Going into this season, NBA and Laker sophomore Darius Morris remained a question mark for Los Angeles. After being drafted as the 41st pick out of Michigan in the 2011 NBA Draft by the Lakers, Morris received little playing time from Mike Brown during his rookie campaign. While LA struggled at the point guard position consistently last year, the little time Morris did get left the coaching staff and the fans unimpressed.
Morris earned a reputation for being an over-dribbler, somewhat of a turnover machine, a less than impressive defender and a poor shooter. Despite leading the team in points per game during the NBA Summer League, Morris entered training camp with a probable 4th spot at the point guard position behind Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Chris Duhon. The question mark of where he would be placed in the rotation and if he would be sent down to the D-League became bigger.
The thing about basketball and all sports for that matter, is there will always be a chance for a player to prove his or her worth. It becomes up to the player to seize that moment and make the coach realize your value. This is exactly what Jordan Hill did last year in the closing week of the regular season. In a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Hill got his chance from Mike Brown, recorded a double-double in one of the most entertaining games of the season and earned a future role off the bench.
This was the best thing to happen for Jordan Hill as his importance off the Lakers’ bench becomes more evident with each game. Hill has quickly become a fan favorite around Los Angeles and his consistent effort and passion is everything a fan or coach could ask of a player. This is what Morris has been doing, although Hill’s performance has been a more sustained big splash.
With the continued absence of Steve Nash (at least one more week) and with the day-to-day listing of Steve Blake, interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff handed over the starting nod to Morris and new coach Mike D’Antoni seemed to endorse the starting of Morris on Sunday night. Our friends over at Silver Screen & Roll had the following to say about Morris’s recent performance:
Morris’ visible improvement across these few games has been arguably the best unintended side effect of the Nash injury, as he gets at least another week in the rotation until Nash returns. His athleticism and size for the position offer interesting potential and by all accounts, he is capitalizing on it.
Here’s a look at Darius Morris’ averages this season compared to his entire rookie season.
2012-13 Season (eight games played)
TO RATIO: 12.6
2011-12 Season (19 games)
TO RATIO: 22.1
Mike D’Antoni remarked after Friday night’s win over the Phoenix Suns that he was particularly impressed by the defensive pressure that Darius Morris played in the second half after he had been dominated by Phoenix’s Goran Dragic during the first half. This is most likely why D’Antoni supported Morris over Duhon, despite his familiarity with Duhon in the past.
While the Lakers continue to have a problem with speedy points guards, especially in defending the pick-and-roll, Morris has showed signs of being able to stay in front of his man and sticking with every move the offender makes. While his defense, isn’t perfect by any means, the improvement over last season is substantial, especially considering the little playing time he received last season.
According to Synergy Sports Technology, on 55 possessions of defense this season Morris has done well in defending isolation plays and pick-and-roll plays by allowing zero percent of iso shots to go in and only 30.8 percent of pick-and-rolls to score. Defending spot-up and off the ball plays are mediocre for Morris. He continues to struggle to defend off the screen shots, allowing 71.4 percent of those shots to convert. Overall, Morris’ defense has only allowed 36.4 percent of shots to score.
On offense, Morris has done well with spot-up and transition plays as he has done a decent job at moving away from the ball and opening up to knock down perimeter shots, where he has shot for 43.8 percent this season. He has done well in the transition game as well due to his athleticism and speed. Morris has converted 46.7 percent of transition plays so far. While he hasn’t posted good numbers as a pick-and-roll handler (only 25 percent of his pick-and-roll possessions have scored), I expect this to change after some time under the helm of D’Antoni and with the teaching of Steve Nash.
Morris is also getting more comfortable on the court as is evidenced by his nearly cut in half turnover ratio this year compared to last. He over-dribbles less and is starting to recognize the pass for a high percentage opportunity. An example of this is shown in the below video from Friday night. Kobe Bryant remarked after Sunday’s game how Morris is playing with a great deal of maturity and is doing well on defense.
The bad news for Morris is the reality that once Steve Blake and then Steve Nash return to the lineup he will return to the bench. However, the good news for Morris is that as long as he continues to hold his own and consistently improve his performance each minute he is given a chance, the less his presence will be ignored by the coach.
Morris will continue to receive an increased amount of playing time for at least another week with Steve Nash out. D’ Antoni has already reported said that he would continue to give Morris minutes after the Steves return. If he plays his cards right, he could turn his bench-warmer status into a role player status.