Add Markieff Morris’ name to the list of former Jayhawks who have won an NBA title.
His place as the 13th former Kansas basketball player to win a world championship became official Sunday night, when Morris and the Los Angeles Lakers knocked off the Miami Heat, 106-93, in Game 6 of the NBA Finals in Orlando.
Morris, who scored three points and grabbed two rebounds in Sunday’s lopsided victory, played a much bigger role throughout the rest of the series, averaging 7.5 points and 3.3 rebounds while shooting 40% from 3-point range in 21 minutes per game during the Finals.
He becomes the fifth Kansas player from the Bill Self era to win a title — joining Mario Chalmers, Sasha Kaun, Brandon Rush and Wayne Simien — and is the first since Kaun helped Cleveland win it all in 2016.
Kaun's title, of course, was with LeBron James on the squad. As were the two that Chalmers won in Miami.
In addition to joining KU’s all-time list of NBA champions, Morris now becomes part of the fun fact that Kansas fans like to throw around about James, who has won four titles with former Jayhawks on his roster and none without a Jayhawk on his team.
“The type of leaders that we have on this team is unreal,” Morris said in his postgame meeting with the media, speaking specifically about James. “I knew this moment was going to come with leaders like that, and it’s a dream come true.”
As he sat at the podium taking questions from reporters, Morris had a cigar in his left hand and a gold-plated bottle of champagne in his right.
Between puffs and sips, Morris was asked if winning an NBA title was everything he ever thought it would be. His answer was simple: “Yes it was, man.”
“We had a goal, and we knew that we were going to accomplish this goal,” he said. “And we played extremely hard (and) just went and took it tonight.”
KU coach Bill Self told the Journal-World on Monday afternoon that he exchanged text messages with Morris after the Lakers' victory, adding, "He was excited."
The feeling was mutual.
"It means a ton for our guys to be a part of championship teams," Self said. "He was a great pick-up for the Lakers and that was a special team playing (Sunday) night."
Jayhawks to win an NBA title
Clyde Lovellette – 1954 with Minneapolis and 1963 and 1964 with Boston
~ On Sunday, Lakers point guard Rajon Rondo joined Lovellette as the only two players in NBA history to win titles with Boston and Los Angeles ~
Maurice King – 1960 with Boston
Wilt Chamberlain – 1967 with Philadelphia and 1972 with the Los Angeles Lakers
Jo Jo White – 1974 and 1976 with Boston
Bill Bridges – 1975 with Golden State
Wayne Simien – 2006 with Miami
Jacque Vaughn – 2007 with San Antonio
Paul Pierce – 2008 with Boston
Scot Pollard – 2008 with Boston
Mario Chalmers – 2012 and 2013 with Miami
Brandon Rush – 2015 with Golden State
Sasha Kaun – 2016 with Cleveland
Markieff Morris – 2020 with the Los Angeles Lakers
For the second consecutive game in the NBA Finals, former Kansas forward Markieff Morris played a key role in the Los Angeles’ Lakers game plan.
Tuesday night, during the Lakers’ 102-96 win over Miami in Game 4 of the Finals, Morris topped the 20-minute mark for the second time in the series and also was on the floor for much of the fourth quarter and in crunch time.
As a result, Morris is now one win away from becoming the 13th former Jayhawk to win an NBA title.
Morris played a playoff-best 30 minutes off the bench in the win, scoring nine points on 2-of-8 shooting (2-of-7 from 3-point range) while knocking in three critical free throws on a heady play that drew a foul on an attempted 3-pointer midway through the fourth quarter.
The Philadelphia native also added three rebounds and two assists in the victory.
For the second game in a row, Morris played far more minutes than starting big man Dwight Howard, who logged just eight minutes in Tuesday’s victory.
Morris was on the floor a lot of the time with both LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and his ability to live on the perimeter and spread the floor allowed the Lakers to have an additional offensive option without crowding the middle and taking room away from James and Davis to do what they do.
As a result, Morris and his teammates are now just one win shy of bringing home a world championship — the first for Morris, the fourth for James and the fourth with James teaming with a former Kansas star.
What a year it’s been for the Morris twins. In addition to Marcus Morris having his jersey retired at Allen Fieldhouse and joining the Los Angeles Clippers’ push for a playoff run midway through the season, Markieff Morris now sits one win away from bringing a ring to the family.
Not bad for a couple of NBA vets who started the 2019-20 season with the New York Knicks and Detroit Pistons.
Game 5 is set for 8 p.m. Friday night in Orlando, Fla.
The Miami Heat cut the NBA Finals lead of the Los Angeles Lakers to 2 games to 1 with a 115-104 victory on Sunday night in Game 3.
But former Jayhawk Markieff Morris was not to blame for the Lakers failing to take control of the series.
In his best night in the NBA bubble, the 6-8 forward from Philadelphia delivered 19 points off the bench on 6-of-13 shooting, including 5-of-11 from 3-point range.
Morris’ 5-of-11 clip from behind the arc was a career best in the postseason, topping his previous high for 3-point makes in a game of four, which came twice in these playoffs during the Lakers’ 4-1 series victory over Houston.
Morris logged 25 minutes in Game 3 and also added 6 rebounds and 2 assists to his stat line, finishing as the second highest scoring Laker behind LeBron James.
Morris is now shooting 44.8% from 3-point range in the 2020 playoffs, including a ridiculous 47.4% from deep in the NBA Finals.
His minutes on Sunday were up from his postseason average of 16 largely because of the foul trouble that Lakers’ star Anthony Davis found himself in early in the game.
But Morris still logged more minutes than starting big man Dwight Howard (15) and played over fellow L.A. veteran Javale McGee entirely.
Morris’ ability to move on the perimeter and space the floor appears to be working better against the Heat’s lineup, and his ability to get hot from 3-point range has proven huge in helping the Lakers keep up with Miami’s 3-point attack.
The Lakers and Heat will play pivotal Game 4 on Tuesday night, with Morris’ team looking to go up 3-1 and Miami looking to even the series at two wins apiece.
Markieff Morris in the 2020 NBA Finals
Former Kansas forward Markieff Morris filled his typical playoff role on Friday night in helping the Los Angeles Lakers build a 2-0 lead over Miami in the NBA Finals in Orlando.
In 16 minutes off the bench, the 6-foot-8 forward from Philadelphia scored 6 points on 2-of-5 shooting and grabbed 5 rebounds to go along with 2 assists and 3 fouls in the Lakers’ 124-114 win.
Morris has now played in all 17 of the Lakers playoff games. He is averaging just over 17 minutes per game and is vying to become the 13th former Jayhawks to win an NBA title.
The former lottery pick who was signed by Los Angeles in February after starting the season and playing 44 games with Detroit is shooting 49.3% from the floor and 44.7% from 3-point range in the playoffs.
The Lakers and Heat will tip off Game 3 of this year’s Finals at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, when Miami will look to make it a series and the Lakers will attempt to take total control.
Sunday’s game will be on ABC.
The Los Angeles Lakers are now just three victories away from winning a world title and that means former Jayhawk Markieff Morris is closing in on becoming the 13th Kansas player to win an NBA ring.
Morris has delivered a mixed bag of moments throughout the Lakers’ run this postseason, putting together some big games at times and hardly being used at others.
In Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Wednesday night, the former lottery pick played 18 minutes off the bench and tallied eight points, three rebounds and an assist in a Los Angeles blowout.
By now, most everyone knows the story of LeBron James’ connection to a couple of former Jayhawks.
The Lakers superstar, who is 3-6 in nine previous trips to the NBA Finals, has had a former KU player on his roster for each of the three titles he already has won — Mario Chalmers in 2012 and 2013 and Sasha Kaun in 2016.
If the Lakers finish the job against Miami, Morris would become the fourth and that no doubt would draw some national attention and probably another mention from James himself during one of the celebrations.
It was during the Cleveland Cavaliers’ parade in 2016 that James revealed that it was a text message from Chalmers that reminded him of the importance of Kansas Jayhawks in his championship runs.
There is still work to do, of course. And James himself said after Wednesday’s Game 1 win that he was not satisfied with the way his team played, particularly in the fourth quarter.
But the Lakers overpowered the Heat in the middle two quarters and appear to be well on their way to a fourth straight series win in these playoffs and the franchise’s 17th NBA title all-time, which would tie them with the Boston Celtics for the most ever.
For his part in the journey, Morris is now averaging 5.4 points and 2.8 rebounds per game in 16 appearances in this year’s playoffs.
In addition to averaging 17.1 minutes per game, the 6-foot-8 Philadelphia native is shooting 50% from the floor (33-for-66) and 45.2% from 3-point range (19-for-42) in the 2020 NBA playoffs.
Game 2 with the Heat is set for 8 p.m. Friday night.
The NBA held its annual drawing to determine the lottery order for this year’s draft on Thursday night.
And while the time and events leading up to the 2020 draft have been drastically different from the past, the unveiling of the draft order brings about a feeling of normalcy within the process.
While neither of them has any dreams about going No. 1 overall to Minnesota or even in the lottery later this year, former Jayhawks Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson now have a slightly better understanding of what their futures might hold and what teams might be interested in drafting them.
Throughout the past 18 months, Azubuike and Dotson have been on a wild ride up and down mock draft boards across the country.
At times, both have been projected as first-round picks by at least one prognosticator. At other times, mostly before their stellar 2019-20 seasons, both were buried deep in the second round. And still there were moments when neither player appeared in a handful of mock drafts out there.
That’s no longer the case, as the 2019-20 season and the work they’ve done since it ended has elevated both players into potential Top 40 status in the draft, which will take place in October this year instead of June because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
No one knows exaclty what will happen on draft night, of course. And it’s still possible that both former Jayhawks could wind up as first-round picks or could both go in the second round.
But now that we have an order and we actually know what teams are picking where, the mock drafts start to carry a little more weight.
It remains to be seen if there will be any kind of pre-draft combine this year, virtual or otherwise. If there is, both Azubuike and Dotson will be a part of it. But even if there’s not, both players have done enough work to paint themselves in a favorable light for the NBA teams looking for their next immovable big man or lightning-quick point guard.
KU coach Bill Self said a couple of months ago that the lack of individual workouts and a pre-draft combine could benefit his two All-Americans as much or more than anybody in the country because it would force NBA teams to create their draft boards based on what they already knew and saw from these players before the pandemic arrived.
Whether that’s the way it plays out or not remains to be seen, but it certainly makes sense.
Neither player is a perfect prospect. If they were, we’d be talking about automatic lottery status instead of late first-round. Both have tremendous talent but they also have flaws. But regardless of what skills they do and don’t possess, it seems as if people are starting to see Azubuike and Dotson in a clearer light and looking at them more for what they bring to the table than what they’re lacking.
That has elevated their draft stock throughout the past several months and both could continue to see it rise as we move toward October.
For now, though, let’s take a quick look at some of the immediate reactions from the aftermath of Thursday’s draft lottery drawing.
We’ll start with Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz at ESPN, where the best mock draft in the world is housed.
I talked to Schmitz about both players in Maui last November and he’s come a long way on both of them from what he thought about their NBA futures last November.
Delivering a couple of All-American, No. 1 overall seed type seasons has a way of doing that.
Here’s part of a recent interview Schmitz did with Dotson about his jump to the NBA.
Speaking of that mock draft, ESPN currently has Dotson going as the No. 35 overall pick — fifth pick of the second round — to the Sacramento Kings.
It’s not impossible to picture Dotson jumping up six spots and sneaking his way into the first-round between now and October. But this is the slot where he has been pretty consistently ranked since the end of his college career.
The Sporting News, however, has Dotson listed as the 24th best overall prospect in the 2020 draft, proving that anything is possible.
That’s not to say they’re projecting that he will be drafted No. 24 overall by Milwaukee, but they don’t see 24 better players than Dotson, regardless of team or needs.
Team needs play a big role in ESPN’s current projection for Azubuike.
Givony and Schmitz currently have Dok slotted at No. 30 overall to Boston, with the last pick of the first round.
The blurb on this pick reads: “When Al Horford walked, the Celtics experimented by turning to undersized Daniel Theis to start at center. Danny Ainge might look to add a different dimension to the frontcourt in Azubuike, a unique physical presence with at 270 pounds with a 7-foot-8 wingspan and 9-foot-4 standing reach.”
Azubuike’s age (20), legit size and ability to move, which he showed off better than ever during his senior season at Kansas, are all attractive traits for teams looking to add a player with the potential to dominate down low without being a liability on the perimeter.
The Sporting News lists Azubuike as the 39th best prospect available in this year’s draft, continuing to push that flip-flop reality that these two have faced throughout the past year.
They battled for team MVP and Big 12 Player of the Year honors. And they have seemed to be on opposite sides of the line in most mock drafts throughout the past several months, with one projected in the late first round and the other in the early second.
It will be interesting to see where they end up, and, of course, how they’re pro careers play out.
For what it’s worth, Thursday night or Friday morning mock drafts from CBS Sports, Yahoo Sports, Bleacher Report and Forbes did not have either former Jayhawk listed in the top 30.
The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie has Dotson plugged in at No. 43 overall, with a note saying he sees him going in the 25-45 range, and Azubuike going two picks earlier, at No. 41, to San Antonio.
As we move closer to the Oct. 16 NBA draft, it seems safe to say that their stock continues to rise in NBA circles.
Dallas star Luka Doncic dubs former Jayhawk Devonte’ Graham more deserving of spot among NBA’s Most Improved Player finalists
For months, former Kansas point guard Devonte’ Graham had been touted as a possible, perhaps even likely, candidate for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award this season.
But when the list of finalists came out last week, Graham’s name was not on it.
Instead, the list included three former lottery picks, — Brandon Ingram, Luka Doncic and Bam Adebayo — two of whom were selected in the top five of their respective drafts.
Now, there’s no stipulation that says that lottery picks can’t improve. They can and do all the time.
But most people tend to think of the winners of the NBA’s Most Improved Player award as guys who come out of nowhere a little bit and explode onto the scene the way Graham did for the Charlotte Hornets in his second season in the NBA.
Graham’s numbers were up across the board and he became a bona fide weapon and go-to scorer for the Hornets while starting 53 of 63 games during the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season.
Doncic, who is the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year and trending toward becoming one of the league’s best all-around players, certainly seems to fall in that camp who believes a player’s emergence from unexpected territory should put them on this list more easily than a star shining even brighter.
In an interview with Dallas Morning News beat writer Brad Townsend after the list came out, Doncic even lobbied for Graham. Townsend shared the brief exchange on Twitter.
“Who votes in this,” Doncic asked Townsend.
“Well, 100 of us, including me,” Townsend replied.
“Take me off the list and put Devonte’ Graham on there,” Doncic answered. “I don’t deserve to be on there.”
Whether that last part is true or not is up to Townsend and the 99 other voters for the award.
In the interest of full disclosure, Townsend revealed that he voted Doncic second on his MIP ballot, with Adebayo taking the top spot.
But there’s no denying that Doncic did improve. After one of the strongest rookie seasons in recent NBA history, the young star bumped his numbers up significantly in all three major statistical categories — from 21.2 to 29.0 points per game; from 7.8 to 9.4 rebounds per game; and from 6.0 to 8.8 assists per game.
Graham, meanwhile, saw his numbers jump from 4.7 points, 1.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game as a rookie to 18.2 points, 3.4 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game in Year 2.
Put another way, Graham improved his scoring and assist totals by roughly 300% and his rebounding by nearly 150% while Doncic’s numbers jumped by 37% in scoring, 21% in rebounding and 47% in assists.
That’s not to say this debate should come down to which player is better or had the better year. Graham appears to be well on his way to carving out a nice career while Doncic appears to headed toward becoming one of the best players in the world.
But it was cool to see Doncic recognize and say what a lot of fans already believed about the award – that it should go to rising talents not mega superstars.
Here’s a quick look at the last five Most Improved Player award recipients:
2019 – Pascal Siakam, Toronto – The versatile forward more than doubled his scoring average and started 79 games for the world champions, one year after starting just five games in his second year in the league.
2018 – Victor Oladipo, Indiana – Started every game he played and led the league in steals per game while bumping his scoring from 16 points to 23 per game and improving his shooting percentages across the board.
2017 – Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee – In Year 4 of his career, the eventual NBA MVP averaged 23 points, 8.8 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game for Milwaukee, showing improvement in all three categories for the fourth consecutive season.
2016 – CJ McCollum, Portland – His jump is the closest in recent years to what Graham did this season. McCollum pushed his scoring average from 6.8 points per game to 20.8 while averaging 4.3 assists per game, up from one per game the season before. He also became one of the better 3-point shooters in the league, knocking in 42% of his triples.
2015 – Jimmy Butler, Chicago – Led the league in minutes played (38.7 per game) while bumping his scoring average from 13 per game to 20 per game.
It took less than 30 seconds of KU’s second game of the 2019-20 season for freshman Jalen Wilson’s focus for Year 1 to shift from finding a way to get minutes to finding a way to get healthy.
And Wilson, who is expected to return to KU’s campus this weekend for COVID-19 testing and the start of team workouts next week, believes he did exactly that.
Talking this spring on a Facebook Live video hosted by Jabari Johnson, founder of The Heads Up Foundation in Texas, which aims to mentor young people through sports and education, Wilson detailed how the broken ankle he suffered early in KU's home opener last November made him a better player.
“Just being able to learn and sit back and watch (was so valuable),” Wilson said. “I feel like you learn a lot more when you’re not playing, and (you’re) able to see mistakes that other people are making.”
No stranger to being hit by the injury bug, Wilson said his past experiences helped him get through the disappointment of not being able to play at Kansas during his freshman year.
Before coming to KU, Wilson broke his foot during one of his AAU seasons and he also has dealt with other less-severe injuries throughout his career. All of them, he said, helped him approach the 2019-20 season, which featured more rehab and fewer rebounds, with the right mindset.
“I’ve always had setbacks,” Wilson said. “And I’ve always found a way to get around them. I just took this one like this is the next one that’s going to happen in life. It ain’t always perfect, so I just tried to find positive out of it. I got hurt. So now I get to sit back and really watch basketball and break down film that I usually haven’t done.”
Wilson said his growth as a player extended to the role of become a better teammate and supporting the Jayhawks from the bench and throughout practice.
Toward the end of the season, when he was cleared to return to practice, Wilson was able to combine the two approaches and find new ways to help the team that he never knew were possible.
“If I can’t play, I might as well find another way to impact the team,” he said recalling his approach. “I just tried to be a good guy, a good teammate, (show) spirit. Times are tough always in games, so I just tried to be that guy that could talk anybody through anything.”
It wasn’t just the mental side of things that benefited from Wilson’s year off.
“I believe that my leg came back stronger,” he said, adding that he learned how to focus more on nutrition and proper conditioning while he was unable to play five-on-five.
Now that he can again, he’s eager to return to Lawrence to get back to work with his Jayhawk teammates.
“I was learning a lot coming off my injury,” Wilson said. “And I’ve just got to pick it up whenever we get the chance to get back on the court.”
Marcus Morris played the most minutes. But Markieff Morris got the victory.
The NBA is back and opening night of the league’s restart in Orlando on Thursday featured a matchup of former Jayhawks in the second game of a doubleheader on TNT.
While players named LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George may have gained more of the national attention, it was the Morris twins who Jayhawk fans were likely watching.
You had to be paying attention at just the right time to catch Markieff’s time on the court. The newest Lakers reserve played just three minutes and did not record a single stat in his team’s 103-101 victory.
That may change as things progress and Markieff gets more familiar with the Lakers’ system, personnel and coaching staff. But, at least right now, it looks as if he’s plugged in as quality insurance behind big men Javale McGee, who started and played 11 minutes, and Dwight Howard, who played 13 minutes off the bench.
Remember, the Lakers do still have Davis and James, who both can play multiple front court positions.
Marcus Morris, however, appears to be a bigger part of the Clippers’ puzzle. He started Thursday night and played 19 minutes while being one of just two Clippers players with a double-digit, positive plus/minus number (+10).
Foul trouble played some role in Marcus logging just 19 minutes, (he even recorded the first technical foul of the NBA's restart late in the first half) but he also was playing just his 13th game with the Clippers, so there’s still a bit of a feeling-out process going on there, as well.
Marcus missed all four shots he attempted — including an 0-of-3 clip from 3-point range — and grabbed three rebounds, dished one assist and turned it over twice in the loss.
Three more former Jayhawks will jump back into action today, when Josh Jackson and the Memphis Grizzlies face Portland at 3 p.m. (NBA TV), Cheick Diallo and the Phoenix Suns take on the Washington Wizards at 3 p.m. (no TV) and Ben McLemore and Houston square off with Dallas at 8 p.m. on ESPN.
The Charlotte Hornets have come up with a unique way to conjure up support for Devonte’ Graham’s candidacy for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award.
In a word — sugar.
The Hornets recently sent out a mailer to voters called “S’More Graham,” which included graham crackers, mini Hershey chocolate bars, marshmallows and all of the information one might need to vote for Graham for this year’s MIP award.
Each of the items featured a cartoon image of Graham or his head on them and the space reserved for nutritional information on the side of the box instead had Graham’s stats from his rookie season and the 2019-20 season, which clearly showed massive improvement across the board.
The campaign to get Graham the award even includes its own website — www.smoregraham.com — with all of the facts and figures from Graham’s second season, testimonial from media members and NBA coaches and highlights from Graham’s breakout season.
The site even includes an infomercial-style video that automatically loads when you visit, with one of the Hornets’ hype men touting the season’s most exciting recipe.
There’s no debating that Graham had a fantastic season and is worthy of consideration for the annual honor. Many of the projections I’ve seen from those who cover the league do not indicate that he’s going to win it.
But if he doesn’t, it won’t be because of a lack of support from the franchise for which he now stars.
The Hornets did everything they could to push Graham for the honor, just like the former Jayhawk did everything he could to push Charlotte to victory during the 2019-20 season.
Here are a few of the comments from NBA coaches, and one NBA player, who praised Graham’s play this season.
“They’re putting the ball in his hands and allowing him to be the go-to guy. He’s putting points on the board. He has really deep range, as far as his shot and his ability, being crafty and getting to the free throw line. That’s a challenge because you have to get up on him but he knows how to draw the foul and create contact and get to the free throw line.”
— Nate McMillan, Indiana Pacers
“What a steal for Charlotte to get a kid that’s a proven winner and has played at an elite level pretty much his whole career.”
— Lloyd Piece, Atlanta Hawks
“Obviously the shooting is really, really good, but I like his compete level. I think he is a very aggressive player on both ends of the floor. Obviously he has speed, but the shooting, I don’t know whether he was watching Kemba (Walker) or where that came from, but he’s tough in that pick-and-roll. If you don’t go over, he’ll make you pay.”
— Kenny Atkinson, Brooklyn Nets
“I’ve always been such a huge fan of Devonte’. The one thing that always stood out to me was his pace from day one. When he stepped in the building, he had great pace and poise. That’s a skill. He’s able to use it now to really get his shots off, which he’s shooting the ball amongst the best. It’s really fun to watch. I got a chance to be around him and see the work that he put in and the hard work is paying off.”
— Former Charlotte teammate Kemba Walker, now with the Boston Celtics