How the Phoenix Suns' Morris Brothers Found Their NBA Way

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How the Phoenix Suns' Morris Brothers Found Their NBA Way
Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

The Morris twins have officially found their way to the NBA, where it looks like they'll be staying and potentially blowing up in Phoenix. 

Markieff and Marcus have made significant strides this season, and they're both playing major roles for the rising Phoenix Suns

They did the same thing at Kansas together, only over a three-year period in which they evolved into impact players and the heart and soul of the team. Kansas earned itself a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament in their final year there as juniors. And the twins earned themselves plenty of NBA attention in the process. 

Markieff and Marcus would be taken back-to-back in the 2011 NBA draft, with Phoenix grabbing Markieff at No. 13 and the Houston Rockets taking Marcus at No. 14. 

But let's be honest here—neither brother had that elastic bounce or athleticism out of college—the kind that drives a high NBA ceiling. "Upside" wasn't one of their strengths heading into the draft. They projected as role players in their own separate ways. 

And that's what they've become for the Suns in 2014—key members of this team's productive supporting cast.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

For the most part, Markieff and Marcus are both playing the same games they played at Kansas. Only they've each tightened things up since 2011. 

Markieff was the safer bet out of college, primarily because he was bigger and stronger, and his skill set was more concentrated. 

Low-post scoring, spot-up shooting, interior defense—that's Markieff's game.

Offensively, he's a scoring option on the low block, and a pick-and-pop or drive-and-dish target as a shooter on the perimeter. 

He's not a guy you'd isolate—he's someone whom you want out there to complement and play off your ball-dominant playmakers, like Goran Dragic

At 6'10" with the ability to stretch the floor, Markieff gets plenty of good looks in the mid-range. And the big difference between this year and the past two is that he's knocking them down with tremendous consistency. 

Take a look at the gradual improvement he's shown as a mid-range shooter:

Mid-Range Shooting
Year Mid-Range Shooting Percentage
2013-14 .439
2012-13 .364
2011-12 .274

NBA.com

With a high release and picturesque form, his jumper is tough to contest. And he's shown that ability to make shots with a hand in his face. 

So far this season, he's made over 100 of them from outside the key to inside the arc. 

NBA.com

Markieff has also expanded his shot-making range on the perimeter—we've seen step-backs and one-dribble pullups to turnaround jumpers in the post. 

A reliable jumper, along with the size to bang down low for points and boards, gives him a bread-and-butter skill set he can carry with him throughout his career. Guys like Udonis Haslem and Kurt Thomas lasted a long time playing a similar game. If Markieff can continue knocking down jumpers with regularity, he's going to draw plenty of interest around the league when that rookie deal expires.

Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Spo

On the other hand, Marcus is the more versatile, skilled forward of the two. But Marcus always had a little less margin for error, given that he didn't have a core strength to lean on and he wasn't as strong as a defender. 

After averaging 17.2 points a game during his final year at Kansas, Marcus had trouble sticking or making an impact early on in the pros. He had a post game, but not one good enough to go to for high-percentage shots. And though his jumper was always decent, it hadn't been consistent or reliable enough to justify regular minutes.

This season, his shot selection has been better, and it's allowed him to score with a little more efficiency.

But it all starts with the shooting range he's developed. Marcus is nailing 1.3 three-pointers a game in 22 minutes at a 39.2 percent clip. With the passers and creators this team has in its backcourt, jump shots have been available, and Marcus has been capitalizing on his opportunities. 

NBA.com

He's also refined his in-between game. Marcus is a little more mobile than his brother—he's quicker to hit a driving lane or to get out in the open floor. 

And he's been doing a better job of seeking out scoring opportunities without the ball, either as a cutter or opportunistic attacker. Whether he's slipping backdoor or beating his man off the bounce, Marcus is finding ways to score within the Suns' offense. 

When Marcus is on his game, he's capable of making shots from all different angles—fading away in the high post, spotting up from three, off one foot on the move or under the rim for a bully bucket. 

And this year, he's making more of them, which you can attribute to his improved sense of the game in terms of knowing when and how to take each. 

Neither Markieff nor Marcus could have really asked for a better setting to develop. And the fact that they get to do it together has likely played a role in their progress from a mental standpoint. 

According to Jere Longman of the New York Times, Phoenix's coach last season, Alvin Gentry, said that Markieff "kept urging Phoenix to trade for his brother," and that their former college coach, Bill Self, told him, “You need Marcus. If you can get him, he’ll make Markieff work harder.”  

You can also credit the Suns coaching staff, which has done a phenomenal job with its young players by putting them in a position to play to their strengths. It also happens to be a great system to grow in, given it's free-flowing, uptempo pace and leniency on mistakes. 

This Suns team is playing like it has nothing to lose, because it doesn't. 2014 was supposed to be a tank year, but thanks to guys like Markieff and Marcus, the Suns are now a threat that few teams want any part of. 

The Morris twins haven't necessarily expanded or added to their overall games this season—they've simply worked at perfecting the ones that come natural to them. 

And now they've established themselves as rocks in one of the most exciting young rotations in the league. Look for Markieff and Marcus to continue growing and to emerge as valuable, coveted role players in the NBA landscape. 

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