanced to knock it down.
Morris has also been a solid two-way rebounder. Defensively, he grabs 22.7% of the opposing team’s missed field goals, good for the 82nd percentile. He can also help clean up or accumulate extra possessions on free throws; if there’s a live ball after a missed free throw, Morris snatches 20% of them, placing in the 95th percentile.
Either Morris pushed too hard or Middleton tried to sell the contact, but Morris’ eye lights up after Drummond’s miss and he immediately begins battling for possession, resulting in a tipped layup for vital points.
“Outplaying their contract” is a term often utilized when analyzing how a player is performing on their current deal. The Lakers signed Morris to a one-year minimum deal this offseason, but the way he’s playing, you wouldn’t think that’s the case.
The list of players on minimum contracts playing admirable basketball is brief, but Morris is certainly among the best not just on that list but for the Lakers this season.
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