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.
Markieff Morris’ first foray into the NBA Playoffs was going smoothly until he badly rolled his left ankle on Sunday, in Game 1 of Washington’s second-round series against Boston.
Morris, a former standout at Kansas, played a key role in the Wizards’ first-round victory over Atlanta, but only logged 11 minutes in his team’s opening game versus the Celtics, after rising up for a jumper and landing on Al Horford’s foot during the second quarter.
The sixth-year forward made the shot — and even remained on the court for a successful free throw after writhing in pain — before exiting the game for good due to the severity of the ankle roll, with his team up three points. In his absence, the Celtics went on to win, 123-111 to take a 1-0 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
After the game, Morris told Candace Buckner of The Washington Post he feared he had broken his left ankle on the play.
“This was my worst one. I kind of tend to twist my ankles,” Morris told The Post. “That’s my injury. Ankle-twisters. This was by far the worst one.”
However, by Monday, Morris vowed to be back in the Wizards’ lineup for Game 2 at Boston, on Tuesday night.
“I’m playing tomorrow. It’s final,” Morris updated The Washington Post. “There’s nothing the doctors can say to me for me not to be able to play.”
According to Buckner’s report, Morris required “round-the-clock” treatment on his ankle since the injury. He answered questions from reporters with his ankle wrapped up and receiving electronic stimulation. Morris, who only was able to contribute 5 points and 3 rebounds in Game 1, was asked whether he thought Horford undercut him, with intentions of taking away his landing space.
“I’m not sure. I’m [going to] ask him though,” Morris told The Post. “I’ve looked at it a couple times,” he added of the replay footage of his injury. “It’s not really that pretty, so couldn’t really watch it too much.”
Meanwhile, Washington coach Scott Brooks wasn’t ready to throw his support behind Morris’ prediction that the starting power forward would be back on the floor two days after suffering a severe ankle injury.
“It’s a sprain and our medical team will all get together and do what’s best for him,” Brooks told The Post, “but right now he’s out until we see how he feels tomorrow.”
In the first round against Atlanta, Morris averaged 11.2 points and 5.5 rebounds in 28.7 minutes a game during a 4-2 series win for the Wizards, which doubled as his playoffs debut. He shot 27-for-69 (39.1%) against the Hawks and only made 5 of 16 (31.3%) on 3-point tries, but Washington missed his 6-foot-10, 245-pound frame and versatility in the loss to Boston.
“He’s a matchup problem,” Brooks told Buckner. “He can score inside. He can score outside. He puts the ball on the floor. He gets six, seven, eight rebounds a game, but he blocks out. He knows how to play. He’s a smart basketball player. We definitely missed him, but I will tell the guys — there’s no excuse. We got beat.”
Among the 16 former Kansas players active in the NBA during the 2016-17 regular season — henceforth known as the dawn of The Joel Embiid Era — only six get a crack at the spotlight known as The Playoffs.
For those Jayhawks fans in search of a team to follow in the postseason, look no further than the Washington Wizards.
The Eastern Conference’s No. 4 seed utilizes two former Bill Self players — starter Markieff Morris and backup Kelly Oubre Jr. — in its rotation.
Morris, a sixth-year power forward, isn’t the face of the franchise by any means — that moniker belongs to point guard John Wall. But those in the Wizards locker room will argue the 27-year-old Morris is as important as anyone this spring, as Washington tries to make a deep run in the East.
The 27-year-old former Kansas standout put up 20 points in each of his final two regular-season appearances. As detailed by CSN Mid-Atlantic, Morris’ production tied in with the team’s success throughout the year, so the Wizards expect plenty out of him as they open a first-round series with Atlanta on Sunday afternoon.
Check out Morris’ splits in D.C. wins and losses, as referenced by CSN:
Played in 45 of 49 wins. In those games, Morris shot 39.1% from 3-point range and made 48% of his shots overall.
In 31 losses he played in, Morris shot 32.1% on 3-pointers and only 42.3% overall.
“When he makes 3s, we’re a different team and I’ve told him that," first-year Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said. "I’d like him to take four to five threes if he’s there in a rhythm, he’s comfortable and his feet are set. He can make those at a 40-something percent clip. … I’m glad it’s starting to come back. He had a stretch there it wasn’t falling for him but he didn’t stop working and it’s paying off.”
Even better news for Brooks, Morris and his teammates: now that the playoffs are here, the schedule isn’t as demanding and Morris (14.0 points per game, 6.5 rebounds this season) has proven to be an efficient, productive scorer when rested. And there will be at least a two-day break between games in the playoffs.
More telling numbers from CSN:
On zero days rest (15 times), Morris shot 41.8% overall and 31.6% from 3.
On one day of rest (42 times), Morris shot 43.8% overall and 32.3% from 3.
On two days of rest (11 times), Morris shot 52.2% overall and 46.7% from 3.
On three days of rest (five times), Morris shot 56.9% overall and 50% from three.
As for Oubre, a key sub and perimeter defender — the 6-7 wing closed the last couple weeks of his second season averaging 10.7 points and 4.5 rebounds in April (though he only made 38.6% of his field goals and 25% of his 3-pointers).
The up-and-coming 21-year-old recently received a glowing review from one of the league’s elite players, Golden State’s Kevin Durant:
“Some of these young cats that come into the league, they got super confidence, uber-confidence, and they just go through the motions, where they’re just too cool, you know what I’m saying? But he had a little — he had some dog in him,” Durant said of Oubre while speaking on The Bill Simmons Podcast. “He might foul you hard. That’s how I know, actually, if young guys they really want it. They’ll foul you hard and play physical. I was playing with him and he’d foul me hard, and I’m like, ‘I like that. I like that you care.’ Because a lot of these cats don’t care about the game.”
Other KU players to watch
Wayne Selden Jr., Memphis Grizzlies
He’s by far the least experienced NBA player on their roster, but the seventh-seeded Memphis Grizzlies might actually need the youthful legs of Wayne Selden Jr., versus West power San Antonio — in a best-of-seven series that begins Saturday.
First-year head coach David Fizdale recently explained Selden’s worth to The Commercial Appeal.
“He can play. I wasn’t giving out charity minutes. He was balling,” Fizdale said. “The kid is built for the league. He’s got a great two guard’s body. He reminds me a lot of Dwyane Wade from a body standpoint (with) big shoulders. And he knows how to play. He’s got an IQ about him. We’re just going to work hard to develop him and see where it takes us, but I really like what I’m seeing so far.”
After going un-drafted and making his NBA debut with New Orleans, Selden caught on with Memphis late in the season and has played in all of 11 games for the Grizzlies.
Though he likely won’t play as much in the postseason — unless all the games are out of reach — Selden averaged 27.5 minutes in the Grizzlies’ final six games, averaging 8.2 points, 2.0 assists and shooting 42.9% from the floor.
The rest of the Jayhawks
Only a handful of games remain in Paul Pierce’s storied career, so get a glimpse of him while you can in his brief reserve minutes, as the fourth-seeded Los Angeles Clippers face Utah, beginning Saturday night.
Nick Collison barely plays any more for the sixth-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder, but at least you can see his reactions as MVP candidates Russell Westbrook and James Harden square off. Houston vs. OKC tips off Sunday night. Who knows, the offseason could mark the end of Collison’s 13-year career, as well. Here’s what he said on the mater to The Oklahoman:
“I don’t know, we’ll see,” Collison said of his future. “All season long, I’ve said I’m gonna wait until the season’s over and figure that stuff out, so I’m holding to that; the season’s not over yet.”
- Playing behind one of the league’s top defensive players, center Rudy Gobert, Jeff Withey doesn’t get a lot of run with fifth-seeded Utah. The 7-foot shot-blocker who starred at Kansas averaged 2.9 points and 2.4 boards in 8.5 minutes in his fourth NBA season. Look for him in spurts against the Clippers and Pierce, in a series that could go seven games.
A couple months back, the Washington didn’t look like a playoff team. The Wizards dropped eight of their first 10 games, leading many to assume they would flounder and miss the postseason for a second straight year.
However, few teams in the NBA are as hot as Washington these days, and first-year head coach Scott Brooks says former Kansas star Markieff Morris has as much to do with the turnaround as anyone on the roster.
In an interview with ESPN’s Zach Lowe, Brooks explained how Morris became much more of a consistent force for the Wizards recently. The way the former Oklahoma City coach remembers it, Brooks let Morris know at halftime of one poor outing (he thinks it was against Philadelphia about a month ago) that the starting power forward wasn’t giving the team everything it needed from him.
Perhaps Brooks could’ve grabbed Morris’s attention earlier, considering the 6-foot-10 stretch-4 averaged 12.4 points in November and 12.7 in December, but Brooks wanted to establish a strong relationship with his players and have them understand his approach as the team’s new coach before hitting them with anything drastic.
By mid-January, Brooks felt comfortable letting Morris know it was time for a change.
“I think the game is supposed to be played in a fun way. But to me ‘fun’ is playing hard and competing and clawing and doing whatever it takes within the rules to try and beat your opponent,” Brooks said on The Lowe Post. “That, to me, is fun. And if I see that it’s below the level that we need to be at, I tell you — whether you’re John Wall or Bradley (Beal) or Kieff or somebody that doesn’t play as much.
“Your job is to go in there and compete, and … I know that (Morris) has that in him, and I tell you what, he has been playing, like I said, out of his mind,” Brooks added. “We’re not in this position right now if it wasn’t for him.”
Morris caught his coach’s message and reacted by improving his overall play. Over the past four weeks, the sixth-year veteran is averaging 18.9 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists, while shooting 46.8 percent from the floor and 40 percent on 3-pointers.
The Wizards (33-21) have won 14 of their last 16 games and are holding steady as the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference, only 2.5 games back of Boston for the No. 2 spot and 5 games behind defending champion Cleveland.
From a production standpoint, Morris has made much greater of an impact by giving Washington more from beyond the arc. A 32.9-percent career 3-point shooter, Morris only connected on 30.6 percent of his 3s in November, and that number plummeted to 22.7 percent in December. In January, Morris nailed 41.4 percent from downtown. In five February games, he’s 8-for-22 — 6-for-9 in the past two D.C. wins, which included a 23-point performance in a blowout versus Oklahoma City.
“I met with him early in the season,” Brooks told Lowe, “like a month in, I said, ‘You’ve got something that a lot of guys don’t have.’ And he says, ‘What?’ I said, ‘You can post up and take smaller guys at the block, but you also have the ability to take, to shoot 3s.’ But, I said, ‘You don’t want to take ’em for some reason. You’d rather take 17-footers, one-dribble pull-ups.’ I said, ‘That game is becoming dinosaurs, and if you’re gonna do that, it’s gonna be hard for you to fulfill this career that you can potentially have.’
“And I tell you what, he has really challenged himself and I want him to shoot as many 3s as he can shoot. I think he should shoot five a game, but don’t take away his low post when he has a good matchup,” Brooks added.
Morris averaged 3.6 3-point tries a game in January, and has taken 4.4 a game from deep thus far in February.
The 27-year-old Morris, who now has been with Washington for the equivalent of a full season after being traded from Phoenix in February of 2016, told The Washington Post not long ago he and his teammates benefit offensively from the all-star play of their point guard, Wall.
“You see how easy it is when he gets to penetrating. He’s a great passer,” Morris said of the team’s star. “He’s got eyes in the back of his head, so we just got to get open.”
The Wizards haven’t been held below 100 points since the first week of January, and are 17-4 in that stretch with Wall carrying his team toward the top of the East standings.
“If we make shots, he’d have 20 assists every game,” Morris said. “He’s a great player, top point guard to me. He leads us and we just follow his footsteps.”
Of late, Brooks thinks Morris, like Wall, deserves credit for Washington’s resurgence.
“I love him,” the coach said of Morris. “I love how he’s playing. He’s fun to coach. I really think that we have a good team because of what he has done.”
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.
Though he plays in the Eastern Conference for a team that didn’t make the playoffs last season, Washington forward Markieff Morris didn’t mind sharing his thoughts on back-to-back Western Conference champion Golden State adding superstar Kevin Durant in free agency this summer.
When reporters prodded the former Kansas star on the NBA’s biggest news of the offseason, Morris didn’t hold back his criticism of Durant, sharing the opinion with some fans that the former MVP didn’t need to join forces with reigning back-to-back MVP Steph Curry and the Warriors, who just won a record 73 games in the regular season.
“I don’t think it’s right,” Morris began, in a video interview captured by Kyle Weidie of truthaboutit.net, who covers the Wizards. “But it is what it is.”
As reporters tried to get more out of Morris on the move that caught the entire NBA’s attention, he obliged, following up with his judgment of the situation.
“You don’t do that, man,” Morris said of Durant, Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green forming a super-team that appears destined to win the 2017 NBA title, or at the very least earn a rematch with LeBron James' Cavaliers.
Trying to put himself in KD’s Nikes, Morris explained he didn’t understand why Durant, who just lost to Golden State in the West finals with Oklahoma City, would then join forces with the Warriors.
Morris claimed there would have been a “fire inside” him to come back and beat Golden State next season.
“But a lot of guys are different,” Morris added. “ I just didn’t expect that from Durant. I know him a little bit, and I didn’t expect that.”
Watch Morris’ comments in their entirety below.
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.
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com
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
Just as everyone figured, the NBA’s trade deadline did not pass Thursday afternoon without Phoenix shipping away disgruntled forward Markieff Morris.
The former Kansas star, who wore out his welcome with the Suns after the organization traded away his twin brother Marcus, got dealt East, to Washington, according to a report from Yahoo.
A 6-foot-10 forward drafted by Phoenix in 2011, Morris cost the Wizards a protected first-round pick and veteran backup forwards Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair.
As detailed in the Yahoo report from Shams Charania, Morris has wanted out of Phoenix all season, and the Suns finally gave up on the talented 26-year-old stretch forward after the low lights of his season included throwing a towel at then-coach Jeff Hornacek and fighting with teammate Archie Goodwin during a timeout.
Azcentral.com’s Paul Coro was on the scene Thursday afternoon when Morris left the Suns’ facility, reporting the new Wizard was “ready to move on.”
The Suns were probably like: “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, or trip off your hoverboard thing in the parking lot.”
Morris lands in Washington at least with a chance to contribute to a playoff team, which wasn’t going to happen in Phoenix (14-40). Although the Wizards (23-28) haven’t lived up to expectations this season, D.C. is just 3 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 31 games to play. Plus, the East is so jumbled, with the exception of clear-cut favorite Cleveland, that Washington, at 10th, is only 7 games back of third.
While Morris’ season numbers for 2015-16 — 11.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, 39.7% shooting — don’t jump off the screen at you, much of that has to do with his volatile relationship with Hornacek. After the Suns got rid of their head coach, Morris received more of an opportunity in his final games with Phoenix. In February, Morris played 34.8 minutes a game, compared to 22.8 in January and 18.5 in December.
For interim Suns coach Earl Watson, Morris averaged 20.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.0 steals in five losses. He shot 44.8% from the floor and made 4 of his 12 3-pointers while essentially reminding other franchises that they should make a move to get him out of town.
Washington could use that kind of production in its front court, where coach Randy Wittman could easily start Morris at power forward or use him as a sixth man.
The Wizards, powered by All-Star point guard John Wall, should improve offensively almost immediately with Morris’ perimeter abilities complimenting starting center Marcin Gortat. Even better for Washington, it’s easy to see Wall and Morris becoming perfect partners in pick-and-pops and pick-and-rolls.
With Morris’ trade, Washington now turns into a more appealing team to watch for KU fans who follow the NBA. Morris joins veteran Drew Gooden and rookie Kelly Oubre Jr. as Jayhawks on the roster — though Wittman will surely ask much more of his new forward than those two.
The 34-year-old Gooden doesn’t play that much anymore: 12.4 minutes this season, with 3.2 points and 3.4 rebounds, deep off Washington’s bench.
The 20-year-old Oubre’s minutes (4.4 a game in February) went down headed into the All-Star break, too. On the year, he is getting just 11.9 minutes a game, contributing 3.8 points and 2.2 boards.
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