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2019-20 Clippers Report Card: Marcus Morris Sr.

The team’s highest profile in-season acquisition looks like a long-term piece, even if the start to his Clippers tenure was a bit bumpy.

Los Angeles Clippers v Denver Nuggets - Game Four Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Key information:

Name: Marcus Morris Sr.

Age: 31

Years in the NBA: 9

Key stats: Morris averaged 10.1 points and 4.1 rebounds in 28.9 minutes per game during the 19 regular-season and seeding games he played in for the Clippers. In 13 playoff games, Morris chipped in 11.8 points and 4.8 rebounds in 29.8 minutes per contest.

Future contract status: Morris is an unrestricted free agent.

Summary:

Morris and the Clippers had been linked with one another since the 2019 offseason, but the power forward elected to sign with the New York Knicks for a cool $15 million, a contract higher than what the Clippers offered him. Once it became clear that the Knicks had no use for a player of Morris’ caliber while they barreled towards another lottery appearance — a sequence of events that no one could have predicted — the Clippers actively pursed him at the trade deadline. They made the deal to acquire him by sending Moe Harkless and a first-round pick to New York while routing Jerome Robinson to Washington to make the salaries match.

There was a bit of an adjustment for Morris as he shifted from being a no. 1 option to third or even fourth on the pecking order, and he had some ill-advised shooting performances to start his Clippers tenure. But that changed after the All-Star break as the Clippers went on their best run of the season, buoyed by Morris’ size and spacing in the starting lineup.

Morris went on a hot shooting streak to start the playoffs, and the Clippers looked downright unstoppable on offense with him playing next to Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. But like several of his teammates, he fell flat at the end of the conference semifinals against Denver, scoring a combined 12 points over the final two games.

When the Clippers traded for Morris, the hope was that with another rangy, switchable wing defender, they could go small more often and spread teams out with a Morris/Leonard/George frontcourt (or even JaMychal Green/Leonard/Morris with PG at the two, if you’re so inclined). Instead, LA mostly played with Ivica Zubac or Montrezl Harrell on the floor. That lack of experimentation was a common through-line of the season.

Strengths:

Morris was a darling of advanced stats in his Clippers stint. He had the best offensive rating on the team by a large margin during the regular season and led the Clippers with a plus-15.8 net rating. That dropped to plus-9.8 during the postseason, still impressive considering the higher level of competition, and second among rotation players behind Ivica Zubac. Morris is a great shooter and rarely turns the ball over, which actually makes him an ideal role player even though he can sometimes pine for more.

On the other end of the floor, Morris can capably defend his position and can switch onto smaller players. The Clippers frequently had him switch on the perimeter, and he generally held his own. The perfect cocktail of Morris’ best attributes came in the playoff opener against Dallas, when his shooting and defense combined with his physicality made him a matchup nightmare for the Mavericks.

Weaknesses:

Morris doesn’t do much on offense other than shoot. His first instinct to score, so moving the ball comes as a last resort, and he doesn’t create for his teammates. When his jumper’s falling, the offense really hums; but if it’s not, he’s just standing on the perimeter, unable to bend the defense, or he’s hijacking the offense to take bad shots. In his Clippers stint, Morris was cautious about his usage, but there were times when he didn’t impact the game because he wasn’t scoring. It doesn’t help that he also isn’t a good rebounder for his position.

Morris is also a somewhat volatile personality on the court. He got involved with both Kristaps Porzingis and Luka Doncic during the first-round series. Those confrontations resulted in one Porzingis ejection and one Morris ejection, which was probably a net win for the Clippers, but then Morris got into it again with Paul Millsap in the second round, and that ended very poorly. There’s toughness, and then there’s going over the line, and Morris had some difficulty toeing the line during the playoffs.

Future with the Clippers:

The Clippers gave up two of their best trade assets (the 2020 first-rounder and Robinson) to get Morris, and they have no salary cap space to replace Morris, so they have to keep him. Morris also seems like a quintessential Ty Lue player who would have fit in swimmingly in Lue’s Cleveland offenses. He is a good starting power forward who can alleviate the offensive and defensive burden on the Clippers’ stars, which makes it necessary to have him around.

Overall grade: B-