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Marcus Morris Sr. is here to fill in the gaps

After an adjustment period a year ago, the 11-year veteran is perfectly comfortable in his role with the Clippers.

2021 NBA Playoffs - Phoenix Suns v LA Clippers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Welcome to our 2021-22 Clips Nation season preview series, where we’re digging into something that interests us about each player for this coming season. Next up, how does Marcus Morris Sr. build off of a historic shooting season?

It’s the kind of stat that almost makes you do a double take. 47.3 percent conversion on 3-pointers, second in the league, for a player who wasn’t even known as a shooter when he first entered the NBA.

And yet, that’s the type of shooter Marcus Morris Sr. was in his first full season with the Clippers, a veritable sniper from beyond the arc who made a blistering 56.4 percent of threes from the corners. Considering the rough shooting start Morris had to his Clippers tenure when he came over in a trade from the New York Knicks in February 2020 (31.0 percent on threes in 19 regular-season games), that output was even more surprising.

But that shooting was real, and it wasn’t one hot streak that lifted up Morris’ numbers. His 3-point percentage started at 44.6 percent during January, and only got better over the course of regular season, cresting to 50.0 percent in May, and helping Morris post the fourth-best offensive rating on the Clippers behind Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Serge Ibaka.

Morris ended up on the other side of that wave in the playoffs, though, as the toll of guarding opposing bigs caught up with him. After missing the first eight games of the regular season with knee soreness, those same issues caught up with him in the postseason. Morris still suited up, but was merely an above-average shooter (37.5 percent on threes) rather than an elite bomber as the Clippers struggled to score against Phoenix.

On media day, Morris proclaimed that the team would have been in the Finals had he been healthy, but then he added, “I don’t think nobody’s 100%. I don’t think players are ever 100% even with the summer time, you still play. So I’m ready to play, I would say that.”

Alas, Morris was unable to play during the preseason as Ty Lue said the Clippers were still working on getting him healthy. The forward didn’t participate in his first full-contact practice until Oct. 12, the day after the team’s final preseason game. He’ll be available for the opener on Thursday against Golden State, though a minutes restriction could be in play as he gets into game shape. Then again, Lue has expressed a need to conserve all of his veterans as they prepare for an 82-game slate for the first time in three seasons.

One way the Clippers will be managing Morris’ health is by limiting their use of small lineups during the regular season. They have three capable centers to eat up minutes at the 5 in Ivica Zubac, Serge Ibaka, and Isaiah Hartenstein, and forcing Morris into that role is an unnecessary stressor when most teams aren’t even specifically game-planning for their opponents.

“Playoffs was a unique situation where I went 5,” Morris said during training camp, “so I think it’s just gonna come, just adjustments we make, probably finish some games at the 5, but I don’t think we’ll see a lot of that early on in the season, but we gotta hold some cards until the playoffs come.”

Offensively, though, Morris will be given more opportunities. The Clippers are going to need more volume — both literally and in terms of his usage — from their 32-year-old veteran. Normally, that jump in usage would correspond with a decline in efficiency, but Morris has shown an ability to assume a larger workload without that tradeoff. He had a 24 percent usage rate in New York in 2019-20 while posting the highest true shooting percentage of his career to date. Getting Morris more shots is usually a good proposition.

The only area of the floor where Morris has been inefficient is directly at the rim, but that isn’t a problem in this offense. Morris provides the spacing that allows the downhill attackers — like George, Eric Bledsoe, and Justise Winslow — to get into the paint. It’s all about fitting into the puzzle.

A year ago, Morris was a smaller piece in that puzzle, almost overqualified for the offensive role he was given. When he scored 17 points, the Clippers were undefeated, whether that came during the regular season or the playoffs. This particular group will need Morris to be a bigger piece, to hit that mark more than 15 times.

Maybe Morris maintains his sterling efficiency in that larger role. Even if he doesn’t, he still hopes to have a historic impact helping lead this franchise to places it has never been before.