Markieff Morris playing ‘out of his mind’ for surging Wizards
A couple months back, the Washington didn’t look like a playoff team. The Wizards dropped eight of their first 10 games, leading many to assume they would flounder and miss the postseason for a second straight year.
However, few teams in the NBA are as hot as Washington these days, and first-year head coach Scott Brooks says former Kansas star Markieff Morris has as much to do with the turnaround as anyone on the roster.
In an interview with ESPN’s Zach Lowe, Brooks explained how Morris became much more of a consistent force for the Wizards recently. The way the former Oklahoma City coach remembers it, Brooks let Morris know at halftime of one poor outing (he thinks it was against Philadelphia about a month ago) that the starting power forward wasn’t giving the team everything it needed from him.
Perhaps Brooks could’ve grabbed Morris’s attention earlier, considering the 6-foot-10 stretch-4 averaged 12.4 points in November and 12.7 in December, but Brooks wanted to establish a strong relationship with his players and have them understand his approach as the team’s new coach before hitting them with anything drastic.
By mid-January, Brooks felt comfortable letting Morris know it was time for a change.
“I think the game is supposed to be played in a fun way. But to me ‘fun’ is playing hard and competing and clawing and doing whatever it takes within the rules to try and beat your opponent,” Brooks said on The Lowe Post. “That, to me, is fun. And if I see that it’s below the level that we need to be at, I tell you — whether you’re John Wall or Bradley (Beal) or Kieff or somebody that doesn’t play as much.
“Your job is to go in there and compete, and … I know that (Morris) has that in him, and I tell you what, he has been playing, like I said, out of his mind,” Brooks added. “We’re not in this position right now if it wasn’t for him.”
Morris caught his coach’s message and reacted by improving his overall play. Over the past four weeks, the sixth-year veteran is averaging 18.9 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists, while shooting 46.8 percent from the floor and 40 percent on 3-pointers.
The Wizards (33-21) have won 14 of their last 16 games and are holding steady as the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference, only 2.5 games back of Boston for the No. 2 spot and 5 games behind defending champion Cleveland.
From a production standpoint, Morris has made much greater of an impact by giving Washington more from beyond the arc. A 32.9-percent career 3-point shooter, Morris only connected on 30.6 percent of his 3s in November, and that number plummeted to 22.7 percent in December. In January, Morris nailed 41.4 percent from downtown. In five February games, he’s 8-for-22 — 6-for-9 in the past two D.C. wins, which included a 23-point performance in a blowout versus Oklahoma City.
“I met with him early in the season,” Brooks told Lowe, “like a month in, I said, ‘You’ve got something that a lot of guys don’t have.’ And he says, ‘What?’ I said, ‘You can post up and take smaller guys at the block, but you also have the ability to take, to shoot 3s.’ But, I said, ‘You don’t want to take ’em for some reason. You’d rather take 17-footers, one-dribble pull-ups.’ I said, ‘That game is becoming dinosaurs, and if you’re gonna do that, it’s gonna be hard for you to fulfill this career that you can potentially have.’
“And I tell you what, he has really challenged himself and I want him to shoot as many 3s as he can shoot. I think he should shoot five a game, but don’t take away his low post when he has a good matchup,” Brooks added.
Morris averaged 3.6 3-point tries a game in January, and has taken 4.4 a game from deep thus far in February.
The 27-year-old Morris, who now has been with Washington for the equivalent of a full season after being traded from Phoenix in February of 2016, told The Washington Post not long ago he and his teammates benefit offensively from the all-star play of their point guard, Wall.
“You see how easy it is when he gets to penetrating. He’s a great passer,” Morris said of the team’s star. “He’s got eyes in the back of his head, so we just got to get open.”
The Wizards haven’t been held below 100 points since the first week of January, and are 17-4 in that stretch with Wall carrying his team toward the top of the East standings.
“If we make shots, he’d have 20 assists every game,” Morris said. “He’s a great player, top point guard to me. He leads us and we just follow his footsteps.”
Of late, Brooks thinks Morris, like Wall, deserves credit for Washington’s resurgence.
“I love him,” the coach said of Morris. “I love how he’s playing. He’s fun to coach. I really think that we have a good team because of what he has done.”