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More or less Marcus Morris?

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CelticsBloggers Matt Chin and Bill Sy debate on whether or not the Celtics should rely more or less on Marcus Morris.

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Matt Chin: Now that Marcus Morris is fully healthy, Brad Stevens should lean more on his scoring repertoire. Simply put, Boston’s offense has been anemic since December and Stevens needs to find inventive ways to run the offense when Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are resting. I understand the nitpicking toward Morris’ shot selection, but he’s a confident veteran with a track record of being able to thrive as an occasional go-to scorer on a playoff-caliber team. The second unit is starved for offensive efficiency, and Morris is the best option to give them a spark.

Bill Sy: Well, there’s a lot to unpack here. I think you’re right that Morris is a decent three level scorer and that makes him a perfect complement to the second unit. He can pick and pop with the guards, catch and shoot on kick outs, and if things bog down, he can iso in the post. However, and maybe this is nitpicking, but nearly 50% of his shots come with 15-7 seconds left on the shot clock. That’s a little quick in my opinion.

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MC: Firing away too prematurely in the shot clock is a problem, especially when he’s on the floor with Kyrie and/or Horford. He should be a purely catch-and-shoot beneficiary when playing alongside the starters. But Boston still underutilizes Morris’ unique ability to create his own looks and drain jumpers off the dribble. As a whole, the team launches contested shots (closest defender 0-4 feet away) 9 percent more frequently than Morris does. In an ideal world, Morris should be attempting a higher percentage of tough looks than the team average. He finished in the 90th percentile in isolation efficiency last season, yet only one out of every ten shots this season have come in one-on-one scenarios. I realize that Stevens has never deployed a heavy isolation system in Boston. However, if they run more second unit offense through Morris, it should result in fewer broken possession heaves from players like Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier.

BS: I think you’ve touched on one of the biggest differences between Pistons’ Morris vs. Celtics’ Morris. In Detroit, he was one of the league’s better isolation scorers, but his looks usually came out of failed playmaking opportunities with him as a primary ball handler with Tobias Harris at the 4 and Andre Drummond at the 5. SVG had Morris at the small forward and because of his size, he could take advantage of smaller wings. Stevens, on the hand, has him primarily at the 4, playing a lot with Kyrie (a ball dominant point) or with Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier and of course without a rim runner like Drummond. That’s limited so much of what Morris brings to the table as a playmaker. The Celtics roster doesn’t exactly suit his skill set, but I still think less (shots) is more (decision-making opportunities) with Morris.

MC: According to tracking data from NBA Math, Morris has been a net negative in terms of total offensive utility. Part of it can be attributed to the necessary adjustment period from Detroit’s system to Boston’s. But now that Morris is fully healthy, he shouldn’t be toggling back and forth in an undefined role between the starters and backups. Brad Stevens has risen to elite coaching status due to his ability to carve out clear parameters for each player to attain maximum individual production. To me, Morris frequently looks like he’s floating outside of the offensive scheme, and he could become golden if the coaches fine-tune his role to encompass his strengths.

Boston can squeeze more juice out of Morris’ game simply by zeroing in on his best play types, namely, transition scoring, isolation and spot-ups. Keeping him out of pick-and-roll scenarios would help to raise his efficiency. So perhaps I’m not arguing for higher shot volume, but rather, better shot quality. That can be achieved if the coaching staff solidifies him as the go-to focal point with the second unit.

BS: I think you’re right there. We’re only 25+ games into MM’s Celtics career and there’s definitely a learning curve moving from SVG’s inside out system with the Pistons to Steven’s read-and-react. In Detroit, Morris did so little with dribble hand offs, coming off screens, and cutting off the ball; those are staples in Boston.

Here’s where I disagree: I don’t think you’re going to see Stevens say, “hey, let’s see more Morris iso ball.” That’s just not in Boston’s DNA. However, I did notice that the Celtics did run a lot of 1-4 PnR’s in LA for Marcus against the Lakers and Clippers. That put him in a lot of mismatches against smaller guards and popping out for open 3’s. Because of Boston’s personnel, he won’t be able to do as much as a pick and roll ball handler, but putting him in the hockey assist position as a swingman could work.

MC: Admittedly, Morris’ transition scoring and spot-up shooting necessitates prerequisite ball handlers who can push the pace and collapse the defense into the paint. Sometimes, those opportunities just aren’t there. So in half-court sets, why not afford him more hand off and off-screen opportunities? He has shown pretty solid results in those opportunities (1.0 PPP and 1.24 PPP, respectively), yet they account for only 12 percent of his total possessions.

I agree that we won’t see players clear out for Morris when ample shot clock life still exists. Doing so would undermine Stevens’ creativity. That said, he still presents one of the better options when Boston needs a shot creator during low-clock scenarios to bail them out.

I’m leery of utilizing Morris as a traditional PnR screener. He ranks in the 15th percentile as a roller and a popper, and wasn’t much better in Detroit. I just don’t think he’s very astute at creating lanes for close-proximity passes. But simulating him as a screener as if he’s running high PnR could generate some quality mismatches for his one-on-one skills. Morris has enough variety to back down smaller defenders or drive past bigger ones.

BS: Ultimately, I think we’re saying the same things. Whatever Stevens can do to put him in mismatches, he’ll do. I guess for me, it’s not so much how the shots are generated, but where they’re taken. In Morris’ defense, he has tapered his mid-range shooting. Last year in Detroit, 40.8% of his FGA’s came between the key and the three point line; this year, that number is down to 29.8%. He’s an above average shooter there (43.2% vs. 40.3%), but a 15-footer is still a 15-footer. By comparison, Brown and Tatum are better shooters, but they’re better at limiting their attempts.

What I’d love to see is Morris utilized in the post like the Celtics have down from time to time with Smart. It wasn’t something he exactly excelled in in Detroit (although his numbers two seasons ago were much better), but if there’s a part of his ISO game I like, it’s him with his back to the basket. He ranks in the 70.6th percentile (as reference, Al Horford is in 94.1st percentile), scoring 0.95 ppp. He doesn’t even have to look to score. Smart really doesn’t. It’s just a way to change passing angles and the attention of the defense and put Morris in more of a playmaking role.

MC: The offensive makeup of the second unit is in limbo, especially with Smart sidelined for two weeks. The trade deadline and buyout season are creeping up, so this is an opportunity for Stevens to figure out what Morris can truly provide down the stretch. Danny Ainge needs to solidify what kinds of players should be targeted in potential transactions, and the sample size on a healthy Morris is relatively small.

His confidence can be irrational, even maddening at times, but having players who are willing to assert themselves is critical to a young and inexperienced team. The shot selection will always be a point of debate, but with a little more sculpting, Morris could become a viable offensive weapon for a team that is short on options.

BS: Well hey, for what it’s worth, I’ll take “Marcus Morris vs. the Warriors” if that’s the way he’s going to play every night. He was strong defensively against Kevin Durant, but more importantly, on offense, we saw him operate in different spots on the floor. He attacked close outs, took smaller defenders off the dribble and bullied them in the paint, and was all around more aggressive.

Sure, he only shot 5-for-15 for the night, but he just seemed to be working more in the framework of the team by constantly putting pressure on the defense rather than just being the ball stopper and shot taker for the bench.