Washington Wizards forward Markieff Morris has played exceptionally well in January and has become the key to the team’s January success.
The Washington Wizards are currently one of the hottest teams in the league, having won 9 of their last 11 games, and sport the best record in the Eastern Conference since December 1st.
Much of the turnaround has been the offensive output from the starting lineup and improved play from the bench.
John Wall has been churning out his usual 20 and 10 games, while adding some clutch fourth quarter scoring. Bradley Beal, even with his recent shooting slump, has been the go-to scorer the Wizards have desired since they drafted him in 2012.
Otto Porter is quietly sporting the highest 3-point field goal percentage in the NBA. Meanwhile, Marcin Gortat has been his usual self, leading the league in points assisted off screens, and producing consistent pick-and-roll offense.
The last player in the Washington starting lineup, which is sixth in NetRtg (OffRtg-DefRtg) since December 1, has shown specifically great improvements in the months of December and January.
More from Wiz of Awes
Markieff Morris had a NetRtg of -14 in November and -4 in December, yet is up to +5 in January.
Morris’ improved play has allowed the Wizards to send him out to start the second and fourth quarters with four bench players.
This has helped slow the immediate drought that the team seemed to endure when the starters were on the bench.
With the injuries to Ian Mahinmi, the play of Morris has been especially beneficial.
Morris and Jason Smith have split duties as the backup center and have done a solid job anchoring the bench’s defense even though neither are true rim protectors.
His versatility has also been very key to the team’s success.
At 6-foot-10, with solid athleticism and quickness, he can defend big men, wings, and guards (in spurts). In addition, he has shown his ability to drive from the perimeter when players close out on his 3-point shot, leading to a pull-up jumper or pass.
Speaking of switching on defense, on the play embedded below, Morris was switched onto 5-foot-9 Isaiah Thomas, who is second in the league in scoring.
Morris was able to force a tough 3-point shot from the corner before corralling the rebound and flinging a sensational outlet down court to Beal, who finished with a big dunk.
With all the offensive options in the Wizards’ starting lineup, there are games when Gortat, Morris, or Porter take a backseat during the first or third quarters.
A player of Morris’ ability really strives on offense when he is touching the ball and involved in the offense more than simply getting catch and shoot opportunities. This is one reason why Scott Brooks‘ strategy of staggering his lineups has been successful.
More from Wiz of Awes
Every three or so possessions he seems to get a post up, and he becomes the main screener on pick-and-rolls.
His exceptional play this month can certainly be attributed to the recent lineup changes.
Excluding the two games in October, January has been by far Morris’ most effective month across the board.
His season averages are 13.9 points, 6.6 rebounds, 33% on threes, and a true shooting percentage of 53%.
In January, Morris is averaging 16.6 points, 8.5 rebounds 37% on threes, and a true shooting percentage of 57%.
Morris had one double-double this season through the end of December, and with three games left this month, he already has four double doubles in January.
The recent play of Morris has been exactly what the team anticipated when they gave up its 2016 first round pick to acquire him.
Morris has now played 71 games as a Wizard, and he’s shown this month that he is becoming more comfortable in Brooks’ offense.
With the Washington Wizards rolling, expect to see them continue to rely on this kind of production from Morris. Now in fifth place, they’ve set their eyes on grabbing a top-4 seed in the playoffs, and earning home court advantage in the first round.