Last week, after Chris Haynes reported that Kawhi Leonard looks to be ahead of schedule in his rehab and could return this season, Marcus Morris Sr. chimed in to make a few things clear. In addition to expressing some excitement, Morris said he wants Kawhi to take his time — it is an ACL injury, after all, not a stubbed toe. But he did smile behind his mask, per Andrew Greif of the Los Angeles Times, before noting that “when he’s ready to play, he’ll play. We’ll hold it down until he gets here.”
If it was possible to invest in a player’s words like stocks, it would almost be impossible not to throw wads of cash in Morris’ direction, given his profuse confidence, even if it’s sometimes (read: often) ill-advised.
The same could be said for Morris’ play, almost directly because of that confidence. On Tuesday, of his recent scoring bump, I briefly wrote that in a kingdom run by Morris, all-world talents “are lowly serfs; Morris is the king, the dragons, and the giants dwelling about the forests.” He’s as confident as they come, and if tasked with holding it down until a superstar returns, a superstar he shall become.
Of course, we know that the true Morris is no such talent — he has plenty, but it’s not of the all-world variety he conducts himself as though he possesses. He’s more of a background star, the kind of performer who’s recognizable and effective in every scene, but never given the lead part. Think John Carroll Lynch, or Stephen Root, or Isiah Whitlock, Jr. (“sheeeeeeeiiiiiiiiiittttt”). All incredible scene partners, better scene stealers, but not often scene leaders.
But Morris laughs in the face of this designation. A place in the background? To him, it’s a grave insult, if not a blatant act of defamation. He’s made it clear that he rejects such a singular label throughout his entire career, and since he’s returned from health and safety protocols, he’s gone even further in his attempt to prove it. Although his three most recent outings of 15, 12, and 12 points have seen him come back down to earth, Morris has otherwise looked like a prolific and surprisingly efficient scorer, even beyond what we’re used to seeing from the vet.
He’s maintained a 9-game average of 19.2 points per game, with his best performances coming in the forms of 24, 26, and 29-point nights, When he’s on, he seems supercharged. Perhaps he’s just getting better with age. Maybe it’s a direct product of being without his team’s de facto superstars. Or, heck, maybe this is just Morris at his most fully realized.
Morris is elite in the department of sizing up his opponent in order to find what he deems his favorite shot, even if it’s not the best shot. He’ll rise up over anyone, and often finds himself draining some of the most difficult attempts a hooper can muster. He’ll lower his torso to the point where it’s parallel with his opponent’s hips, and then swiftly rises up and over the defender for a difficult shot that only he is willing to attempt.
That’s where his aforementioned confidence comes into play the most. You see, most professional athletes are confident and have good reason to be, given that they have reached the mountaintop and mastered a craft that only the greatest can or have before them. Morris is a special case, a player who falls squarely into the NBA’s irrational confidence tier. He’s the kind of force who can either be a total detriment to a team’s flow or the answer to literally every question it has about its offense.
You might recall a scene in 2012’s The Avengers when Tony Stark is essentially telling Loki that he doesn’t stand a chance in a battle against the newly-formed Earth’s Mightiest Heroes squadron. Loki tells Iron Man, “I have an army,” to which our hero instantly responds, “We have a Hulk.”
Morris is the NBA’s Hulk. He’s a brooding powerhouse of a man with what I’d generously call a temper. At the snap of a finger, he can become enraged to the point of ejection, or ferocious to the point of dominance. Sure, he might bring down the whole city, but he also might just save it. It’s a gamble, but it’s a tough one to pass on taking given its upside and despite its downside.
The unfortunate aspect of this boom is, of course, the reality that Morris isn’t a one-man band, and that the Clippers have struggled to consistently populate the “W” column despite his offensive boost. During his best streak as a Clipper, the team has gone 4-6, a middling effort for a team that has been consistently middling all season. They’ve struggled to maintain any sort of offensive harmony, and have failed to play anywhere close to what they’ve previously shown their ceiling to be. They play to (or below) the level of their opponents far too often — take last night’s 24-point loss to the Pelicans as a prime example. (They may be ascending — 8-5 in their last 13, heyo! — but this is still a Zion-less New Orleans team that is 10 games below .500.)
Yet it’s impossible to have that conversation without noting that the team has relatively been staying afloat without Leonard and George, both for extended periods of time. And during that time, plenty of players have been doing their part in order to ensure that the team doesn’t slip into the Western Conference’s cellar.
It may be up to Morris to do even more to keep this boat afloat for as long as the Clippers are without their star duo. He has the potential to be the leader of the pack; he’s shown it during this stretch, and he’d happily prove it to you, challenged directly or not.
Morris has never been a background character in his own story. As much as he may have served a supporting role for the Clippers thus far, the team’s story continues to evolve, and currently, the spotlight is open. If you were to give me one player to put odds on stepping into it, I’d feel pretty foolish banking on anyone but Mook.