Almost all the way through his rookie season, no one is sure yet what to make of Rockets rookie Marcus Morris. And that's OK.
BY: MICHAEL GUTIERREZ
In the 2012 NBA Draft, the Phoenix Suns selected Markieff Morris with the 13th overall draft pick. The Rockets then selected Markieff’s twin brother Marcus with the very next pick. Both were stars at Kansas, and both entered the league with great promise and skill at the forward spot.
While Markieff has played in many more games, and logged far more minutes, will Marcus pay off more in the long run for the Rockets, as opposed to if the Suns had taken him first instead of Markieff?
Although these two are identical twins, Markieff (6-foot-10 and 245 pounds) stands an inch taller and weighs, roughly, 10 pounds more than Marcus.
In the normal world outside of the NBA, the size difference would hardly be noticeable. More or less, they would both just be giants compared to most people shopping in a grocery store.
However, in the NBA, that one inch and 10 pounds lead to a far more complicated situation, as far as which position will they succeed at the most. While Markieff is more suited to play the power forward position, Marcus’ potential is on the wing, as opposed to his frontcourt play he exhibited while playing the ‘4’ spot for the Jayhawks. Marcus, who was considered by most to be the better of the two twins, fell behind Markieff by a draft spot in large part due to his “tweener” label (also known as a “power” small forward). The premise of the label is based on a guy with Marcus’ size (6’9” and 235 pounds) in that he might be too big and slow at the small forward position, and a tad too small to bang with the bigs who fill the paint in the NBA.
This was also thought of in the case of the Rockets’ former 14th overall draft pick two years ago, forward Patrick Patterson. When Patterson was asked what he would bring to the team, he answered saying: “I’m a very versatile ‘4’ man who can face-up, extend his game to the perimeter and shoot 3s, and post up in the post, score around the rim, rebound and just do whatever is asked of me. I’m trying to make this team better and make myself better as well.”
That pretty much a perfect answer for a “tweener.” Quickly, General Manager Daryl Morey let it be known he envisioned Patterson as a frontcourt player, and did not want him shooting 3s, saying, “He’s got true size for the ‘4’-position in this league.”
Now, in his second season, Patterson has slowly but surely solidified himself as a bonafide NBA power forward. Considering he still has a way to go as far as reaching his potential, if the Rockets had tried to implement him at the small forward position, it’s very likely he wouldn’t be producing at this rate, at either position. It’s repetition and hard work at the ‘4’ position that has translated to him being the young, solid backup power forward who has the talent to be a starter someday, likely sooner than later.
Patterson, like Marcus, was considered to be a steal at the 14th spot, both falling in the draft in identical fashion. The difference between the two is that Marcus has a tougher start to his transition, with not only his potential being at the small forward position, but with the season being condensed as well.
In Markieff’s first season with the Suns thus far, he’s gotten plenty of playing time, and has indeed showed promise. He’s played in 51 of the Suns’ 54 games, with a total of 956 minutes (17.7 per game), while earning a spot in the NBA’s Rising Stars game that took place during All-Star weekend. While he only averages seven points a game, but he’s posted 17 double-digit scoring games, two in which he had 20-plus points.
Marcus’ path, however, was drastically different. He began the season getting no more than 7 minutes in his first three games to finish the month of December. Then, on Jan. 3, he was sent down to the Rockets’ D-League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, for repetition as he fell out of the lineup in Patterson’s return from an early injury.
With the Vipers, Marcus averaged 20.7 points and 8.3 rebounds in 30 minutes. Unfortunately while there, he also suffered a left ankle sprain that brought him back to Houston for recovery, but once healed, he was sent back to the Vipers yet again.
His second stint was considered to be more recovery-related, but the first was due to the way Morey uses (or views) the club’s D-League affiliate, a philosophy that has created a stir with Indiana Pacer center Roy Hibbert’s recent comments that he was glad he wasn’t drafted by Houston because they had plans to send him to the D-League his rookie season, plans no other team had in their development of the 7-foot-2 center who will be free agency’s prized big man this summer.
According to an article by Scott Schroeder of ProBasketballTalk.com, Morey had this to say in regards to the issue: “I think the D-League is going to eventually become like Triple-A baseball where pretty much every rookie spends some time there. Obviously we’re not there yet, but I think over time that’s going to be how it’s looked at. It gives guys the ability to work on their game early, it allows them to work on parts of their game the coaching staff is emphasizing and we’re obviously big believers in the whole system.”
With Patterson being sent down to the Valley a season before, and with Marcus struggling early on, it was only a matter of time before he followed Patterson as the team’s second consecutive 14th pick to gain experience from in Hidalgo.
After returning to the Rockets again on Feb. 20, for good, Marcus remained, more or less, a benchwarmer. He next saw action on Feb 29, but only played a little over a minute and a half in garbage time in a 21-point loss to the Utah Jazz. Through the months of March and April, he has played in a total of eight games, averaging 1.8 points in 7.9 minutes.
To this point, it’s fair to say Markieff has undoubtedly produced more thus far in their very young NBA careers. However, there’s one aspect that Marcus has that his brother simply doesn’t. It’s the fact that Marcus has the ability to go beyond the “role player” title.
To go with his size, Marcus, who is also adjusting to more of a perimeter game at the pro level instead of the power game he played in college, can handle the ball better, with the ability create a good look for himself, whether it’s in the post or off the dribble. In his final season with the Jayhawks, he averaged 17.8 points and pulled 7.6 rebounds per game at the power forward position. Markieff averaged more rebounds (at 8.3), but averaged 4.2 points fewer than Marcus, and was vastly considered the inferior player of the two.
Marcus was eventually named to the All-Big 12 first team, and was awarded the Big 12 Player of the Year Award. Markieff was only named to the second team.
With that in mind, when (not if) Marcus learns the ins and out of being an NBA wing on both sides of the court, he’s going to be handful for opposing small forwards to guard. He’s big, he’s tough, yet still boasts the finesse to take advantage of a smaller opponent out on the perimeter, and he has the know-how of an offensive game. It’s his defense that keeps him from consistent playing time.
Waiting on Marcus’ greater potential seems to work better in the Rockets’ favor. Also, already having two power forwards in veteran Luis Scola and Patterson, it seems both Morris twins went to the right teams.
As with any move Morey makes – methodical with a big-picture outlook – patience is necessary. And that stands to be the truth with Marcus, who’s not quite ready to make an impact with the Rockets but that certainly doesn’t mean he never will be.