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On the Adam Morrison Problem

A Daily Babble Production

In the less-than-two-weeks-until-the-games-count zone, one never knows what sort of topics will catch a few eyes in the interim between proclaiming different Celtics prospects future superstars.

This past week, Bobcats forward Adam Morrison has been generating some lively discussion in the CelticsBlog forums.  What started as an innocently posed question about the prospects of the Celts trading for Morrison turned into a discussion of the former Gonzaga star's merits as a prospect in this league.  Since I'm generally at the head of the line in the "Let's not make too many value judgments about a player on a small sample size" crowd, but I've been unable to apply that reasoning in Morrison's situation, it seems worth taking a few moments to go against my traditional course of rationale in laying out the case against Morrison's long-term prospects.

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By virtually any measure, Morrison had an unimpressive rookie season in 2006-07.  Despite getting nearly 30 minutes per game in 78 contests, he managed a shade less than three rebounds per game, and he was a liability at the defensive end at both the three and the four for Charlotte.  Worst of all was the disaster of a year he had shooting the basketball.  The guy who had posted a true shooting of 60.5 percent in his final season at Gonzaga couldn't break 40 percent from the field or 34 percent from the three-point line, and his true shooting for the season was a miserable 45.5 percent.  He scored nearly 12 points per game, but it took him 12.1 field-goal attempts per game to do so, and the Bobcats were actually 4.6 points per 100 possessions less effective offensively with him on the floor than off it.  Not particularly encouraging stuff.

What normally is encouraging is the fact that it was only year one.  Getting off to a sluggish beginning at this level and improving noticeably in the next couple of years is far from unheard of.  But what separates Morrison from many other slow-starting prospects is that even when he was playing excellent basketball at Gonzaga, with the exception of his shooting, he rarely if ever provided much indication that he has the rest of the skill set or physique needed to be successful at this level.  

Morrison has never been an exceptional rebounder.  Despite playing more than 36 minutes per game in his final season at Gonzaga and spending time at the power forward spot against smaller players, Morrison grabbed only 5.5 boards per game.  At 6-foot-8 and 205 pounds, he is built as a tweener between the three and the four for the NBA, and his size doesn't lend to his being any more of a dominant rebounder than he was in college.  His rookie season wasn't an aberration on the boards.  It was what it should have been given his body and lack of rebounding prowess in the first place.

The same is true on the defensive end.  Morrison wasn't exactly known as a defensive stalwart during his days as one of the most prolific amateur players in the country, and there isn't much basis for expecting that to change at the next level.  For the most part, he doesn't have the quickness to guard small forwards, and the aforementioned 205-pound frame doesn't leave him with the strength to bang with too many power forwards either.   When an unspectacular defender in the collegiate game jumps a rung to playing against better athletes who physically outclass him, it seems reasonable to believe that he isn't going to amount to much as a stopper.

The issue of the shooting is a bit different.  This was expected to be Morrison's one transferable skill to the Association.  He had a great final amateur campaign shooting the basketball from the outside, knocking down more than 42 percent of his three-point attempts while leading the country in scoring with 28.1 points per game.  Morrison shot the ball well both inside and out, leading to the aforementioned true shooting of 60.5 percent.  It seems fair to expect that the shooting figures will improve over the next few years.  Morrison shot 76 percent from the foul line over this three years in college, and there is no reason to believe that he won't be able to regain that accuracy rather than the 71 percent he shot as a rookie.  He might not shoot 40 percent from the NBA three-point line, but the figure probably won't stay as low as 33.7 percent for much longer either.

But while the three-point and free throw accuracy might imrpove, it is highly unlikely that Morrison will be anything close to the type of dynamic scorer he was in college.  At that level, his frame made him a legitimate power forward, and he did plenty of scoring on the interior.  Once again, Morrison doesn't have the strength, bulk or (in lieu of the former two attributes) quickness to make it palatable to expect him to score inside in the NBA with anywhere near the proficiency he did in college.   The fact that only 14 percent of his shot attempts came from the interior as a rookie doesn't represent much of a disparity from what was expected of Morrison.  Further, it's important to remember that a good portion of his scoring at Gonzaga came from the fact that he was earning more than nine trips per game to the foul line in his last season.  If he isn't going to be able as effective inside anymore, he isn't going to draw as many fouls - or anywhere close to as many fouls.  His decline to 2.6 free throw attempts per game as a rookie was a product of that. 

If Morrison isn't scoring inside or a threat to get to the foul line, opponents will be able to pay more attention to staying in his face on the perimeter.  The added defensive attention outside thanks to the lost dimension of his interior scoring is naturally going to bring his perimeter efficacy down.  Once he gets a bit more accustomed to the league, it shouldn't be as low as it was in 2006-07, but it will still be tougher to get good looks from deep than it once was for Morrison.  He just doesn't have the quickness to keep defenders honest on the outside.

Adam Morrison doesn't have NBA-level quickness at the three or strength at the four.  He wasn't a great rebounder or defender to begin with, and scoring will be a considerably more daunting task for him in the pros than it was in college.  And on top of all that, he is now coming off of a season off the court thanks to a torn ACL.  Those factors considered with how poorly a healthy Morrison played in his rookie season make it reasonable to expect the former Gonzaga star to amount to little more than perhaps a decent spot-up shooter in the Association.

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