Welcome to the big leagues, young fella.
With no official word on Channing Frye’s injury, Markieff Morris probably won’t have an excuse to fall back on this time around in the starting lineup. It’s go time, and the Suns cannot afford a hiccup. However, before we talk about the game as a whole, let’s just talk about the impact of Markieff’s entrance into the starting lineup, and the lack of Channing Frye.
Let’s be honest here, Channing is not having his best season this year. His shooting is rather off, he’s got more luck than skill, or at least so it would seem. However, against all odds, Channing is in fact, one of the most crucial Suns players, hell, the numbers might even tell us he’s the most important Suns player. According to BasketballValue.Com, Frye’s actually the top Suns player in Unadjusted Overall Rating, standing at a 13.23 Net rating. This basically means that the difference between the offensive and defensive ratings with him on and off the floor is a total of 13 points per 100 possessions, which is… Kind of much. Mind you, Frye’s one of the guys relying almost solely on Nash for this statistic, as his positive impact out there is almost exclusively limited to units headlined by the Nash and Gortat duo. Interestingly enough, however, Nash’s and Gortat’s stats drop off a bit without Frye as well (except for one unit, which, incidentally, is probably going to be starting tonight). Whatever the case, the Suns scoring output goes down by 11 points per 100 possessions without Frye on the court. Why? Even when he’s not hitting shots, teams have to be worried about him on D. This opens everything up for Gortat inside, which starts the crucible of pick and roll adjustments for the opponents. Strangely enough, Markieff isn’t able to do that, despite shooting a better percentage from deep. Why? Well, I have a hint for you: Volume. Per 36 minutes, Morris shoots 2 threes less than Channing. What may seem like a small difference, is big in terms of putting the D on notice. If you hesitate (which ‘kieff often does), the D is going to let you shoot it – and probably brick it.
The Midrange Demon
Speaking of shots and volume, Markieff and Channing shoot almost the same amount shots per 36, the only difference being the location of said shots. According to NBA.com’s StatsCube, Morris shoots 34% on above the break threes, and hit 6 of 11 from the corner, both of which are pretty solid stats for a forward. Unfortunately, the problems start from midrange, where ‘kieff missed 73% of his 120 shots. By comparison, Frye shoots a whole 10% more from midrange, making the defenders respect him more. And you can betcha that the Jazz coaches are telling their team to treat Markieff like many defenders treat Rondo. Give him all the space he needs for that J, because he’s probably going to miss it. And that’s no good. For ‘kieff, this is gut check time, if he can make those midrange J’s, he’s going to give his team a chance to win. It’s all about attracting attention.
Stop the Sap
Look, usually, I’d be all in favour of the Suns going small in case of foul trouble for ‘kieff. This is not an usual day, however, as the Jazz have a pretty big and scary front-line, and the Suns might be without Grant Hill. What then? Put Josh Childress on Paul Millsap? I know the dude is 6’8″, but he plays bigger than that. Way bigger. Hakim Warrick won’t be able to handle him, Marcin Gortat has to deal with Al Jefferson, Josh Childress is too weak to stop him in the post. Whatever happens, it seems that the Suns are doomed in this matchup. Granted, Channing wasn’t exactly the best defender on Millsap, but he managed to stay on the floor. ‘kieff, averaging 5.2 fouls per 36 minutes… Might not be able to do that. On the other hand, he does have the best defensive rating with Marcin Gortat, so there’s that…
The Troublesome Turnovers
Paul Millsap averages 1.8 steals per game. Markieff Morris turns the ball over on 15% of his isolation possessions, according to MySynergySports. You see where this is going, right?
While I’m certain that ‘kieff isn’t going to go ISOing around when Nash is on the floor, the fact of the matter is, he can’t be careless with the ball, at anytime. With Millsap lurking, a split second of consternation might be trouble. You know the drill, right? Careless pass into a crowd, lazy pass from the top of the arc, lazy inbounds pass. These are things we came to be wary of when it comes to the rookie. And tonight, more than ever, these things will be put into focus.
The Suns are 8-6 when Markieff scores more than 10 points on 50% or better shooting. It might seem bad, but the losses are: Denver (Nash resting), Memphis, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Cleveland (pre-Varejao injury) and Miami. Every single one of those losses had more factors in it, and only two came after the All-Star Break. So here’s hoping.
In the end, every single Sun has to step up, but… Markieff not only has a hard assignment in Millsap, but also has to provide something that Channing Frye provided oh so well, space. He can’t be afraid of taking the three, he can’t hesitate when open at the free throw line. He has to rebound on D, and be careful with the ball in his hands. Essentially if the Suns want to get a win here, for one night, Markieff Morris must stop being a rookie, and start being a vet.