The case for Monte Morris to start for the Nuggets

In just one year, Monte Morris has developed from a fourth-string point guard to a critical component of the Denver Nuggets' dynamic bench unit. Here's why he's due for a promotion.

Monte Morris' jump from G-League afterthought to key role player for the Denver Nuggets in just one year has been nothing short of remarkable. After playing just 15 minutes for the Nuggets for the entirety of last season, he's now the fulcrum for one of the most productive bench units in the league. The most remarkable aspect of his growth, however, is that he didn't change much about his game to get there.

Watching Morris play is somehow both a completely average and absolutely mind-boggling experience. At first glance, he's just an everyday floor general: dishing it off to the open man, hitting spot-up three's, and playing hard-nosed defense. It's only when you really start watching the way he plays that the true beauty of his game starts to show itself. Whenever he has the ball in his hands, he seems to be in complete command of and in complete harmony with the flow of the game. It's truly something special.

This is usually the part of the piece where I'd dive into clips of difficult plays he's made that help to illustrate the nuances of his game, but the thing that makes Morris' game unique is that he doesn't quite have those. He doesn't make any especially difficult shots or particularly advanced passes, rather he just consistently makes the right play and tries to find the open man. But those are all things that he had long before his break-out season.

The leaps and bounds he's taken as a scorer this year are the real propellers behind his sudden growth. Before this season, he wasn't enough of a threat as a scorer to justify giving him even backup minutes, especially with his limitations defensively, but he seems to have turned a new leaf as a scorer this year. It's not like he started hitting pull-up threes, but he's at least made himself a threat to do something with the ball in his hands besides just move it.

Because Moreyball principles have taken over pretty much every offense in the league, defenses are noticeably trying to force the opposition into the mid-range. The most common way that's manifesting is in pick-and-roll defense where the defense drops their big into the paint to protect the rim, while the guard flies over the screen to run the ball-handler off the three-point line. The problem with that defense, as I wrote about last week, is that it can be pretty easily exploited if the guard can score from that zone. And we're seeing that play out with Morris this year.

Defenses are consistently giving him that area to work in, and he's punishing them almost every time. Again, he's not doing anything that special, he's just taking what the defense gives him. It happens in the play below, for example, where he ventures into the paint and hits a routine floater:

It's not an especially hard shot to hit, but it is vitally important to his game. Those shots are going to be there more often than not, and by just being able to occasionally knock them down, he can generate easy points for an offense that seems to make everything harder for itself. That therein might be the most important thing he brings to the offense: ease.

Having someone who can knock down easy shots and consistently make the right play, makes everything run so much smoother. More importantly, it makes him a comfortable fit in almost any line-up. There's a reason that not one Nugget has a negative net rating with Morris – a demonstration of cohesion that's virtually unheard of.

Should he be starting?

Even though he's coming off the bench now, there's a solid case to be made that he should be the starting point guard over Jamal Murray. As the starter, he could become the second facilitator alongside Nikola Jokic that Denver has been in dire need of for a millennium while hitting just enough shots to keep defenses honest. Meanwhile, letting Murray feast on second units and take a bigger share of the offense could be exactly what Murray needs to get back on track.

The risk factor of moving Murray to the bench is pretty big; if it doesn’t work out and he can’t break out of his slump, there aren’t many options for the team past moving on – something they’ve invested way too much against to happen. The organization has spent the better part of the last three years making Murray, Gary Harris, and Nikola Jokic, their cornerstones for the future. Benching Murray after all that would be a bad look Even with that risk, moving Morris to the starting line-up would put everyone in their proper places. Murray could become a super sixth man coming off the bench and adjust to a more natural role as a scorer, while Morris would simply feed the ball to Nikola Jokic, make smart cuts, and keep the offense running the way it’s supposed to. It just makes sense. 

The optics of Murray to the bench wouldn’t look great, but it could be precisely what Denver needs to jumpstart their offense. 

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