The question marks surrounding this Celtics season have only gotten worse post All-Star break with the team losing five of their last six games. It has been a roller coaster of a season, but there is something different about this last month. The lack of urgency and team chemistry is apparent and is only amplified to a greater degree under the Boston media scrutiny.
Everyone has been searching for answers as to what has gone wrong with this team. Outside of over analyzing the off-the-court antics, the Celtics should look to the drop-off of the unsung heroes from the beginning of the season like Marcus Morris.
Morris has been one of the most important players on Boston’s roster this season. He has had a career year for averaging his highs in points, rebounds, and shooting percentage, both from the field and from behind the arc. This success landed him a spot in the starting lineup after the struggles and injuries of both Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown. He (and Marcus Smart) brought an intensity to the starting lineup that translated to a new, fresh mindset that immediately resulted in wins.
His numbers started to decline around late-January and his worst numbers are coming in a smaller sample size post All-Star break in February. His shooting percentage from the field and three both started to regress back down to his career mean. In his last 15 games, which dates back to the January 28th game against Brooklyn, he still is scoring 12.7 points per game but is shooting 26.7% (21.1% post All-Star) from three while still taking 5.4 threes a game. This is the stat which is most worrisome. His three point shot has slipped, but yet he is not reigning back in his three point attempts.
His declined statistics do not stop there. He has been a -3.4 +/- (-8.2 post All-Star) in the past 15 games while his season number is a positive 2.4 rating, 5 points better than his most recent stretch. If you are looking for advanced metrics, Morris’s offensive rating this season is an impressive 110.4 which greatly outperformed any of his past seasons in the league. However, in these last 15 games, he is offensive rating is only a 103.2 (93.6 post All-Star). This drop off is just not compatible to the Celtics starting lineup if they want to knock this funk they are in as of late. Stevens needs to take a hard look at what Morris is currently bringing to the starting lineup compared to his other options on the roster.
On the defensive end for Morris, it is unfortunately much of the same if not worse than his shooting numbers. This season, Morris has a defensive rating of 106.6 which is nothing impressive, but it was more about his hustle and intensity which meant more to the team.
These last 15 games, there has been an absence of that from him while his rating ballooned up to a 109.5. Also, the Celtics’ defense is -5.8 points worse with Morris on the floor this season. Morris has become a general liability on that side of the court making it hard for Stevens to keep him on the floor for the stretches of most importance. It was put on display in their last game against Houston where Morris just for the majority of the second half because he was having another off night, and Jaylen Brown stepped up to the plate during their comeback attempt.
Brown has seemed to be the answer for Stevens through Morris’ slump. Through these same 15 games, Brown has averaged 14.7 points and has been more aggressive than he has been in some time. The lineup data agrees with this substitution. Since the All-Star break, the starting lineup with Morris has a -3.1 net rating. With Brown replacing Morris, it shoots up to a 13.0 net rating. With Morris’s shooting down and Brown’s offensive efficiency and defensive aggressiveness up, it has created this wide margin between these two lineups. The recent numbers back up the case for Morris taking a back seat.
Now, this is not to say that Marcus Morris cannot help this team anymore this year. He is still the same player who was shooting above 40% from three earlier this season. In the right role, he can come off the bench and give a much needed spark to this Celtics roster. It would be a good fit for him to get some meaningful minutes against second units which could kick start his shooting and playmaking to the level it was before.
Marcus Morris has always been one of the most underrated players on the team. The production this season had the team looking past any other issues because they were winning at the end of the day. However, it is not a coincidence that his decline in production pairs up with the Celtics major slump in the season. Brad Stevens should make the switch and bring Jaylen Brown back into the starting lineup and have Morris come off the bench to give the team sparks of intensity with the second unit.