As the Celtics try to escape from the doldrums of mediocrity, it’s become abundantly clear that point guard is one of their most pressing needs.
Dennis Schroder’s inconsistency can be maddening, and his play is a microcosm of that of the whole team. Marcus Smart is still a walking Tommy Point, as always, but his talents may be put to better use as a sixth man. Payton Pritchard has shown flashes, but at this point he’s more of an eighth or ninth man.
If the Celtics decide they want to find a new starting point guard, one name to consider is Monte Morris of the Denver Nuggets. Morris, a 6-foot-2, 26-year-old, fifth-year pro from Iowa State, is entering the prime of his career.
After starting just 31 total games in four seasons in Denver, Morris has started 42 this season with superstar Jamal Murray sidelined due to an ACL tear. In Murray’s absence, Morris has averaged career highs in points (12.6), assists (4.1), rebounds (2.9). His shooting numbers numbers (46.3, 36.5, 81.4) and turnovers (1.2) have only taken a slight hit despite a significant uptick in minutes (30.1).
With the Nuggets firmly established as contenders in the Western Conference, and Murray slated to return in April for a playoff run, it appears likely that Morris’s role will decrease.
Whether the Celtics pursue him before the trade deadline or in the offseason, it makes sense to at least inquire and see what the Nuggets have to say. Here’s a closer look at why a trade would benefit all parties.
Why it makes sense for the Celtics
Morris is a cerebral, bouncy point guard who plays under control and excels both in transition and in the half-court.
He would complement Josh Richardson, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Robert Williams perfectly in a hypothetical starting five, rounding out a young, talented group that excels defensively and moves the ball well.
Oftentimes, there’s a lot of pressure on Brown and Tatum to create their own shot. Morris is a player capable of handling the ball and setting them up in ideal spots to lessen some of that burden.
He was second in assist-to-turnover ratio (5.71) in 2019 and set the NCAA record (4.65) across four years in college. Morris, a four-year catalyst for the Cyclones, has been a low-risk, high-reward player throughout his career.
He’s currently 33rd in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.45) and 38th in offensive rating (115) and has meshed extremely well with superstar Nikola Jokic. Morris thrives both on and off the ball and doesn’t try to do anything too flashy or outside his comfort zone.
Net rating swing leaderboard (min. 500 MIN)— Andy Bailey (@AndrewDBailey) January 22, 2022
Nikola Jokic (+25.2)
Stephen Curry (+19.8)
George Hill (+18.5)
Patty Mills (+18.5)
Monte Morris (+17.7)
Cam Reddish (-17.4)
JaMychal Green (-17.8)
Jalen Green (-18.2)
Garrett Temple (-19.6)
Facundo Campazzo (-24.5)
NBA analyst John Hollinger of The Athletic recently mentioned Morris as a player who “should be a strong target” for the Celtics.
“A good passer at the point would obviously be a major upgrade on what we’ve seen this year,” Hollinger wrote. “He likely would come more cheaply both in terms of assets (perhaps two seconds or a swap of a first for a second) and money (he makes $9.5 million next year and just fits into the Thompson exception).”
Morris, who is set to become a free agent in 2024, is currently amid a three year, $27,774,997 contract, and the Celtics likely wouldn’t have to surrender too much to nab him.
Perhaps the Celtics could send Schroder, Aaron Nesmith, and Romeo Langford to Denver in exchange for Morris, old friend Jeff Green, and a second-round pick. Just a thought.
Why it makes sense for the Nuggets
While a possible trade makes would be prudent for the Celtics, it would also be wise for the Nuggets.
It’s no secret that Murray’s return will hurt Morris. With defensive-minded Austin Rivers, crafty Facundo Campazzo, and shifty Bones Hyland in the mix at point guard, the Nuggets have almost too much depth at the position. With Murray out, Schroder and Jokic could play at the 1, and with him back, Schroder could slide to the 2, come off the bench, or head elsewhere. Jokic is basically the NBA’s best point guard as it is, and putting the ball in his hands even more is never a bad thing.
Plus, they already have elite playmaking with Jokic, Murray, and Aaron Gordon, so they could depend more on shooters Bryn Forbes and Zeke Nnaji to complement that core and spread the floor.
Morris has been serviceable and reliable for the Nuggets, but they’ve had five years to tell him how they feel. With Morris likely due for a pay raise in 2024, the Nuggets would benefit from trading him this year before his contract becomes a concern.
Monte Morris' hesi looks like a video-game glitch. It's so nice.— Mike Singer (@msinger) January 20, 2022
Why it makes sense for Morris
Morris, a former Michigan Mr. Basketball, first-team All-Big 12 selection, and second-round pick, has produced whenever he’s gotten the opportunity. He’s someone who helps a team a lot more than he hurts it and rarely makes costly mistakes.
It’s a perfect time for him to take the next step in his career – both from a playing and contract standpoint.
Oh, and one more compelling reason: Morris is of Nigerian descent, as is Celtics head coach Ime Udoka.