Markieff Morris Is In a Position to Thrive


In an off-season marked by preposterous sums of money being thrown at average players, the trade that sent Markieff Morris from Phoenix to Washington in February 2016 is starting to look like one of Wizards General Manager Ernie Grunfield’s best decisions in years.

What initially appeared to be a desperate attempt to make last season’s playoffs could actually result in a long-term stability at the power forward position.

Following a number of incidents involving Markieff and the Suns organization, he was traded for DeJuan Blair, Kris Humphries, and a 2016 1st round draft pick (which ended up being Georgios Papagiannis).

In the 27 games Morris played as a Wizard, his Per-36-Minutes averages for points and rebounds were similar to the ones recorded over 37 games with Phoenix last season. However, his shooting percentages have increased significantly: from 39.7% to 46.7% for field goals, from 28.9% to 31.6% for three-pointers, and from 71.7% to 76.4% for free-throws.

His versatility has already proven to be a great addition to the team as he fits the up-tempo style and can guard strong power forwards. Moreover, Morris will be able to play with either Marcin Gortat or Ian Mahinmi, since both of these big men’s skills complement Markieff’s speed and shooting. Spending an entire pre-season with the Wizards should be valuable as well.

Having Morris for the foreseeable future also helps the Wizards in one of their arguably most important if often neglected tasks – keeping John Wall happy. The fact that Morris’ prime overlaps with Wall’s prime should at least partially alleviate Wall’s concerns about the organization not surrounding him with enough talent.

Despite all of the positive on-court contributions that Morris brings to the table, it might be his contract that presents the biggest value to the Wizards. It runs through the 2018-19 season, when his salary is scheduled to peak at $8.6 million a year. This number is mind-bogglingly low considering how much average players will be making at that time, particularly when the salary cap goes up even more in the summer of 2017.

Same old Keef?

And yet, there are some questions and uncertainties. First, Morris needs to keep working on his outside shot.

With defenses league-wide adapting to the expanding range of power forwards, the 31.6% from three-point territory might not be enough to stretch the floor and to keep the paint from clogging up. Neither Gortat nor Mahinmi will fool the defense with their three-point shooting (16.7% and 0% in their careers, respectively), so it will be up to Morris to create some room for the talented backcourt to drive to the basket.

More bothersome are Markieff’s off-court issues. While yelling at his head coach and getting into altercations with teammates could be written off as a product of a toxic relationship with the Suns organization, pending felony aggravated assault charges stemming from a January 2015 incident should be taken seriously. The recent detention at a Philadelphia airport for possession of “suspected marijuana” certainly does not help his image.

Markieff Morris doesn't need to become an All-Star. He doesn't even need to be a top-3 scorer on his team (I’m looking at you, Otto). But if he can stay out of trouble, continues to work on his weaknesses, and focuses on his strengths, the former Kansas Jayhawk can be a solid piece of this new Wizards team for years to come.

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