That's Pretty Interesting: Is Marcus Morris helping or hurting the Clippers?

Internet Sports 2020-08-01 12:57:16

Marcus Morris didn't score a single point for the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday. The forward missed all four of the shots he took in 19 minutes against the Los Angeles Lakers in the second "seeding game" on reopening night, hardly showing himself to be the difference-maker he was meant to be when the Clippers traded a first-round pick for him at the trade deadline.

To blame Morris alone for the Clippers' 103-101 loss would be foolish. They collectively sleepwalked through much of the evening, and they were without Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams. Patrick Beverley played just 16 minutes off the bench. Landry Shamet shot 1 for 8 and missed all five of his 3s. Amir Coffey got five minutes of run. But in a game that came down to the last possession, in which both teams scored less efficiently than the worst offensive team in the NBA, the Clippers could have used something from Morris, whom the Lakers also attempted to pry from the wretched New York Knicks in February.  

And what of the fact that, in the Clippers' third most recent game -- OK, this was 145 days ago -- Morris scored just one point on 0-for-9 shooting, including seven missed 3s, against these same Lakers? Hey, Russ, what do you think?

Twice in the second half of Thursday's game, Morris made me yell at the TV. Right after halftime, he decided to go one-on-one with Anthony Davis instead of swinging the ball to Paul George, and he traveled as he put the ball on the floor. A few minutes into the fourth quarter, he tried (and tried and tried) to create separation against LeBron James with the shot clock winding down, and couldn't even get off his wild, contested, foot-on-the-line 2 in time.

In fairness, he was in a tough spot on that second play, and James was guarding him so aggressively that he might have thought he could draw a foul. I would've preferred a pass to Kawhi Leonard, though, and these are the kinds of possessions that have bugged me throughout Morris' brief time in Los Angeles. 

If it wasn't clear the moment he became a Clipper, it was after a loss in Philadelphia in his second game: Morris had to make an adjustment. At the time, I wrote that he made some questionable decisions down the stretch. He was no longer on a lottery team, playing a featured role, so it was alarming to see him isolating against Al Horford and attempting to score over Joel Embiid.

There were moments like that in that 0-for-9 game against the Lakers. He missed two awkward midrange leaners, decided to do a dribble-dance with Davis in the corner for some reason and, perhaps most worrying, hesitated on a couple of open looks. In new or uncomfortable roles, players tend to overthink. 

That stuff, however, only accounted for a few possessions. If you are signing up for the best parts of the Morris experience, you accept ill-advised shots here and there. Morris' ugly stat line made headlines, but it wouldn't have been a story had he just made two or three of these looks, which ranged from fine to wide open:

In Orlando, none of Morris' shots can be credibly called bad, even if you quibble with him turning a corner 3 into a pull-up from 15 feet in the fourth quarter. Morris played like a role player, which is what he is now, and sometimes role players go scoreless when their clean looks happen to go in and out. Aside from the two aforementioned turnovers, the most criticism I can muster is that he got himself in foul trouble quickly and only managed 19 minutes. 

It is easy to concern-troll the Clippers here. Most analysts expect them to see the Lakers in the conference finals, and Morris has missed all 13 shots he has taken in this matchup. Writing this off to randomness would be simpler were he not misfiring against everybody else, too: In 13 games with the Clippers, Morris has an Antoine Walker-esque true shooting percentage of 46.4 percent. According to NBA.com, he has shot 23.5 percent on "open" 3s (with the defender 4-6 feet away) and 26.7 percent on "wide-open" 3s (6-plus feet). He has shot poorly from deep, both spotting up and shooting off the dribble. (But he's been making his long 2s!)

After playing the best basketball of his life in New York's cramped system, Morris joined a team with superstars and modern-day spacing and he turned into one of the least-efficient players in the league. 

How much does this matter, though, when the Clippers have been scoring as if they are the best team in the history of the NBA with Morris on the court? According to Cleaning The Glass, they have outscored opponents by 15.1 points per 100 possessions in his non-garbage-time minutes, with an outrageous offensive rating of 117.1. Morris hasn't been the best version of himself with Los Angeles, but opponents still treat him as a shooter. This seems much more significant than some putrid percentages in a small sample. 

All of this adds up to … honestly, I don't know. If you're inclined to believe that, when the Clippers find themselves in a high-stakes playoff game, Morris is likely to miss open shots and hijack possessions that could have otherwise gone to Leonard and George, there is evidence that points in that direction. If you're optimistic that his shooting slump will end and the threat he presents is all that matters, there is evidence for that, too. (Last season, he shot the lights out until mid-January, then went cold for months and caught fire again in the postseason.) 

My main takeaway on Thursday was that the Clippers didn't even play well but should've probably won anyway. Another takeaway: Morris didn't shoot any midrange leaners and mostly stayed out of the way. Progress!  

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