Most of the focus and anticipation leading up to free agency for the Dallas Mavericks will be on marquee names and top tier free agents. But the front office might be strategically best served in bypassing the big names and going straight for solid and talented role players that can surround Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. It’s worthwhile to remind ourselves that the Mavericks have already done much of the hard work by having these two young stars as their cornerstones (once KP is signed long term). And by having that luxury now, it’s time the Mavericks lock in players that can compliment them.
It may not be flashy, but vets like Marcus Morris, starter-level players with post season experience, should be the guys Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban consider.
The 6’9 235-pound Morris finished up his second season with the Boston Celtics, completing a four year $20 million deal. A fair and modest contract for a majority starter with now eight years of NBA experience.
This season Morris posted averages of 14 points, six rebounds, and 1.5 assists while shooting nearly 38 percent from three, in 28 minutes per game. In his two seasons with the Celtics Morris has played the role of spot starter-key reserve, almost exclusively playing power forward (though he’s played some small forward previously, and has seen minutes at center).
His greatest assets are his grit and attitude. Teams looking to do damage in the playoffs always need a player like Marcus Morris, whether it’s in the starting lineup or off the bench. He plays aggressive, is willing to bang around in traffic, and now has the veteran postseason experience that is increasingly valuable to teams looking to take a major step forward. With an ability to provide an energy spark, disrupt an opponent’s rhythm, and take on some of the less flashy duties on the floor, there’s a reason teams want players like Morris.
Additionally, his ability to stretch the floor on offense while still playing defense in the post is increasingly valuable. Morris connected well in catch-and-shoot plays, hitting 39 percent on four attempts per game (he bumped that number up to nearly 55 percent in the postseason, on nearly the same number of attempts per game). He’s best shooting above the break, where he hit on 43 percent (over 250 attempts).
He’s also become a serviceable secondary rebounder. The Celtics featured many lineups where rebound distribution spread out pretty evenly, and before Boston Morris played alongside Andre Drummond in Detroit. All to say, it’s possible Morris could see a slight uptick in his defensive rebounding on a team with less help on the glass.
As with most players that play, shall we say passionately, Morris’ emotion can sometimes get the best of him. Teams are willing to take those moments if it means a player influences the energy of others, but it should be pointed out nonetheless.
Morris won’t be your rim protector or dominate the glass, but he can guard more than one position. He has confidence that he can shut opponent’s down, and often that’s one of the biggest keys to being a good NBA defender. Still, there was a decline in some of his defensive numbers this season; and when he isn’t providing much in terms of steals or blocks, it’s worth concern that he may not be as versatile as he used to be.
He also would be best served to develop his corner three. Morris was an ugly 15-of-67 from the corners, a spot most players at his position should feel comfortable in as they stretch the defense. As he attempted the most threes for a season ever in his career this year, it’s telling that he took so few from these spots. And since it’s “the easiest three” on the floor, it’s somewhat puzzling.
More troubling than that though is the drop in his shooting numbers around the all star break. From the start of the year until February 1st, Morris hit on 42 percent of his threes (44 percent on catch-and-shoot). From February 2nd til the end of the regular season, Morris’ shot fell off a cliff and connected on only 30 percent. Can he relocate his three point shot for a full season?
Fit with the Mavericks
Because of Luka Doncic’s offensive versatility, the Mavericks can look at players at nearly every position that compliment the soon-to-be Rookie of the Year’s playmaking and distribution.
Morris doesn’t get in the way of any of that. Though Morris was effective as the roll man in Boston (1.32 points per possession), he was rarely used. He’s much more comfortable stretching the perimeter. While Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis will be featured in a two-man game, Morris could be one of (hopefully) several shooters ready for Doncic’s kickout.
On the defensive end Morris would take on power forwards, which depending on personnel will assign Doncic to small forwards. The Mavericks won’t want Porzingis out on the perimeter covering pick and rolls. But pairing him alongside a player like Morris could allow a sharing of some of the physical toll in the post. And as previously mentioned, Morris would be a plus on the boards.
It’s unlikely the Mavericks make players like Morris a priority (and will likely invest their post dollars in returning players like Dwight Powell and Maxi Kleber). But if they want to look elsewhere for a moderately priced and experienced player with something to prove, Morris would be a solid choice.