Could Markieff Morris be Wizards’ Second Most Important Player?

Washington Wizards’ Markieff Morris has shown an ability to be the go-to-guy and a secondary player early in the 2016-17 NBA season.

The Washington Wizards haven’t exactly had an ideal start to the 2016-17 NBA season.

After imploding in the fourth quarter of the season opener in Atlanta, the Wizards blew a late lead and got blown out in overtime against the Grizzlies. Then on Wednesday night, the team dropped their home opener to the Raptors.

There have been problems all over the roster.

John Wall has shown the effects of a long offseason that included little basketball and more rehabbing from double knee injury.

His mentality and overall game was stronger in Memphis, but he still doesn’t look fully up to speed.

Marcin Gortat hasn’t received sufficient touches on offense, and hasn’t performed with ball.

Bradley Beal has not made the leap to stardom, and foul trouble has plagued him early in the season.

Perhaps most disappointing of all, the bench has been wholly unable to produce. Playing five reserves in the same lineup didn’t help matters, but none of the individual players have shown the ability to consistently score off the bench.

One of the few bright spots have been the performances of Markieff Morris.

Morris, who was acquired from Phoenix in exchange for a first round pick at the trade deadline last season, has started to perform to the level that justifies his trade price.

In the first two games, Morris averaged 16.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, both good for second on the team.

Beyond the numbers, Morris’ most crucial element to the Wizards is the role he is able to fulfill.

This team was supposed to be led by Wall and Beal.The team would only go as far as the young backcourt would take them.

Wall and Beal were drafted to be franchise cornerstones, and the rest of the roster was assembled in order to allow to two guards to succeed.

Wall has firmly seized the mantle of best and most important player in the nation’s capital over the course of the last few seasons. Beal has been unable to live up to his part in the duo. He has been solid but has yet to show consistent excellence.

With Beal’s role in the offense become more murky instead of more clear, and Morris’ early season success, is it time to question whether Morris could be the second best player on a successful Wizards team?

To answer this question it is first important to understand how the Washington Wizards’ offense operates.

Wall, to no fault of his own, is so ball dominant that he is at the center of almost every offensive possession, whether he is shooting, passing to the shooter, turning the ball over, or otherwise breaking down the defense in a way that indirectly leads to a good look.

Therefore, when Wall is unable to get himself an open shot, or penetrate into the heart defense, the team looks lost.

Enter Morris.

Outside of Wall, Morris is probably the best isolation scorer on the roster. He can post up smaller defenders, attack the basket or shoot over almost anybody.

He has shown an early knack for hitting fadeaways or other off-balance shots. This can sometimes become frustrating to watch, as Morris’ tendency to stop the ball and try to take his defender one-on-one can halt the motion of the offense, but so far this season, it has paid dividends.

The rest of the offense has been slow into getting used to the speed of the regular season and Morris’ ability to create shots has been very useful. Morris has proved to be a solid person to throw the ball to at the end of the shot clock.

The strongest element of Morris’ game is that his versatility makes it such that he can also fit well into the natural flow of Washington’s offense.

Like a stretch four, he can catch-and-shoot from the corners when Wall attacks the middle of the defense, but he can also serve as a capable pick-and-roll partner for Wall.

However, unlike previous stretch four experiments Paul Pierce and Jared Dudley, Morris doesn’t cause deficits at the other end of the court.

Beal and Marcin Gortat are also important pieces for the Wizards, but they strangely don’t seem as comfortable in the Wizards’ offense.

Morris seems like the kind of player who doesn’t have trouble fitting in, on the court at least. His ability to both create for himself and serve as a complementary piece is not extremely common in the NBA.

Beal should be a great catch-and-shoot player but he has not seemed completely at ease playing mostly off the ball. The Wizards are seemingly dedicated to making his off the ball movement more central to their offense, favoring it to the heavy dose of screen-and-rolls that the team ran last season, but Wall still prefers to have the ball in his hand.

Still, as the primary ball handler in similar situations, Beal has not shown a consistent ability to score or create for others. Similarly, Gortat doesn’t seem to be content purely as a diver in the pick-and-roll, but has been unable to produce from the post.

With that said, Morris has become effective in the role he’s been asked to play on both ends of the court. He provides solid defense and rebounding as well. Beal is still the Washington Wizards’ most important piece moving forward if they want to make the jump, but this season Morris seems ready to play the role of second banana in the team’s offense.

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