Who is Marcus Morris?
Is he just a moderately effective chucker reminiscent of Charlie Villanueva, or an underrated versatile mismatch-exploiting forward? Is he a guy with a character issue, or a guy who brings the chip on his shoulder to fuel a Bad Boys mentality? Is he the player who was lousy in his first two years in the league, or the one who was pretty effective in the past two? Is he part of the team's long-term future, or just a guy to eat minutes while Stanley Johnson develops? Is he a bargain of a player at just $20 million over the next four years, or someone we'll count the days till we are rid of him?
For a guy with four years of NBA experience and a pretty substantial number of minutes to look at, Morris is quite the enigma.
After the Pistons struck out in free agency when Danny Green stayed with the San Antonio Spurs and DeMarre Carroll's price tag got higher than the Pistons were willing to go, they needed to resort to plan B for small forward. Except, as Keith Langlois laid out after the Morris trade, there wasn't a very clear plan B.
Free agency left few appealing options. Restricted free agents Khris Middleton, Tobias Harris, and Jae Crowder stayed with their teams. Veterans Luol Deng and Jeff Green took their player options. Remaining unrestricted free agents like Iman Shumpert, Corey Brewer, and Al-Farouq Aminu all signed for some pretty crazy money.
So Van Gundy and Jeff Bower opted for the uncertain waters of the trade market. With the Phoenix Suns chasing after LaMarcus Aldridge, they needed to open salary space to offer a max contract. The Pistons took advantage by trading a 2020 second round pick for Morris, Danny Granger, and Reggie Bullock.
After signing a contract extension last season to stay with his twin brother Markieff Morris, Marcus wasn't a fan of Phoenix dumping him. But he seems to have embraced his new franchise having regularly sported Detroit Bad Boys gear over the summer.
2014-15 Year in Review
After a breakout season alongside his brother in 2013-14, Morris needed to prove that his performance was legit. He at least accomplished that much.
He didn't shoot quite as well from three point range, which led to a slight drop in his shooting efficiency. He made a slight increase in his mediocre rebounding numbers, though not as much as one would hope considering he seems to have spent more time in the post. But overall, his numbers held steady.
Basketball Reference position estimator tool indicates that Morris spent the majority of his first season at small forward, splitting 56 percent to 43 percent between small forward and power forward. Last year a greater bulk of his time went to power forward and center, with only 31 percent of his time at small forward.
Figures that weigh production by position like Wins Produced preferred his talents at small forward. With .100 indicating an average player, Morris was .127 in 2013-14 when classified as a small forward and .042 in 2014-15 when listed as power forward.
The biggest reason for the drastic difference comes from his lackluster big man numbers. Morris isn't much of a rebounder or shot blocker for his size, but looks more reasonable when compared to the average small forward.
Perhaps the most tantalizing step forward that Morris took last season was as a playmaker. His 10.2 percent assist percentage is quite good for a player his size and age. Reaching that mark also coincided with a nice drop in his turnover numbers, which had been an issue in previous years.
On the flip side though, technical fouls have been an issue. Morris gets an extra note of attention for his temper in part because of how he pairs with his brother, who was second in the league in technical fouls last season. And because the two were charged with felony assault. Individually though, Marcus hasn't been as bad as Markieff. Still, Marcus tied for 11th in the league in techs last season with 9, up from finishing 48th the previous year. It's only a difference of four, and actually fewer than Andre Drummond posted in 2013-14, but worth keeping an eye on.
2015-16 Projected Production
On paper, Morris is in line for a career season. He's slotted to start at small forward, where he thrived in Phoenix. Rookie Stanley Johnson will likely be nipping at his heels for minutes at the three, but the power forward spot is wide open for the long-term. Morris' ability to switch between the positions depending on need could prove extremely valuable.
Morris also brings all of the major skills the Pistons are looking for out of their forward spots. He can shoot from three with decent volume and convert at a decent percent. He's particularly strong off the catch and shoot, which has been a regular feature in Van Gundy acquisitions. His lack of rebounding is less important with one of the best rebounders in the league in Drummond around.
At his best, he could compare reasonably well to Patrick Patterson. That might seem underwhelming, but only because Patterson is pretty underrated. Patterson actually finished 8th in the league among power forwards in Wins Produced last season.
But what about defensively? Well. It's tough to say.
Morris typically posted a reasonably solid defensive rating, and last year his advanced numbers looked fine. He held opposing offensive players to a shade below their season averages and his Synergy numbers were solid. But in 2013-14, that year he spent most of his time at small forward, his numbers are less favorable. He's looked like a solid, physical defender in the preseason, but has also been a foul machine.
Which takes us back to Morris as the enigma. There's a wide gulf in his effectiveness between Marcus Morris at his best and Marcus Morris at his worst. Knocking down 38 percent of his threes, playing tough defense, scoring effectively in a variety of ways, facilitating for his teammates while avoiding turnovers, Morris has done all of these things. But he's also not done all of these things.
We likely won't know which Morris the Pistons have gotten until the dust settles. My guess is that he'll step in to be a solid contributor who fills gaps nicely and ends more nights with double digit scoring than he doesn't. That career season could be in store for Morris, but it is more likely he has another season of incremental improvements here with some drops there.
Perhaps more important than his production will be his role as a tough guy for the Pistons. With a roster filled with reasonably nice guys, Morris could represent the chip on the shoulder that every team needs.
27 minutes per game, 11 points per game, 54% true shooting percentage, 1.5 threes, 37% three point percentage, 4.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1 steal