Less productive and possessing a slightly bigger body than his twin brother Marcus, Markieff Morris
boasts promising physical tools and long-term NBA potential in his own right. Blessed with a strong frame, solid athleticism, and a good, albeit extremely raw and inconsistent, skill set, Morris returns for a second year with the Jayhawks looking to establish himself as a factor in a deep and talented rotation.
With transfer Jeff Withey
entering the fold, Cole Aldrich
opting to stay in school, and highly-regarded freshman Thomas Robinson
promising immediate value as a rebounder and defender, Morris faces an uphill battle in terms of affirming his NBA stock this season, which may not be bad thing from a development perspective.
Last season was a struggle for Morris on multiple levels, and while he was able to make some plays down low using his impressive blend of agility and strength, his lack of efficiency in limited touches was an indicator of how much room for improvement he has. Lacking a degree of polish in his offensive repertoire, Morris struggled when he got the chance to test his mettle with his back to the basket, and didn't fare much better when he was able to earn some other looks right around the basket. Morris shot only 38% from the field in half court situations, and though his ability to run the floor yielded some easy baskets, his lack of productivity and efficiency in a small role are major concerns.
Morris's problems scoring the ball stem from three areas: his lack of decisive post moves, his inability to finish near the basket, and his decision-making from outside of 10-feet. Like most freshman post prospects, Morris is worthy of a free pass in terms of his back-to-the-basket scoring as a rookie. Ill-equipped to produce in such a setting, Morris still got a bit more than a quarter of his shot attempts in post-up situations, where he showed some aggressive drop stop moves, a developing hook shot with his right hand, and a turnaround jumper over his right shoulder that resembles Kenyon Martin
's in its quick and low release. Though Morris was able to create some decent looks for himself, they seldom yielded positive results. He does a nice job establishing position on the block, and is especially good at sealing his man on the weak-side when the ball is swung around the perimeter, but doesn't look terribly comfortable looking to score once he receives a pass.
Morris's questionable comfort-level in the post manifests itself rather frequently when he looks to score around the rim. Never afraid to throw his weight around down low, willing to aggressively crash the glass, and benefitting from the high-level players around him, a bit less than half of Morris's touches came in short-range catch and finish situations. Though his physical tools indicate that he's already capable of finishing at the basket, watching Morris try to finish at the rim can be painful at times. While he takes the ball to the basket with a physical assertiveness that will serve him well in the future, he doesn't show very good touch on his shots once he leaves the floor, often adjusting in mid-air or taking a little too much time gathering himself and elevating, making him a target for weak-side shot blockers.
For all the things that Morris struggles with as a finisher, he still finds a level of success that allows him to contribute. In contrast, Morris's catch and shoot ability offers few residual benefits at this point. Showing decent form, but questionable touch on his jumper, Morris's ability to hit shots from the outside can be a curse more often than a blessing, as he is sometimes too eager to pull the trigger from deep. Though he'll hit a deep jumper from time to time or look very smooth flashing into the middle of a zone and hitting a 14-footer, Morris needs to become a considerably more consistent jump-shooter to justify his shot-selection.
For how unnatural Morris can look on the offensive end, the opposite can be said about his defensive ability. Displaying very solid lateral quickness for a big man and showing the awareness to go straight up and effectively position himself down low, there's a lot to like about the things Morris shows on the defensive end. Able to hedge the pick and roll with some effectiveness, Morris is at his best in one-on-one situations defensively, though he proves extremely foul prone when his man does manage to get an angle to the rim -a tendency that could become an issue for him down the road. His willingness to compete lets him use his tools very effectively, which helps him compensate for the occasional lapses he has on the perimeter. A culprit of losing his man when staring down the ball and getting caught flat footed when he needs to close out jump shooters, Morris has the potential to become a very high quality defensive player if he commits himself to developing his fundamentals.
Moving into next season, the name of the game for Morris will be consistency. He won't be asked to extend his game with increased usage, making his ability to develop some go-to-moves down low and make quick and assertive moves extremely important to his personal development. Working on his conditioning and improving his frame are two other areas NBA decision-makers will be keeping an eye on. The strides he makes this season in a low-pressure situation behind Aldrich will certainly help alleviate any concerns his ability to step up and take advantage of Aldrich's absence in the future. Already showing some positive qualities as a rebounder and a lot of raw tools on both ends, Markieff Morris
could continue to slowly build his resume with a strong season on a championship caliber team, even if he is only functioning as a role-player.