Marcus Morris was supposed to be an afterthought in Boston this year. Two young bucks in need of minutes - Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown - and one returning All-Star - Gordon Hayward - projected to soak up playing time on the wing, leaving Morris to fight for scraps as an end of the bench option and occasional floor stretching four. Things haven’t gone quite according to plan.
All three of Hayward, Tatum, and Brown struggled to open the year, giving Morris a window to take on a more meaningful role than originally anticipated. The Celtics’ surly forward seized the opportunity, and hasn’t looked back. Through 38 games, Morris has posted absolutely scorching hot .501/.452/.866 shooting splits, rates that well-outpace any he’s posted before in his career. The uptick is bearing major fruit. Morris is averaging a career high 15.6 points per game, and Boston’s offense has scored 10.9 more points per 100 possessions with him on the court, per Cleaning the Glass.
That his newfound marksmanship is a boon for all involved is undeniable, particularly given the Celtics sluggish start and the fact that Morris is in a contract year, but whether or not he can sustain his current level of performance is another question entirely. History would suggest it’s unlikely.
Just five players have ever posted shooting percentages equivalent to or better than Morris from the field, three, and charity stripe across an entire season: Steve Nash (twice), Stephen Curry, Jeff Hornacek, Mark Price, and Kiki Vandeweghe (technically Yao Ming also achieved the feat, but in a season during which he attempted and made just a single three, so we’re excluding him from this exercise).
Morris hasn’t proven himself to be the caliber of shooter that anyone on that list represents, and as such seems like a candidate to experience some pretty aggressive regression to the mean, but Boston may still find considerable value in his minutes regardless. He isn’t just knocking down more shots than ever before, he’s taking them from far more efficient spaces on the floor.
Morris has a rugged mid-range game that’s his self-identified bread and butter. He’s been an above-average to elite-level shooter from that distance for more than half a decade, but the simple fact remains that being good at knocking down long twos isn’t nearly as valuable as banging home threes at a rate that qualifies as “good enough.”
Those of us who are analytically inclined have been calling for Morris to embrace the three-point revolution for some time, and this year he finally has, firing up 45.0% of his shots from beyond the arc, compared to 35% last year, per Cleaning the Glass.
Even if Morris returns to last year’s form as a 38.0% shooter from deep for the remainder of the season, he’ll realize a 1.25 point boost in overall scoring because of his increased three-point rate. Add in the fact that defenses have to stretch themselves out further to close out to him as a more consistent threat to fire from the outside, and the Celtics have plenty to be excited about, potential regression be damned.
And the fact of the matter is that Morris IS currently functioning as a historic-level shooter. Boston should ride it for as long as it can. Smart money might be on him coming back to earth in the second half of the season, but Morris has proven himself over enough of a sample for the Celtics to continue to turn to him for meaningful minutes, and for opponents to have to react with appropriate fear. He’s been Boston’s second best player and a borderline All-Star.
That’s not too bad for a man who seemed destined to be involved in more trade rumors than big moments heading into the year.