Markieff Morris, a rookie forward the Suns selected with the 13th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, began the season with a level of competence that was above expectations. But as this lockout-shortened season has worn on, while the Suns have finally started to find themselves by winning seven of their last nine games, Morris has faded. And he may soon find himself out of the team’s regular rotation because of it.
Morris’ production level has gone from acceptable to great, average to dismal. As this Suns team has locked in recently, giving maximum effort to claw back from double-digit deficits in five straight home victories, Morris hasn’t been able to keep up — which has the team’s head coach, Alvin Gentry, ready to move on to other players if things don’t change.
Hakim Warrick provided a spark from the end of the bench in a win over the Mavericks on Thursday, so it was only natural to ask Gentry if Hak would once again get the call against the Grizzlies on Saturday. Gentry said they’d still like to stick with the rookie, but only if it’s warranted based on the results he can provide when he’s out there.
“I still think that we’ll try Markieff,” Gentry said. “But the one thing that I talked to him about today is that you have to produce. As a bench player, that’s what it’s all about is production. You get an opportunity — and I’m not really talking about making shots, or whatever — but there’s things that you can do to always help the team. I used Channing Frye (as an example), I mean last week Channing was 2-for-18 (in the win over the Clippers) but he played 30-something minutes because of his defense, and rebounding, and things like that.
“It’s not always about making shots, but you’ve got to have production when you’re out there, and if you’re not producing then you have to go somewhere else (as a coach). Because ultimately I’m responsible for the production of guys, and if you’re not producing, then I’ve got to look elsewhere.”
In six games this month — five of which were Suns victories — Morris is shooting a combined 3-for-25 from the field, while collecting just 14 rebounds in total. His minutes have dipped significantly the past two games, and in the win over the Grizzlies on Saturday, Morris logged just three minutes, but still managed to pick up two personal fouls and miss three field goal attempts during that very brief amount of time, while getting screamed at almost the length of the court by Gentry for being completely out of position defensively.
Gentry has shown a fearlessness this season when it comes to his rotations; he messed with the starting lineup on a road trip earlier in the year, and the bench minutes have seemingly changed on a game-to-game basis, depending on who’s bringing the results on any given night. So if Phoenix continues to respond with wins, and is able to make a push towards the bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture, Morris may find himself learning from the bench, rather than the floor.
Whatever the result, there are no hard feelings on Gentry’s part, and he seems to be wide open with Morris — both in terms of his communication, as well as what the expectations are. Essentially, as long as the Suns have a shot at the postseason — distant as it still may be — Morris will need to produce if he wants to see the court. What’s clear now is that he won’t be given additional minutes this season simply for player development purposes.
“He’s a good kid, but he understands that (with hitting the) rookie wall or whatever you want to call it, you’ve still got to have energy when you go out there,” Gentry said. “I still believe in him, and I think he’s going to be a very good player. There’s growing pains involved in whatever you do, but I think the energy thing is key.”