“Keef” has exhibited All-Star potential in 2013-14, but he needs to ensure that his highest level of play can continue on a regular basis.
The third-year player out of Kansas won Western Conference Player of the Week for his hot streak from Nov. 4 through Nov. 10. He averaged 22.8 points, eight rebounds and two steals per game while shooting 69.8 percent from the field during that four-game stretch.
In four games afterward, Morris scored just 17 points combined, which led to four straight Suns losses. His repeatedly poor performances led Suns legend and TV analyst Tom Chambers to say on a recent post-game show that Morris has been “terrible."
Opposing teams were forced to take notice of Morris after he took home Player of the Week honors. They’ve set up game plans to shut him down and have done so successfully.
So what must Morris do to revive his dominant form?
Attack the Basket
This is a no-brainer. Markieff is at his best when he’s attacking the rim and getting shot attempts around the basket to open up the rest of his offensive repertoire.
Thus far in 2013-14, he’s shooting 63.6 percent at the rim, according to Vorped.com. A major reason for that lofty percentage is Keef’s ability to finish through contact.
He also gains the added advantage of earning trips to the free-throw line. Morris finished 7-of-8 from the charity stripe in a win over the Denver Nuggets (finishing with 28 points) and went 4-of-4 on foul shots in a win against the New Orleans Pelicans (notching 23 points).
The new coaching staff has made this a point of emphasis in order to develop Markieff as a player. The big man said the following about getting to the rim more often, according to an article by Paul Coro via USA Today:
Coach told me I need to post up more, get to the basket more. Working with (assistant) Mark (West), we emphasize getting to the rim and getting fouled. I’m just letting the ref know early that I’m going to be attacking the rim a lot so I’m looking for those fouls.
Head coach Jeff Hornacek praised Morris’s play by saying, “He’s doing a nice job of not just floating around that 15, 18-foot range looking for a jump shot. He’s powering the ball inside,” per Matt Petersen of Suns.com.
Morris is a unique talent because he can shoot from the perimeter despite having a 6’10” frame. However, he won’t reach his potential if he becomes a one-trick pony by settling for outside shots.
The Suns forward is dynamic when he’s aggressively attacking the rim and knocking down outside shots.
That’s been the biggest difference compared to previous seasons when Morris was satisfied shooting contested jumpers.
Continue to Stay Out of Foul Trouble
He had problems with foul trouble in the past, but he’s flipped the script this year by forcing opponents to commit personals of their own.
Morris has committed more than four fouls in a game only once in 2013-14—when he picked up five fouls in just 11 minutes against the Sacramento Kings. That stat extends back through the preseason as well.
Again, Morris has made a concerted effort this season to fix the holes in his game. According to a USA Today article, Morris said, “The first two years I couldn’t play without fouling. I watched a lot of film and became a student of the game. I saw why I was picking up dumb fouls. It’s a matter of doing the work early.”
Unlike some talented athletes who don’t respond well to criticism, Morris identified a drawback in his game and watched film to correct it.
The power forward has eclipsed 20 points in a game three times this season. He played at least 30 minutes in all three of those outings.
If he can continue to play solid defense without fouling, he’ll earn more minutes. If he earns more minutes, he’ll put impressive stats in the box score.
Shoot with Confidence
The factor that made Markieff so dangerous during his Player of the Week hot streak was his confidence shooting the ball from outside.
He didn’t shoot many three-pointers over that stretch—finishing 3-of-5 from downtown in those four games—but he’s drained 45.5 percent of his threes overall.
He wasn’t afraid to rise up from mid-range even with defenders in his face, but he lost that same mojo during the four-game losing skid.
The former Kansas Jayhawk entered a 4-of-21 (19 percent) shooting slump in the four games after winning Player of the Week, a funk that was brought on by illness.
“I just got to loosen up,” Morris said following Friday night’s win over the Charlotte Bobcats. “I had a talk with Coach and he said I have to get my swag back. When I got sick, I felt like I lost it a little bit. Tonight, I was out there for a while and I thank coach for just letting me play so I can find it,” per Paul Coro via azcentral.com.
Morris scored 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting against Charlotte. That certainly wasn’t the best performance Suns fans have seen from him this season, but he showed signs of ending his prolonged slump.
Sure enough, Markieff scored 12 points on 6-of-11 shooting Sunday night against the Orlando Magic.
Markieff has had a roller coaster 2013-14 season filled with high highs and low lows. With that said, he has tremendous potential. He just needs to bring his A-game to the court with consistency.
At the end of the day, however, these gritty Suns just want to win and continue proving doubters wrong.
After the matchup with the Bobcats, Markieff summed up his up-and-down start best by saying, “The hardest thing in the league is to stay consistent. I’m working with that. We got the win. After losing four straight, that’s all that matters.”