POP 2019-2020 Season Preview: Markieff Morris Brings Toughness Off the Bench
The Detroit Pistons have been without consistent contributions from the backup big men in recent years. There have been some solid, even exciting, bench bigs, such as Anthony Tolliver and Aron Baynes, who brought hustle, IQ, and leadership behind Tobias Harris and Andre Drummond. Once that duo no longer repped Detroit’s red, white, and blue, the team has struggled to bring in suitable replacements, as Eric Moreland, Zaza Pachulia, Thon Maker, and especially Jon Leuer disappointed frequently when they stepped on the floor (or didn’t) for the Pistons.
With just one of those players, Maker, remaining on the team following June’s Leuer trade, Detroit was again on the search for an all-around backup power forward who could be trusted to give Blake Griffin a rest. In a season that will likely be filled with plenty of load management for the All-NBA forward, this was a pressing need for a Pistons team looking to improve with few assets at their disposal. In what was initially viewed as a surprising, yet sound fit behind Detroit’s two All-Stars, Markieff Morris was signed on the fourth day of free agency. Morris, the twin brother of former Piston Marcus Morris, was a steady starting option prior to the 2018-19 season, a rocky campaign for the now 30-year-old. In a statement that showed Marcus’ love for the Pistons, Markieff revealed that he never had planned on giving Detroit a look until his twin opened his eyes to a “perfect fit”, according to Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:
“My brother told me it was a great place,” Markieff said Wednesday after the first of two practices on the Michigan State campus. “Honestly, Detroit really wasn’t on my list. I really didn’t look into it much until I sat down with my brother and looked at the roster.
“It was kind of a perfect fit.”
Morris experienced his least impactful campaign since his second year (2012-13) in 2018-19 as he transitioned from a starter with the now-rebuilding Washington Wizards to a bench forward with the… also now-rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder. He didn’t respond very well as his minutes declined with the Thunder, as he averaged just 6.5 points and 3.8 rebounds while shooting under forty percent from the field in 24 games. While that’s not a positive indicator for what could be on the horizon in Detroit, Morris is getting a fresh start in a new city while also getting an opportunity to earn a better payday next offseason – meaning he should be a rejuvenated player. Not to go unnoticed is Morris’ trademark toughness and underrated durability that travels with him wherever he plays. Carrying a blue-collar attitude with him wherever he goes – similar to his brother – it won’t take long for Morris to win the city over. We’ll hopefully be seeing a lot of him too, as he’s competed in 60-plus games in every season prior to last year; he’s also played 70-plus in five of his eight NBA seasons.
While 2019 was a step backward for Kieff, the season wasn’t without silver linings, evidenced by his season-high 28-point performance against the Portland Trail Blazers last October:
First things first, Markieff isn’t Marcus. There won’t be any isolation pull-ups or contested 20-footers from this Morris twin. He’ll be playing a much more team-oriented role as a smaller part of the offense. However, as the above highlight video shows, Markieff still has a plethora of useful skills. He showcases his ability as a pick-and-pop stretch four, a skill that should prove very useful playing alongside crafty point guard Derrick Rose. He also shows that he frequently fades out to the three-point line, receives a pass, then puts the ball on the floor and is able to get to the rim with relative ease. Morris’ inside-outside game provides another scoring option off the bench that the Pistons simply didn’t have outside of Luke Kennard last season.
Unfortunately, the positives of Morris’ game end with his offense, as his impact on the defensive end leaves a lot to be desired, especially if head coach Dwane Casey forces him into playing some center. Neither Thon Maker nor Christian Wood has proven to be even average-level NBA defenders, so we’ll have to carry out hope that Morris is able to hold his own against opposing power forwards in limited minutes.
With no other reasonable options before him, Morris will almost certainly start the season as Detroit’s third big man. His play at the beginning of the season will determine whether Maker, Wood or even Joe Johnson see an uptick in court time or not. Hopefully, we’ll see the version of Morris that played a key role in leading the Wizards to the postseason in 2016-17 rather than the version who struggled to find his niche with the Thunder last season. Only time will tell, but Morris should easily outplay his $3.3 million player option for 2020-21, meaning this could simply be a pit stop in the Motor City. Regardless of his future financial status, one thing is for certain, Morris has the opportunity to become a consistent contributor for the Pistons, something few power forwards of the team’s recent past lived up to.
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