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Magic Number: The isolation myth of Marcus Morris

Is Marcus Morris too iso-heavy?

Cleveland Cavaliers v Boston Celtics - Game Seven Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Marcus Morris’ increased role during the 2017-18 season quickly made him a fan favorite. His aggressive play and loud ways overshadowed his modest line of 13.6 points and 5.4 rebounds per game and he acted as a veteran leader for a roster made up of young players, while also coming on strong late in the season to help fill the absence of Kyrie Irving. The forward was an extremely valuable scorer and asset for Brad Stevens and the Boston Celtics.

As our own Sam Sheehan noted last month, Morris shot 58.2% over the last 11 games of the season, trailing only Jaylen Brown for the team’s rotation players. He may not have had the greatest postseason on the offensive end, but Mook provided depth and assurance at the wing spot.

When it comes to offense with Morris, many people are polarized by his isolation style. You can either pull your hair out over his questionable shot selection or admire the commitment to his game, there’s really no in between. Mook’s play often begs the question: is Marcus Morris too iso-heavy? Some people defend it, saying that he needs to rely on isolations when he’s on the floor with a lack of shooters. Others claim that he takes over possessions too early and ends them with bad shots. Let’s dive into his numbers.

Boston Celtics v Cleveland Cavaliers - Game Four

Before we get to the isolation breakdowns, looking at Morris’ averages will show that he was virtually the same player last season as he’s been his entire career. That’s not a knock on Mook in any sense, as the Celtics needed his contributions to get to the Eastern Conference Finals. He played 54 games, starting in 21, shooting 42.9% from the field and 36.8% from three. Not the best efficiency, but definitely not the worst.

12.7% of Morris’ possessions fell into the “isolation play type” category last season where he shot 40.5%. That was the highest rate on the team besides Kyrie Irving who finished at 16% while shooting 44%. That may sound low, but 40.5% placed him smack in the middle of the Celtics’ roster. Cutting out Daniel Theis, Abdel Nader, and Jonathan Gibson, Morris’ isolation efficiency was fifth out of the remaining 10 players.

Morris’ points per possession (PPP) was also right around the team’s average, finishing the year with a PPP of 0.89. Now I’m sure a lot of you are saying, “Yeah, well he had more iso opportunities than everyone else, so his numbers should be higher.” I get that, but considering his questionable shot selection, the numbers are rather surprising, along with the fact that he was rarely the primary scorer. Morris played with some of the Celtics’ best players during his time on the court. The top three most used lineups including Morris had some combination of Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford, Terry Rozier, or Marcus Smart in them. Here’s part of a graphic from Sam Sheehan’s exit interview:

Another advantage of Mook’s isolation plays is his ability to get to the line and take care of the ball. Morris ended up at the free throw line in 10.9% of his iso possessions. Across that same bunch, the 28-year-old only turned the ball over 3.3% of the time. That was the lowest turnover frequency for isolation plays on the team besides Al Horford and Aron Baynes.

Mook’s isolation numbers from his previous season with the Detroit Pistons draw an interesting comparison. Morris led Detroit in isolation frequency at 14.8% (compared to 12.7% in Boston), while having a higher PPP at 1.05 (also tops for Detroit’s rotation). He shot 51.6% during these possessions, compared to 40.5% last season. Morris was in the 90th percentile of isolation scorers across the league, while this past season he sat at 59.2%.

Many fans stress about Morris’ offense, but it’s worth noting how valuable Morris is in terms of isolation defense. Being able to body a strong wing like LeBron James is something that most players Morris’ size can not do. He brings a versatile defensive skillset to the table, which is ideal for isolation defense. This in itself is invaluable to the Celtics, especially in the playoffs.

Morris will find himself in a wide array of lineups this coming season, including some second units where he’s a second or third option, which will likely lead to him revert back to his isolation ways. Despite what many think, the numbers show that this isn’t a bad thing. Morris has been the same player his entire career. Yes, he’s iso-heavy, but his efficiency numbers are not outrageous to the point where he needs to change that. In fact, by league standards, they lean towards above-average. So the answer is NO, Morris should not change his isolation style of play. His efficiency turns out to be just fine.

To those who want less iso’s from Morris: Let Mook be Mook! After all, everyone needs a versatile bully.