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Marcus Morris' switch to LA Clippers sees one of the NBA's greatest depths of talent become even richer

Mark Deeks

Saturday 8 February 2020 12:28, UK

Marcus Morris scores with a lay-up against the Washington Wizards
Image: Marcus Morris scores with a lay-up against the Washington Wizards during his time with the Knicks

Marcus Morris Sr moving to the LA Clippers ahead of Thursday's Trade Deadline was one of the biggest moves made by a contender, Sky Sports NBA analyst Mark Deeks looks at the impact he could be set to have and the effect the trade could have going forward.

Normally, deals made at the NBA trade deadline happen between teams at the two distinctly different ends of the spectrum.

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Firstly, for teams that are competing at the top, you will generally see some 'buying' going on. By this, it is meant that these teams will be making trades for established veterans, often at the cost of their young players or future draft assets, because they have a title window now and they want to maximise their chances of winning it.

On the flip side, the teams normally selling these players are invariably at the bottom of the NBA, getting what they can for their veterans (particularly those on expiring contracts) while they still can, targeting those same young pieces and draft assets with a view to the future, as it is known by now that their presence will not be worth much.

Paul George of the LA Clippers shoots the ball during the game against the Miami Heat 1:42
Highlights of the Miami Heat's visit to the Los Angeles Clippers in Week 16 of the NBA season

This year, however, there was not as much of that as usual. Contenders in both conferences (the LA Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, Indiana Pacers, Toronto Raptors and the Utah Jazz who admittedly made their move for Jordan Clarkson slightly earlier) chose to stand pat, even those with distinct questions still unanswered in their playing rotation. Although quite a few trades went down in the final 48 hours prior to the deadline as per usual, many were financially related, and a few involved teams near the bottom shuffling the deck chairs on sinking ships.

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The biggest purchases made by contending teams were twofold. The Miami Heat were able to pick up Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill from the Memphis Grizzlies in anticipation of their push for the Eastern Conference, while out west, the LA Clippers - who had already reformed much of their roster over the previous year - made another deal when they picked up Marcus Morris from the New York Knicks.

In exchange, they sent Mo Harkless, a 2020 first-round pick and a 2021 second-round pick from the Detroit Pistons to New York, along with second-year guard Jerome Robinson to the Washington Wizards (who also sent Isaiah Thomas back to the Clippers in return, although the Clippers intend to waive him immediately).

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Paul George and Kawhi Leonard high-five during the Clippers win over the Spurs
Image: Paul George and Kawhi Leonard high-five during the Clippers' win over the Spurs

Having acquired Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to go with an incumbent crew of quality role players over these past twelve months, the Clippers were already incredibly rich. They have been anointed as a potential title winner since before the season began, and despite a couple of small peaks and valleys on the way through the season so far, including some troubling late-game execution, their 36-15 record is up there with the best. Now, once again, they have pushed their chips into the middle, making a bid to win an NBA championship that is wide open for the taking, for the cost only of pieces they were not getting much from anyway.

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There was no path to minutes with the Clippers for Robinson, a player drafted as a versatile high-volume combo scorer, but who was never going to supercede Lou Williams in this role, and who also was unable to get minutes over Landry Shamet, a high-IQ high-efficiency shooting specialist. There was also not likely to ever be a path to minutes for whoever was picked with the 2020 first-rounder, especially considering that the pick will be a low one in what is universally held to be a weak draft pool. (Indeed. the 2021 second-round pick that was also sent out might prove to be more valuable, considering that that draft figures to be a lot deeper and the Pistons will be near the bottom of the NBA, brushing at picking to the high thirties range.)

There had been minutes available for Harkless, a good athlete, defender and rebounder who offered something in that role, and who had averaged 22.8 minutes per game so far this year. He was reasonably solid in them, too, scoring 5.5 points per game on a 51 per cent shooting percentage, while adding 4.0 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 0.6 blocks per contest. He did what it was expected of him to do and was not a failure in his role.

Marcus Morris averaged a career-best 19.6 points in his ninth NBA season
Image: Marcus Morris has averaged a career-best 19.6 points in his ninth NBA season

The Clippers clearly felt, however, that they needed the greater offensive infusion offered by Morris rather than expecting any greater two-way contributions from Maurice. And in significantly improving this one spot in the rotation, the already-rich just got richer.

This move should not be without its concerns, though. As looked at in our previous appraisal of the Clippers and specifically the play and playing style of Williams, this team as constructed does not necessarily need another isolation scorer, and Marcus Morris is definitely one such player.

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Per Synergy Sports data, Morris's 19.6 points per game average on the season comes in a variety of ways, all of them self-interested; he spends 20.5 per cent of his time as the pick and roll ball-handler, 20.2 per cent of the time in spot-up possessions, 10 per cent in post-up plays and 9.8 per cent in isolation, efficient from all except the post, where he is turnover-prone. Yet in all of them, he looks only to create for himself.

This has long been a known issue, and the Clippers cannot expect it to change now. There is some value to be had in having a player with that much confidence, but it is this same ball-stopping tendency and free-roaming offensive style that did for Morris's time with the Boston Celtics. On a Celtics team that last season were hamstrung by how many players were looking to get their own and not play within a harmonious team concept, Morris was one of the guiltiest. He tries hard, certainly. But he does not necessarily try hard in optimum ways.

Marcus Morris bounces the ball off Justin Anderson's head to earn an ejection 0:26
Marcus Morris was ejected after striking Washington Wizards defender Justin Anderson in the head with the ball whilst playing with the New York Knicks earlier this season

Nevertheless, he is productive enough by this stage of his career to merit a high volume of shot attempts, and the 43.9 per cent he is shooting from three-point range this season on slightly more than six attempts a game will benefit any team. Morris has much improved as an offensive player throughout the course of his NBA career, adding this high-volume high-efficiency outside stroke to the perennially heavy diet of efficient mid-rangers, and while also still able to get a few shot down in the post, albeit not especially efficiently anymore. He can score from any area of the court, and Lord knows he wants to.

Paul George and Kawhi Leonard high-five during the Clippers win over the Spurs 2:14
Gametime panellists Grant Hill, Candace Parker and Isiah Thomas break down the work the LA Clippers need to do after the All-Star break

Morris does also try to play defence, and has some good physical strength that helps to compensate for his less-than-ideal lateral speed. He is not a particularly good defender, especially when compared to the versatile Harkless, yet he is not a distinct net negative on that end, which when combined with the near-20 points per game scoring infusion makes for a very significant mid-season acquisition indeed. The Clippers can now run some all-offensive line-ups featuring Williams, George, Leonard, Montrezl Harrell and Morris, able to sub out any of those players for the shooting of Shamet as required, and now have significant outside shooting options at every position. Even centre, if they choose to play JaMychal Green there.

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Phenomenally deep, after this deal, the Clippers will be even more of contenders than they were already, for the cost of a player they would not have retained anyway, a player they had no chance to get minutes to, and draft picks not likely to make significant inroads into the rotation anyway, especially during this title window.

Morris is a flawed player, much more so than most other 20 point per game scorers, but he is a productive and fearless one who betters any team when not asked to (or trying to) do too much.

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And as for the Knicks - yes, this is what they have should have been doing for a while now. Good deal for them, too. A true win-win.

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