When Boston’s Marcus Morris and Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton started leaning into each other with a little more oomph while jockeying for position and barking back and forth even louder than normal during a playoff matchup Tuesday night it wasn’t because the two had grown sick of each other less than two games into a best-of-seven series.
According to Morris, the chippy nature of their encounter, which culminated with Morris fouling Middleton hard on a drive to the paint in the second half, dates back to their days in the Big 12.
"I've been competing with Khris since college, when we used to kick they ass in Kansas," Morris told The Republican after the Celtics’ victory, referring to Midleton’s days at Texas A&M. "He's a good player. No hard feelings, but I'm coming to play. I know he is. We're gonna go back and forth."
Apparently it didn’t take much for Middleton, now the Bucks’ second-best scorer, behind Giannis Antetokounmpo, to rub Morris the wrong way. Their paths only crossed three times during their college careers. KU and Morris went 2-0 versus A&M in 2010, when Morris was a sophomore and Middleton was a freshman. They met up just once the following year, and KU defeated the Aggies, 64-61, at Allen Fieldhouse, in 2011. As a junior, Morris scored 13 points in his home finale. Middleton, then a sophomore, scored 9 in defeat.
The two actually have squared off far more often as pros. While Middleton (15.1 points per game, 39.1% 3-point shooting through six seasons) has enjoyed a more successful career, Morris (11.2 career scoring average, 35.7% 3-point shooter) continues to get the best of his old college adversary in the NBA.
Per basketball-reference.com, Morris’ teams have gone 8-5 versus Middleton’s in the regular season since the two began squaring off in 2012-13, Middleton’s rookie year. Middleton has out-scored Morris 16.9 points per game to 13.0 in those meetings, though, and shot 54.5% from the floor, compared to 46% for Morris.
More importantly for the former Kansas standout, he now possesses a 2-0 record against the former Aggie in the playoffs. Middleton is averaging 28.0 points per game and hitting 4.5 3-pointers a game against Boston, but Morris (19.5 points per game, 50% 3-point shooting) plays for a more balanced team and heads to Milwaukee with Boston up 2-0 in the series.
“I expect it to be a hostile environment,” Morris predicted of Game 3, at Milwaukee, “especially with me. I'm ready for it. Going in same attitude, like I'm in Boston.”
The Celtics’ current sixth man, Morris played 30 minutes off the bench on Tuesday, scoring 18 points on 5-for-11 shooting, while providing 5 boards and an assist.
His fiery, sometimes physical, play provides even more, though. Just after Morris fouled Middleton late in the game and members of both teams kept that duo separated as they yelled unpleasantries at each other, Morris turned to the Boston crowd and waved his hands upwards, imploring them to get even louder. They predictably obliged.
“I’m trying to make tough plays,” Morris said, “and be that spark.”
Under other circumstances Boston would not need much production out of Marcus Morris in order to advance in the NBA Playoffs.
But injuries to the two best players on the roster, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, mean it’s all hands on the parquet floor for the Celtics, and Morris, the group’s current sixth man, is as crucial to the team’s longevity this spring as anyone.
Although the former Kansas standout has been in the league since 2011, Boston’s Sunday meeting with Milwaukee marked just the fifth playoff game of Morris’ career. Even so, the 6-foot-9 forward’s savvy play and late-game baskets proved vital to a 113-107 overtime victory.
Game 1 of the opener might not have got to OT without Morris’ crunch-time play. In the final five minutes of regulation, Morris drove for a successful reverse layup, later tipped in his own miss, fed Terry Rozier for a 3-pointer, hit a contested step-back jumper and drew a charge on Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo.
A sub in name only, Morris played 35 minutes as a reserve, essentially serving as the fifth starter, instead of center Aaron Baynes, who logged 15 minutes.
With 21 points on 8-for-20 shooting, Morris nearly out-scored Milwaukee’s entire bench (23), and joined Al Horford, Rozier and Jaylen Brown as 20-point scorers for the Celtics. Morris also grabbed 7 boards and connected on 2 of his 4 3-pointers.
“We all played well,” Morris said during an on-court post-game interview. “They played a good game, but we got Game 1.”
Horford gave Morris more credit when asked if Boston needs that type of production out of the stretch-forward consistently.
“No question,” Horford replied. “He brings toughness to our group. He brings that grit and we fed off of that and the crowd fed off of it and it was great.”
Ahead of his playoff debut as a Celtic, Morris told the Boston Globe he thought outsiders might overlook the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed due to the absence of Irving and Hayward.
“I’m looking forward to proving everybody wrong,” Morris said before Boston took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. “Everybody is counting us out and that’s the main thing. This (is) about respect, and I feel we’re not getting any respect. We’re going to have to take it.”
While many NBA observers actually liked Boston’s chances versus the Bucks in spite of the team’s injuries, Morris’ personal postseason mentality can’t waver, or the Celtics’ playoff run won’t go far.
“I’m going to go out there and continue to be me, continue to be a bulldog, help my team do whatever it takes to win,” Morris said. “If we play the right way, I think we’ve got a great shot at beating (Milwaukee).”
And if Morris keeps finding ways to get to the rim and making big plays in the clutch, Boston just might be able to reach the East finals for the second year in a row.
For six of the 15 former Kansas basketball players employed by NBA franchises, the conclusion of the regular season’s 82-game grind also meant the end of their hopes of competing for a title, at least for this year.
But nine other Jayhawks, embarking on the 2018 playoffs this weekend, discovered better fortune.
While some one-time KU stars are just along for the ride on teams that call upon them sparingly, a few who used to shine in Allen Fieldhouse will need to produce in the postseason — most notably two of the top three picks in the 2014 NBA Draft, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid.
Here’s a look at the Jayhawks still alive for the league’s 2018 championship and what roles they will play in the weeks ahead.
Marcus Morris — Boston
For some, springtime means giving up a form of personal vice for Lent. This April, and maybe beyond, Marcus Morris plans to give up two for the playoffs. Or so he claims.
The pledge which the 6-foot-9 Boston forward schemed second seems more manageable than the first. On the final day of the regular season, Morris proclaimed on Twitter he would shut down his account until after the postseason. The vow came complete with a “locked in” hashtag and a reference to the pending “money time” ahead.
As for the other oath, ejections from two separate games in the season’s final weeks prompted Morris to focus on better behavior moving forward.
"Going in the playoffs, it’s nothing to worry about,” Morris said of his technical issues in the foul department. “I promise I won't get any techs — unless we're just getting blatantly cheated. I want my team to win, so I won't put my team in jeopardy or anything like that. But I'll still be passionate about the game."
Morris, who averaged 13.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.3 assists for the Celtics, while shooting 42.9% from the floor and 36.8% on 3-pointers, picked up 10 technical fouls while playing 54 games in his seventh NBA season.
The at-times volatile forward, though, proved crucial to Boston’s late-season success, as the team finished second in the Eastern Conference, despite losing All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving to injury. Morris averaged 18.8 points and shot 46.7% from 3-point range in March, as the Celtics went 9-3 and closed the month on a 6-game winning streak.
“It’s great,” Boston All-Star forward Al Horford said of Morris’ fiery nature, “and the Playoffs bring that out of you even more. We have a lot of guys on this team with an edge and Marcus is just more expressive about his. But we’re happy about that.”
The Celtics play Milwaukee in the first round.
Joel Embiid — Philadelphia
A freak on-court mishap, when rookie guard Markelle Fultz accidentally slammed into his much larger (and more important) teammate, Joel Embiid, left Philadelphia’s starting center with a fractured orbital bone near his left eye and a concussion.
Embiid missed the final eight games of the regular season as a result and isn’t expected to play in the Sixers’ first playoff game since 2012, coach Brett Brown revealed Friday morning on The Dan Patrick Show.
It’s unclear exactly how soon Embiid will re-join the lineup for Philadelphia’s first-round matchup with Miami, but when he does he will wear a mask for protection. The entertaining center unveiled his new black mask earlier this week during pre-game warm-ups, dubbing himself “The Phantom of The Process”
Philadelphia attained the East’s No. 3 seed by winning its final 16 games of the regular season, but 13 of those came against non-playoff teams. The Sixers need their temporarily disguised face of the franchise back to advance in the playoffs.
In his first campaign without a season-ending injury, Embiid played 63 games and averaged 22.9 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.8 blocks. He’ll almost certainly garner all-defensive team and all-NBA honors. The sooner he returns the better for Philadelphia.
Andrew Wiggins and Cole Aldrich — Minnesota
Perhaps still riding the high of helping Minnesota put an end to a 13-season playoff drought, Andrew Wiggins didn’t sound overly concerned about his team’s chances as a No. 8 seed matched up against the West’s best, Houston, in the first round.
“They’re a great team, best record in the league. But we can beat anybody, and I believe that,” Wiggins told the Star Tribune.
The No. 1 overall pick in 2014, Wiggins’ production dropped off in his fourth season, with the arrival of all-star Jimmy Butler. Wiggins became the clear No. 3 option, behind Butler and big man Karl-Anthony Towns. Wiggins averaged 17.7 points and shot 43.8% from the floor and 33.1% on 3-pointers — down from 23.6 points, 45.2% FGs and 35.6% 3-pointers the year before.
“I mean, I got through it,” Wiggins said, when asked to describe his season, “and it was all about the bigger picture and now we’re in the playoffs.”
The T’wolves have to get Wiggins, Towns and Butler firing on all cylinders to have a shot against Houston, an offensive juggernaut thanks to the versatility of star guards James Harden and Chris Paul.
One player who likely won’t factor into the series’ outcome, is former KU center Cole Aldrich. The Minnesota native appeared in only 21 games during the regular season, logging double-digit minutes just once.
Markieff Morris and Kelly Oubre Jr. — Washington
Missing its would-be all-star point guard for half the season kept Washington from reaching its expected residence in the top half of the Eastern Conference, but Markieff Morris, Kelly Oubre Jr. and their teammates did just enough in John Wall’s absence to keep the Wizards in the playoff hunt.
Fortunately for all of them, the worst teams in the East didn’t put up much of a fight, either. Wall returned on the final day of March, but the Wizards lost five of their last seven in that span. Prior to that they lost six of their last nine without Wall.
All of it added up to a team with talent and promise settling for the No. 8 seed in the East and a first-round meeting with No. 1 Toronto.
Does a Wizards upset seem even remotely feasible? Not the way they’ve played lately. Better-than-average contributions from role players Morris (11.5 points, 5.6 rebounds, 36.7% 3-point shooting) and Oubre (11.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 34.1% 3-point shooting) certainly would help their chances against the best and deepest team the Raptors have ever had.
Cheick Diallo — New Orleans
After his NCAA Tournament debut at KU two years ago, Cheick Diallo marveled at how “easy” it was for him versus Austin Peay. Here’s guessing the 6-9 forward, now with New Orleans, won’t make a similar assessment of the NBA Playoffs as the sixth-seeded Pelicans battle the West’s No. 3 seed, Portland.
Diallo has done relatively well for himself since becoming a second-round draft pick in 2016. He’s not a key member of New Orleans’ rotation by any means, but the reserve typically played between 10 to 15 minutes in competitive games versus playoff-level competition during March and April.
The second-year backup enters his playoff opener having averaged 4.9 points and 4.1 rebounds in 11.2 minutes for a New Orleans team that doesn’t require much help inside due to the presence of superstar Anthony Davis.
Tarik Black — Houston
The good news for Tarik Black is he plays for Houston, which finished with the best record in the NBA (65-17). The bad news is the backup big man doesn’t get much run.
The Rockets’ dominance meant Black started as key players rested in the regular-season finale. The 6-9 post player turned the rare opportunity into a double-double, producing 12 points and 11 rebounds in a loss to Sacramento.
But don’t expect to see nearly as much — if any — of Black as Houston makes its playoff push, beginning with Minnesota in the first round. He did not play a minute in nine of the Rockets’ final 21 games. Black averaged 3.5 points and 3.2 rebounds in 10.5 minutes this season, appearing in 51 games.
Nick Collison — Oklahoma City
The resident old man of KU basketball alumni, 37-year old Nick Collison might not check in for Oklahoma City until a game is all but decided. Not that you would ever hear the 14th-year forward complain.
A favorite of OKC fans and superstar guard Russell Westbrook alike, Collison (5.0 minutes a game this season) remains with the organization for leadership and stability in the locker room. He’ll primarily watch from the bench and interject knowledge when needed as the Thunder take on Utah in the first round.
Whether it comes against the Jazz or later in the playoffs, if it gets to a point where OKC is on the brink of elimination at home, don’t be surprised to see Collison play out the final minutes on the floor. It could be a farewell appearance, as he plans to contemplate retirement once the Thunder’s season ends.
It’s tip-off week in the NBA, and for Kansas basketball fans that means it’s time to catch up with the whereabouts and chances for may former Allen Fieldhouse stars who now call The Association home.
Paul Pierce has retired, Thomas Robinson is playing overseas and Brandon Rush just got waived by Milwaukee. But 16 Jayhawks still appear on the league’s 30 rosters as the 82-game grind commences.
Some former Kansas standouts will be easier to find on national games and streaming highlights than others. To help those who love college basketball far more than the NBA, we decided to rank KU’s current pros, counting down from No. 16 to No. 1, in terms of which players will be the most interesting to follow in the months to come.
Remember, this isn’t a list of who’s best. We’re talking about which players you’ll want to make a point to watch when you see their team is playing on TV (or on your tablet or phone or laptop).
5. Markieff Morris
Now that he and twin brother Marcus have been acquitted of aggravated assault in a case dating back to their old F.O.E. stomping grounds in Phoenix, Markieff Morris can get back to plugging into one of the NBA’s most cohesive starting lineups, in Washington.
A hernia could have the Wizards’ Morris out for another month or so, and guards John Wall and Bradley Beal will be glad to have the 6-foot-10 forward back in the mix when he’s healthy again. In 2016-17, his sixth professional season and first full go-round with Washington, Morris put up 14.0 points on 45.7-percent shooting, and achieved career-highs with 71 3-pointers and 36.2-percent accuracy from downtown, as well as new personal bests of 6.5 rebounds per game and 83.7-percent shooting at the free-throw line.
Morris’ teammates love him for his diverse skill set, but also his toughness and trash-talking. They’ll miss all of those as he watches the first few weeks of the season from the bench. But Morris assured The Washington Post they’ll still hear from him while he rehabs his way back to full health.
“I’m a student of the game already, so I just want to give them input on what I see out there,” Morris said. “Still talk my lil’ [expletive] to the other team.”
4. Marcus Morris
A crazy NBA offseason, filled with waves of transactions and trades, landed Marcus Morris with one of twin brother Markieff’s least favorite opponents, the Boston Celtics.
No, Marcus’s wonder-twin powers haven’t hampered him with hernia sympathy pains for Markieff, but like his brother the Celtics’ Morris begins the season on the mend. Knee soreness kept the former Rocket, Sun and Piston out of Boston’s lineup in its first two games.
It could be a week or two until Morris makes his Celtics debut, according to what coach Brad Stevens told ESPN. Because the Morris twins’ assault trial kept Marcus out for a chunk of training camp, Stevens said the team wants to effectively extend his preseason after the likely starting forward played in just one exhibition.
"I think we're going to be a better basketball team with Marcus available, but he's not," Stevens told ESPN. "We're going to need other people to step up."
Morris made a career-high 118 3-pointers in his final season with the Pistons, but made just 33.1 percent from deep. He averaged 14.0 points, 4.6 boards and 2.0 assists a year ago, and Boston will need even more production from him than expected after all-star Gordon Hayward suffered a horrific leg injury in the season-opener, dislocating his left ankle and fracturing his tibia.
3. Andrew Wiggins
Still just 22 years old with years of upside in front of him, former No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins looks to be fixture in Minnesota’s bright future after signing a five-year, $148 million extension before the season started.
Despite averaging 23.6 points and 4.0 rebounds and making a career-best 35.6 percent of his 3-pointers in his third season, Wiggins often caught flack for not doing more than scoring. He was accused of falling far short of his defensive potential, as a 6-8 wing with the bounce and wingspan to become devastating on that end of the floor.
Now that Wiggins is in his second year in coach Tom Thibodeau’s system and has all-star wing Jimmy Butler to learn from, the young Canadian could be close to making a significant leap as a pro.
Wiggins looked like a surefire NBA-level defender in his one season playing for Bill Self at KU. So far he hasn’t lived up to those expectations. If/when he does and learns how to become a more active rebounder and willing passer, Minnesota will be thankful.
It’s not all going to come together overnight or even over the course of one season. But Wiggins still has the majority of his career ahead of him and the potential — and time — to develop into a special player.
2. Josh Jackson
In a loaded rookie draft class, Josh Jackson was passed over by Philadelphia, the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston. The 6-foot-8 forward might have been too much of a questionable shooter to go in the top three picks, but Jackson also possesses the type of personality that could enable him to spend the rest of his career making those teams regret their decisions.
After one particular preseason display, Phoenix head coach Earl Watson compared the 20-year-old Jackson to the rookie-year version one of the league’s most fiery competitors, now reigning MVP Russell Westbrook.
“Very exciting to watch,” Watson told AZCentral.com. “Shooting the ball great from (3-point range). We knew that would eventually would happen. It’s before we thought it would happen. And sometimes, like Russ, it leads to turnovers. Reminds me of Russ but his future is bright. We want to encourage him to see the game. He moves so fast. Just slow down and make decisions.”
To Watson’s point, Jackson averaged 4.8 turnovers per exhibition in the preseason with a turnover percentage of 27.4% according to RealGM.com. A mature basketball prospect aware of his flaws, Jackson told AZCentral.com he quickly has learned the NBA is “more of a thinking game” than what he encountered in the college ranks.
“A lot of my turnovers have come from not being able to read what the defense is doing and trying to force a play when it wasn’t there,” Jackson said. “You can still play fast while doing all those things at the same time.”
The Suns love Jackson’s awareness and potential, and envision him as a possible future star to pair with young 2-guard Devin Booker. Between his defense, floor vision and ability to create and finish, Jackson’s rookie season figures to be a blast for Phoenix fans to watch, even though his flashes will come on a young team destined to lose a ton of games.
In his NBA debut Wednesday night, Jackson scored11 points on 4-for-10 shooting, to go with two rebounds. He didn’t record a turnover or an assist in a 124-76 home loss to Portland.
1. Joel Embiid
One of the most intriguing players in the league due to his checkered past of injuries and seemingly unlimited potential when he’s actually on the floor, Joel Embiid could be an all-star this year.
Or he could suffer another setback that makes him irrelevant to Philadelphia’s wins and losses. No one knows for sure and that’s a large part of what makes every step of the 7-foot-2 phenom’s story so fascinating.
The guy is a showman and as talented a center as the league may see for years to come. What’s more, even he is sick of the restrictions the 76ers have placed on his availability over the past year-plus as they try to protect their investment.
Prior to his team’s season-opener, with the organization expecting to play Embiid fewer than 20 minutes, the typically happy big called that idea “----ing b------t" a week removed from signing an extension with the Sixers.
Sure enough, Philadelphia trusted “The Process.” Embiid started versus Washington on opening night and played 27 minutes — still a restriction, for certain, but on par with his playing-time plan as a rookie, before his season ended at 31 games. The face of the franchise, in a 120-115 loss, shot 7-for-15 from the floor, scored 18 points, snatched 13 rebounds, dished three assists and blocked a shot.
If Philadelphia — and the NBA as a whole — is fortunate, Embiid will stay healthy enough over the next six months to continue to flourish and maybe even lead a long-suffering franchise back to the playoffs.
When he’s playing, Embiid qualifies as one of the league’s must-watch talents.
As the 82-game, nearly six-month-long marathon known as the NBA regular season begins this week, the league’s 30 team rosters feature 15 players from the University of Kansas.
In order to get KU basketball fans up to speed on what they should expect from the Jayhawks representing their beloved program at the highest level, we decided to rank KU’s current pros, counting down from No. 15 to No. 1, in terms of which players will be the most interesting to follow in the months to come.
We now arrive at the cream of the KU crop. You could argue where each of the following players would fall in the rankings, but these are the five most talented Jayhawks employed by the NBA right now. Remember, this isn’t a list of who’s best, though. We’re talking about which players you’re going to make a point to watch when you see their team is playing on TV (or on your tablet or phone or laptop).
No. 5: Markieff Morris — Washington Wizards
The starting power forward on a team expecting to make the Eastern Conference Playoffs, Markieff Morris seems poised for the best season of his NBA career.
Markieff (angrily) began 2015-16 playing for Phoenix, the organization that had just split him up from twin brother Marcus by trading his sibling away to Detroit. The Suns finally moved Markieff to Washington before the trade deadline this past February, but you got the sense he didn’t quite reach his full offensive capacity with the Wizards in the weeks that followed.
Upon arriving in D.C., Markieff certainly wasn’t bad. He averaged 12.4 points and 5.9 rebounds and shot 46.7% from the floor (far better than his 39.7% in Phoenix in the 37 games leading up to the move). But it’s easy to see him improving upon all his numbers during his upcoming sixth pro season. He’s not entering a team late in a campaign. The Wizards have a new player-friendly head coach in Scott Brooks. Markieff now has a better feel for playing with all-star point guard John Wall and should help the Wizards stretch the floor while center Marcin Gortat plays in the post.
Washington advanced in the playoffs two straight springs before taking a step backward and missing the postseason in 2016. If Markieff makes them better by maximizing his talents he will gain the sort of league-wide respect he has yet to attain.
No. 4: Marcus Morris — Detroit Pistons
You never know how a season will play out, but as 2016-17 begins, it seems Detroit, the team Marcus Morris plays for, is considered more of a sure thing in the East than Washington, current home of his brother, Markieff.
The twins play similar complimentary roles for their respective franchises but Marcus, unlike his bro, enters his sixth year in the league on the heels of his most impressive season since the duo left Kansas. A reserve the vast majority of his time in Phoenix, Marcus became a starter with the Pistons and responded by producing the best numbers of his career: 14.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists. He also shot 43.4% from the floor and made 108 3-pointers (36.2%).
Detroit point guard and leading scorer Reggie Jackson is out with an injury for a few weeks, so Detroit could start slowly, but some around the league think the Pistons could end up being one of the top three teams in the East not named Cleveland. Should Detroit pull that off, Morris’ role in that rise would be hard to ignore.
No. 3: Ben McLemore — Sacramento Kings
Both of the Morris twins are more accomplished in the NBA than Ben McLemore, but the fourth-year shooting guard is entering the most important season of his professional career.
McLemore’s name has come up in Sacramento trade rumors for the past year of so, and that’s a trend that figures to continue in the weeks and months ahead. The Kings, per usual, have a new head coach, Dave Joerger. Just how McLemore fits into Joerger’s plans remains to be seen.
Early signs indicate McLemore, who averaged a career-low 7.8 points in 2015-16, won’t start for Sacramento any more, with Arron Afflalo playing 2-guard on the first unit. Can McLemore thrive as scoring sixth man? Are the Kings just diminishing his role because they plan on trading him away at the first possible chance?
Once next July gets here, McLemore will be a restricted free agent — regardless of which team he suits up for to close the season. So now would be the ideal time to make a leap in production and 3-point shooting (34.6% for his career). Maybe a change in scenery would help him reach that untapped potential.
No. 2: Andrew Wiggins — Minnesota Timberwolves
Already a highlight Vine waiting to happen, third-year wing Andrew Wiggins’ career trajectory should make another explosive leap upward this year as a rising star for the league darling Minnesota Timberwolves.
In his second season, Wiggins broke the 20-point barrier for his scoring average, putting up 20.7 a night, while complimenting future superstar big man Karl-Anthony Towns. We shouldn’t expect him to take that average to 25 this year or anything crazy. But you’d like to see him improve his shooting percentages: 48.6% on 2-pointers last year, and 30% from behind the 3-point line.
Assuming Wiggins can help those numbers out himself through shot selection and just natural improvement through development — the man hasn’t even turned 22 yet — he’s going to become a more dangerous offensive player in Year 3.
Even more fascinating, though, will be the impact new T’wolves head coach Tom Thibodeau has on Wiggins. A defensive guru, Thibodeau could transform the 6-foot-8, high-flying forward into a monster on defense. And the more stops Wiggins and company get on that end, the more chances Minnesota will have to get out in the open floor and finish fast breaks with Wiggins jams.
No. 1: Joel Embiid — Philadelphia 76ers
Forget the qualification of Jayhawks in the league. Rookie center Joel Embiid is one of the most intriguing players in the NBA this season. Period. But you probably knew that before you clicked on this post.
For the love of all things basketball, injuries have deprived us all of watching Embiid’s crazy array of post moves and deft touch for more than two years. We’ve seen glimpses already in the preseason of the promise the big man from Cameroon showed in his abbreviated one-and-done season at Kansas.
Even though Philadelphia has limited Embiid’s minutes early on to make sure his foot problems don’t resurface, the early results have been spectacular.
He’s 7-foot-2. He can handle the ball. He can knock down jumpers. He can protect the rim. He has moves in the post to score over his defender. The potential for Embiid seems limitless. Then again, he should’ve been a rookie two years ago but his body didn’t allow it.
Can Embiid make it through a full season without suffering another major injury setback? If he does, his overall game and confidence will only skyrocket.
The coming months will determine where the Embiid story goes next. If he stays relatively healthy, he has as legit a shot as anyone at winning Rookie of the Year. And the seasons to come just might include all-star appearances, all-NBA teams and carrying a declining franchise back to its former glory.
This past spring, Marcus Morris got his first taste of the NBA Playoffs. Now the Detroit forward wants to make sure his next trip to the postseason will feel more like a feast.
Five years removed from his standout college career at Kansas, Morris finally reached the league’s biggest stage with the Pistons, his third team. The versatile 6-foot-9 forward even played fairly well, averaging 17.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists, while shooting 46.8% from the field and 38.9% from 3-point range.
Those numbers, however, weren’t nearly enough for Morris and Detroit to upset the Eastern Conference’s top seed and distinct favorite, Cleveland.
LeBron James and the Cavaliers, the eventual NBA champions, disposed of the Pistons in four games. The opening-round exit left Morris eager to get back to work immediately during the offseason.
“I really didn’t want to get swept, but it is what it is,” Morris told the Pistons’ website. “I promise you next year, we won’t get swept again. That’s for sure.”
Still just 26, Morris sounds committed to pushing himself during the league’s vacation months in order to advance deeper into the playoffs next spring.
“I thought I prepared better last year, but I think this year, summertime, I’ve gotten into it earlier,” Morris said last week. “I’ve been working right now and I think once we get past that first round next year, I think I’ll feel better.”
In his fifth season — Morris’ first with the Pistons — he put up career-best averages in points (14.1), rebounds (5.1), assists (2.5) and minutes (35.7), while setting new personal marks in free throws attempted (271) and made (203).
Since Detroit’s first playoff appearance in seven years ended in April, Morris said he has spent much of his time working out in his hometown of Philadelphia and nearby Washington, D.C., where his twin brother Markieff now plays.
The Pistons went 44-38 and were seeded eighth in the East, with Morris as a key contributor, along with Reggie Jackson, Andre Drummond, Tobias Harris (acquired before the trade deadline) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Reportedly, Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy appreciated Morris’ ability to hold himself accountable to his teammates.
Now feeling more at home in Detroit, Morris plans to address some personal on-court inefficiencies before the Pistons reconvene for training camp this fall.
“Toward the end of last season, I feel like I fell off a little bit on defense,” Morris said. “I’ve been watching a lot of film and breaking down my shot a lot more. Improving my handle.”
The Pistons, competing in the relatively even playing field of the East (outside of Cleveland), will need all they can get out of Morris to get back to the playoffs or make a jump toward the conference’s upper echelon.
“I’m looking to get better. I feel like I’ve got to go to another level for the team to go to another level,” Morris said.
When Markieff Morris landed in Washington D.C. earlier this season via a trade from Phoenix, it didn’t only mean a better basketball situation for the former Kansas star.
The move also brought the fifth-year power forward much closer to his hometown of Philadelphia and his mother, Thomasine “Angel” Morris.
“It’s a great fit,” Angel said in a special Mother’s Day feature produced by Monumental Sports Network. “I’m from D.C.”
Markieff, now a lot closer geographically to his twin brother and former KU teammate Marcus (of Detroit), as well, agreed the Wizards are a much better fit for him than Phoenix, where he and his brother used to play before their relationship with the organization soured.
“I’m just excited to be able to play in front of my family and perform in front of them,” said Markieff, who averaged 12.4 points and 5.9 rebounds while shooting 46.7% from the field in 27 games with Washington to close the year.
Angel’s support, Markieff explained, played a significant role in shaping the twins’ basketball careers.
“I hope that she’s proud,” Markieff said. “Everything we do is for her. I think she knows that. I just want to make her proud.”
Now that both of her sons play on the east coast, Angel said she tries to attend as many of their home games in Detroit and D.C. as possible.
“I just look at the schedule and figure out where I’m supposed to be,” Angel said. “If there’s a lot of games over there, I go there. If there’s a lot of games here, I go here. And I watch (on) TV in between.”
Of course, Angel, who Markieff described as a “tough lady,” began shaping her sons’ lives long before they became big-time basketball players.
Said Marcus: “Since I got to college she’s been heavy in basketball, but before then she was all about keeping us off the streets, keeping us in school, things like that.”
Just because the 26-year-old twins play in the NBA doesn’t mean they avoid receiving some occasional scolding from their mother. Markieff said she’s always there to encourage them, but also gets on them for any technical fouls they pick up throughout the season.
The twins likely get an earful of ‘What were you thinking?’ from Angel. Marcus had 12 techs this season, while Markieff got whistled for 11.
“Technical fouls, I don’t like,” Angel said. “I fight about (them) all the time.”
The twins’ admiration for their mother is clear — both said a perfect Mother’s Day gift for her might be a Range Rover. Markieff said Angel often leaves an imprint on the lives’ of everyone she meets, not just her sons.
As KU fans remember, that includes Thomas Robinson, whose mother, Lisa, died unexpectedly during the 2010-11 season, while Robinson was teammates with the Morris twins.
Robinson told Monumental Sports Network that Angel stepped in and tried to provide care in whatever way she could when he lost his mother.
“That’s just who she is in general,” Robinson explained. “That’s just her as a person. She meets you right now she’s gonna act like your mom and she’s gonna take care of you and make sure you’re fine.”
According to Marcus, Angel always has been a “team mom” or “community mom” in the twins’ lives.
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Making his NBA Playoffs debut this spring, former Kansas star Marcus Morris isn’t going home without a fight.
A starting forward for Detroit, Morris came out firing in his first professional postseason game, scoring 20 points in a loss to the Eastern Conference’s top seed, Cleveland. And although Morris only managed 11 points in another Pistons loss Wednesday night, he made a statement of sorts by not backing down from one of the best players in league history.
By the time Cleveland secured a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, a clip of LeBron James from Game 2 started making the rounds on Twitter. James, holding his ribs after Morris banged into him down low during the fourth quarter, had some choice words for the Pistons forward.
According to social media lip-reading experts, James could be seen saying of Morris: “I’m gonna [expletive] that [expletive] up.”
Apparently the threat didn’t exactly frighten the 6-foot-9 forward from Philadelphia, who doesn’t mind embracing the old “Bad Boys” image of the late 1980s Pistons.
“I know for a fact he wasn’t talking to me,” Morris said in a report from the Detroit Free Press. “You can quote me on that.”
That wasn’t the only time King James took umbrage with Morris, either. At one point, James gave Morris a dirty look, apparently feeling disrespected by Morris’ decision to leave one of the NBA’s greatest players so open for a 3-pointer.
The eighth-seeded Pistons have a long way to go to turn this into a series, but if they find a way to win a game or two in Detroit don’t be surprised if Morris plays a key role in making that happen.
As ESPN’s NBA expert Zach Lowe said this week on his podcast: “Marcus Morris has been like a flaming volcano for about six weeks.”
That might be going a bit overboard, but Morris did put up some impressive numbers against playoff teams down the home stretch of the season, as Detroit secured the final available postseason berth in the East.
- March 6 vs. Portland: 19 points, 2-for-4 on 3’s
- March 9 at Dallas: 20 points, 7 rebounds, 2-for-3 on 3’s
- March 25 vs. Charlotte: 20 points, 7 rebounds, 3-for-7 on 3’s
- March 29 vs. Oklahoma City: 24 points, 7 rebounds
- April 1 vs. Dallas: 31 points, 12 rebounds, 6-for-8 on 3’s
Morris averaged 16.1 points and 4.5 rebounds in March, while connecting on 50.8% of his 3-pointers. In April regular-season games, he averaged 14.3 points and 6.5 rebounds while making 44.4% from downtown.
After exploding for 19 points in the first half of Game 1 against Cleveland, Morris has cooled off on offense, putting up just 12 total points in the past six quarters of the series. He shot 2-for-10 in Game 2, making just 1 of 5 from downtown.
The Pistons will need Morris to rediscover his scoring touch in the games ahead to keep Detroit alive.
Lucky for them, Morris has the type of personality to remain confident, play with fire and not back down from the NBA’s king. The series continues Friday and Sunday, in Detroit.
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Twin brothers Marcus and Markieff Morris essentially found themselves living the dream. They had reached their boyhood goals of playing in the NBA. Not only that, they were doing so as teammates, with the Phoenix Suns.
It was just like their prep days and their three seasons at Kansas, except on the biggest basketball stage in the world. Pretty choice setup.
However, the Morris twins had no idea when they signed 4-year extensions with the Suns in 2014 neither would be playing with the franchise less than a year-and-a-half later.
As has been well documented, a number of issues in the year-plus that followed led to Phoenix first shipping 6-foot-9 Marcus off to Detroit this past offseason, and then sending 6-10 Markieff to Washington before the trade deadline this past week.
But the twins never have shared their side of the story in as much detail as they did for a story published this week by Bleacher Report. Longtime NBA reporter Ric Bucher provided an in-depth examination of both the Morris’ lives and the behind-the-scenes dealings that left their dream of playing as NBA teammates unsustainable.
Marcus told Bleacher Report there are some widespread misconceptions about his and his brother’s issues with Phoenix breaking up the twin tandem.
“Everybody thinking that we're upset because we don't get to play with each other," Marcus said. "Kieff can't deal with adversity? We're from north Philadelphia. This isn't adversity. This is betrayal."
Bucher reports the twins would prefer to traverse through the NBA as teammates, but the way Phoenix handled the split is actually what left them bewildered.
"What bothers me most are two things," Marcus said. "I sat down with the owner (Robert Sarver) and we agreed guys were going to get paid more (than the twins got — Marcus $5 million/year, Markieff $8 million/year), but they told us, 'Don't get upset, we're a family, we're helping each other.' Everybody in this league is concerned about money. We were looking for stability and the chance to be part of something."
Marcus said he had no issue with Phoenix making a business decision, and moving him to create cap space to pursue 2015 free agent LaMarcus Aldridge. The twins didn’t understand why neither of them heard about the deal until after the fact.
"You build a relationship,” Marcus told Bucher, “you expect certain things."
As the feature details, the Morris twins have thrived by trusting people in basketball through the years, after a mentor took them under his wings to get them started in the sport and playing for Bill Self at Kansas. They assumed the basketball people around them in the NBA would also look out for their best interests, at least somewhat, particularly after they got the sense of a family-like situation in Phoenix.
"For me to sign that contract, I was saying it was about being a part of something," Markieff told Bucher. "A team is more like a family; that's how I grew up. They're not just my teammates."
Bucher also reports the assault charges, which haven’t yet reached trial, on the twins will not hold up, according to “sources close to both the brothers and the (Suns).”
Markieff said he didn’t understand why the Suns didn’t give him and Marcus public support in the matter until the case got settled.
What’s more, former Suns teammates of the Morris twins spoke highly of them to Bleacher Report.
Gerald Green said: ”They're team-first guys. All they care about is the camaraderie."
According to Goran Dragic: ”I had a really good experience with both guys. Everything was fine when I was there. They were professional. Maybe something happened when I left, but I can't comment on that. They're just competitive guys and they want to win."
Of Markieff, P.J. Tucker offered this prior to the trade that sent the leftover twin to the Wizards: "He's one of the best teammates I've ever had. He still talks to guys, he still hangs out. No matter what the media says, he has been as professional as possible."
As fate would have it, Markieff’s first game with the Wizards this past week came against Marcus’ Pistons. Washington won, while playing its new forward 22 minutes off the bench. Markieff shot 2-for-8 from the floor and missed both of his 3-point tries in a 6-point debut.
Marcus scored 9 points off 4-for-12 shooting in 36 minutes.
Markieff has seen similar usage in two more games with Washington since. He’s averaging 5.7 points and 2.7 rebounds in 21.3 minutes as D.C. incorporates him into its system and he gets used to his new surroundings.
Marcus, in his first season with the Pistons, has started all 56 games, and averages 13.5 points and 5.0 rebounds. He’s hitting just 30.1% of his 3-pointers and adding 2.5 assists.
Both twins are under contract through the end of the 2018-19 season, thanks to the deals they reached simultaneously with Phoenix. Perhaps they’ll reunite as teammates for the 2019-20 season. It’s safe to say that wouldn’t be in Phoenix.
— Read the entire Ric Bucher feature: Think You Know What the Morris Twins are All About? Think Again
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com
It’s safe to say Marcus Morris has recovered from the initial disappointment of getting traded from Phoenix and leaving behind his twin brother, Markieff.
Through 22 games with his new team, the Detroit Pistons, Marcus Morris is well on his way to the best season of his career, since leaving Kansas for the NBA in 2011.
For starters, well, Morris is solidified as a starter for Detroit. In the 6-foot-9 forward’s previous four seasons in the NBA, he only started 69 times. Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy has wanted Morris out on the floor for tip-off every game this season.
And rarely does Van Gundy ask his versatile forward to take a rest. Roughly a quarter of the way through the regular season, Morris is averaging 36.4 minutes a game. That’s the sixth-highest mark in the league right now and far beyond his previous career-best 25.2 minutes per game last season in Phoenix.
With that newfound responsibility, Morris is averaging what would be career highs in points (14.3), rebounds (6.0), assists (2.1) and steals (1.2). Though Morris’ shooting numbers — 39.9% from the floor, 28.8% from 3-point range — have dropped below his career averages (42.6% overall, 35.7% on 3-pointers), obviously Van Gundy thinks enough of him to keep him on the court.
Morris told The Detroit News he’s happy to be with the Pistons (12-10 and in the hunt for the playoffs in the surprisingly competitive Eastern Conference). The new Piston tries to remain aggressive even when shots aren’t falling. Morris said he also wants to take an assertive approach to getting teammates involved and making the right play.
“That comes with time and with getting adjusted to a role. It’s the first time I really got to play this many minutes and be able to make mistakes and play through it,” Morris said. “It’s definitely a major help for me.”
Van Gundy uses Morris at both forward spots, depending on who else is on the floor at the time, and the coach told The Detroit News he wants to see even more production from the man he traded for this past summer.
“Marcus can do a lot of things, and I have to create more and more things for him,” Van Gundy said. “He’s a damn-good passer, too. We’re really fortunate to have him. We thought he was good when we got him, and he’s better than I thought he was.”
The Pistons aren’t exactly the deepest team around, and Morris has found ways to make his minutes valuable and compliment Detroit’s emerging star, big man Andre Drummond.
Morris told the Pistons’ website he thinks he arrived for pre-season training camp in the best shape of his career, as requested by Van Gundy. The coach also told his new player ahead of time that he planned to use Morris as a stretch-4 at times, so he should be ready to shoot 3-pointers.
“A coach can say anything,” Morris said, “but if you come and you’re not that player they thought you were, it’s easy to take it back. ‘Oh, he’s not really as good a scorer as I thought he was’ or ‘He’s not a great defender or the greatest shooter.’ We kept in contact a lot this summer and he told me exactly what he wanted and that’s what I based my summer around.”
It appears Morris and Van Gundy have been on the same page form Day 1, and that has made Morris’ move to Detroit great for all involved.
“I just feel comfortable and I think when any player gets to feeling comfortable, your game goes to another level,” Morris said. “But I’m not taking anything for granted. I’m going to continue to work. I’m not blowing that off. I’m happy. I’m going to continue to be one of the leaders of this team, one of the vocal leaders of this team. I’m just grateful and blessed to be in a situation where I can finally play basketball to my capabilities.”
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