Let’s put out this disclaimer right off the bat: Gordon Hayward and Marcus Morris are very different players. They can do different things, they have different strengths and weaknesses, and they’ll have different roles next season. However, while it may not be an accurate comparison, it could be telling how Brad Stevens plans to use Hayward by comparing how he used Morris last season, particularly with Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum on the floor. Expectations are that Hayward, Brown, and Tatum could all be starters, so what will Stevens do with three wings on the floor at the same time?
The Celtics are chock-full of other talented perimeter players and with Kyrie Irving, Terry Rozier, and Marcus Smart most likely playing on the outside, veterans like Morris and Hayward could be forced to play as stretch bigs rather than wings. Last season, Morris shared the floor with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown as a sort of third wing/stretch 4 for 274 minutes last year. They were a break even trio with a -0.6 NetRtg.
But it’s not like Morris deferred to the younger players when he shared the floor with them on the offensive end. Per NBAwowy.com, Morris averaged the most shot attempts and had the highest eFG% of the trio. What’s interesting to note is the geometry and chemistry between them: Brown and Tatum were attack dogs off the diagonals with Morris acting as a stretch big at the top of the key.
Morris isn’t exactly your prototypical playmaker that can break defenders down off the dribble or draw double teams in the post. With Brown and Tatum, he was more of an operator, a capable scorer that could take advantage of mismatches when the situation presented itself, but was ultimately a facilitator in the middle of the floor. Just like he did in Detroit, he played third or fourth fiddle to younger, more dynamic scorers. He often had bigger defenders on him that he could draw out of the key because of his shooting to allow for dash-and-slash wings to attack the paint.
In Brad Stevens’ offense, Morris usually worked as a swingman above the break to beyond the three-point line. If an action didn’t work, he could move the ball from the strong to weak side and vice versa and keep his defender out of the play. He’s good enough from behind the arc (39.1% above the break 3FG%) to keep defenses honest.
This is simple ball movement that creates space for Tatum to drive baseline. Note that with Morris beyond the arc, his defender, the 6’10 Davis Bertans, has to close out and vacate the key. Al Horford is at pinch post, keeping LaMarcus Aldridge honest at the free throw line.
Here, it’s Morris working with Rozier on the pick-and-pop. He’s got Anthony Davis defending him out of the key. Jrue Holiday over helps and Brown has the open 3.
This Iverson cut looks like a play to create space for Morris, but again, it’s a decoy to get the bigs defending away from the basket and space for Brown in this case to attack the restricted area.
We saw some of this from Hayward in the preseason a year ago. He’d run some two-man game with Kyrie coming out of pick-and-pops and slipping screens and find himself either open at the three-point line or against smaller guard defenders on the switch. With Brown and Tatum to his left and his right, he’s flanked by two capable shooters and drivers which subsequently clears the middle of the floor for him to work.
With training camp now one week away, I looked through some Gordon Hayward clips from 2016-17.— Chris Grenham (@chrisgrenham) September 19, 2018
He's such a strong finisher at the rim, great off the dribble, and his basketball IQ shows with his off-ball movement. Adding him to this Celtics lineup is going to be so fun. pic.twitter.com/hlp5mIDwEP
What makes Hayward so scary in that spot is his ability to create off the dribble and use his size on penetration. In his final season in Utah, he became a very effective PnR ball handler; per NBAMath.com, he had a value added of 53.3. That was on par with point guards like Chris Paul and Goran Dragic. For what it’s worth, the highlight of Morris’ NBAMath.com player type profile was his isolation scoring (with a value added of 29.3). Comparison is the thief of joy, but Hayward should be a more effective playmaker which could open up the game for young players like roll bigs like Daniel Theis and Robert Williams and spot up shooters like Semi Ojeleye and, well, Morris.
At last Thursday’s media availability, Hayward talked about the potential of coming off the bench. Tatum echoed the same sentiment last month, too. My guess is that Brown would say the same. There’s no predicting how Brad Stevens will utilize the depth of this roster and it’s certainly possible that one of them could be a strong candidate for the second unit. However, on the floor together, they could be one of the most dangerous three-pronged perimeter attacks with Hayward as the tip of the spear.