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2020-21 Clippers season in review: Marcus Morris Sr.

Morris was consistently good during the regular season, and then occasionally excellent during the playoffs.

2021 NBA Playoffs - Phoenix Suns v LA Clippers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

Welcome to our annual Clippers season in review series. Every day until the end of July, we’ll be taking a look back at the players who ended the season with the Clippers (apologies to Malik Fitts and Mfiondu Kabengele). Today, we continue with Marcus Morris Sr.

Key information:

Name: Marcus Morris Sr.

Age: 31

Years in the NBA: 10

Key stats: Morris played 57 games during the regular season, missing the first eight games with right knee soreness and then another seven intermittently for maintenance. He averaged 13.4 points and 4.1 rebounds in 26.4 minutes per game while shooting 47.3 percent on threes. In the playoffs, Morris put up 12.2 points and 4.3 rebounds in 31.8 minutes per game, knocking down 37.5 percent of his threes in the process.

Future contract status: Morris is in year two of a four-year, $64 million contract he signed in the 2020 offseason.

Summary:

Morris was perfectly fine after being traded to the Clippers in 2020, but he came into his second season expecting an improvement with a clearer role under Ty Lue. His campaign got off to a delayed start, however, as he missed the first eight games and was bumped from the starting lineup by Nic Batum. Morris offered to remain in the second unit since Batum was playing so well, eventually entering the first five alongside Ivica Zubac on March 15 against Dallas.

Whether he was starting or coming off the bench, Morris’ performance was consistent throughout the regular season. He was the second-best 3-point shooter in the league behind Brooklyn’s Joe Harris and shot at least 44 percent every month. Only once during the regular season did Morris have three consecutive games without scoring double figures, and those came in three straight wins for the Clippers anyway.

Morris played as a conventional forward for most of the regular season, suiting up with a center (Zubac, Serge Ibaka, or DeMarcus Cousins) for about 80 percent of his possessions, per Cleaning the Glass. But the allure of Morris was always his ability to moonlight as a small-ball five, and that was fully unleashed during the playoffs. Morris played more possessions at center (809) during the postseason than during the first 72 games (572), accounting for nearly 70 percent of his playing time.

The playoffs introduced significant more variability in Morris’ performance, and his knee issues started acting up again; in Game 3 of the conference finals, Morris was so close to being a late scratch that he was replaced in the starting lineup. He still didn’t miss any games and ended the postseason with a playoff career-high 26 points.

Strengths:

Morris was a phenomenal shooter this past season. He made 54 percent of his corner threes and 45 percent away from the corner. He also maintains an effective post-up game. He loves to set up shop on the left block and turn into a baseline fadeaway. Morris post-ups resulted in 1.06 points per possession, better than the Clippers’ halfcourt offensive rating of 103.5.

Although he was willing to play a supplementary role to the Clippers superstars, Morris was able to step into a larger offensive responsibility when one or both of Kawhi Leonard or Paul George was out for the night. In the first game that Leonard missed in the postseason, Morris popped off for 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting. He was only unable to sustain that pace because of his injury.

Defensively, Morris was at his best in the team’s switching system. He can switch onto guards, but he was most valuable battling against bigs despite not being center size. He stonewalled Kristaps Porzingis and even kept Boban Marjanović off the glass in the first round. Morris was even better against Rudy Gobert in the conference semifinals, preventing Gobert from having any offensive impact beyond the occasional second-chance baskets.

Weaknesses:

Morris doesn’t add much on offense beyond his scoring. He doesn’t rebound the ball particularly well and isn’t a ball mover. That means he doesn’t turn the ball over, but he also isn’t creating shots for his teammates. Morris also doesn’t have a lot of burst, so he is’t a vertical threat in the halfcourt or effective in transition. If he isn’t hitting his jumper, he’s not providing much on the offensive end.

This was also a weak defensive season for Morris. He didn’t have high steal or block rates, as has been the case throughout his career. When the Clippers were playing conventional pick-and-roll defense, Morris’ versatility was less valuable, and he wasn’t as useful as Batum on that end of the floor.

Future with the Clippers:

The Clippers signed Morris for four years last offseason, with no options, so they expect to have him for the long haul. He fits into the Clippers’ offensive system and enables them to play small. That’s exactly what the Clippers are looking for in a role player, and with his contract, he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.