LA Clippers: What Marcus Morris Sr. brings to the team

NBA New York Knicks Marcus Morris Sr.(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
NBA New York Knicks Marcus Morris Sr.(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

The LA Clippers continued their recent trend of being active at the trade deadline, executing a deal to acquire coveted Knicks forward Marcus Morris Sr.

It marks the third straight season the LA Clippers have made a trade at the deadline involving an 18-plus point-per-game scorer. The previous two times, the Clippers were the ones shipping off the trade centerpiece (Blake Griffin in 2018, Tobias Harris in 2019). This time around, they’re the ones in win-now mode.

In acquiring Morris Sr., the Clippers had to part with Maurice Harkless, Jerome Robinson, a 2020 first-round pick, a 2021 second-round pick, and a 2021 pick-swap. All of the above – bar Robinson – went the way of the New York Knicks. Robinson went to the Washington Wizards, with the Clippers receiving Isaiah Thomas in exchange – who was later waived. The Knicks also received the rights to Issuf Sanon, a 2018 second-round pick of the Wizards, in the deal.

This season, Morris Sr. is averaging a career-high 19.2 points per game while shooting a career-best 43.4 percent from deep. His efficiency from 3-point range is particularly impressive given he’s shooting more threes than ever at 6.1 per game (previous high was 5.2 per game last season).

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Of course, the role Morris Sr. develops on the contending Clippers will be vastly different from the one he found himself in with the lottery-bound Knicks. Morris Sr. was New York’s leading scorer – now, he’s probably LA’s fifth option on offense.

But Morris Sr. knows he’s not getting fifteen shots a game anymore. With the Clippers boasting two top ten talents in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George as well as the potent bench tandem of Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, Morris Sr. seems committed to being the ultimate “3-and-D” guy.

In his first three games with his new club, Morris Sr. is averaging 10.7 shots a game – his lowest mark since the 2014-15 season. Per 36 minutes, he’s at his lowest mark ever at 11.6 field goal attempts per game – his previous low coming in 2015-16 with the Detroit Pistons (11.9 attempts per game).

Morris Sr., evidently, is finding himself within the Clipper offense. He’s played with George and Leonard once, just George once, and just Leonard once (George played 15 minutes before leaving injured) through his first three games as a Clipper. Patrick Beverley has also been absent with a groin strain since Morris Sr.’s arrival. The Clippers were unable to play in their totality has made Morris Sr.’s transition from volume scorer on a bad team to a role player on a contender all the more difficult.

Reps alongside George and Leonard allows Morris Sr. to figure out his role. When to be 19 a game Marcus Morris Sr. and when to be complementary wing Marcus Morris Sr. When one is absent, his role expands. And while he’s capable of filling such a role on occasion, it doesn’t help LA long-term. The Clippers need Morris Sr. to be a floor spacer and a versatile defender, not a guy who can get them a bucket in the mid-post.

But credit to Morris Sr., who’s made the best out of a sub-optimal situation up to now. His aggression, surprisingly, hasn’t altered despite varying personnel. In his first game, in which George played and Leonard didn’t, Morris Sr. took 12 shots. He took 12 the next game, too, despite both George and Leonard featuring. In his most recent game, where Leonard featured and George left after 15 minutes with a strained hamstring, Morris Sr. took just eight shots, despite playing 42 minutes.

Between eight and 12 shots a game feels a good settling point for Morris Sr. given the plethora of talent the Clippers boast. He’s currently at 10.7 field goal attempts per game, right around the figures he put up as an ever-reliable role player for the Boston Celtics (11.3 field goal attempts per game in both 2017-18 and 2018-19).

Morris Sr.’s shot selection thus far has also been a refreshing sight. For the first time in his career, he isn’t taking more 2’s than 3’s – averaging 5.3 2-point field goals per game and 5.3 3-point field goals per game. And while Morris Sr.’s 3-ball is yet to arrive on the west coast with him (31 percent through three games), his spacing is already paying dividends. More driving lanes are presenting themselves as defenses can’t sag off Morris Sr. the way they did Harkless, and Morris Sr. can be trusted from above the arc in key situations – his clutch at TD Garden this past Thursday a prime example.

Defensively, Morris Sr. has been stellar. His switchability has been impressive, as has his ability to disrupt passing lanes and come up with deflections – a point of pride for Rex Kalamian’s defense.

“Three-and-D” will be Morris Sr.’s niche in LA, but he’s added some surprising wrinkles to the Clippers’ offense beyond spotting up (and no, I’m not talking about fadeaways from the mid-post. In fairness to Marcus, those egregious shots have been few and far between so far).

I’m talking about Morris Sr.’s abilities as a pick-and-roll ball-handler. He’s already flashed nice chemistry with Ivica Zubac, connecting with the big man on a lob as well as rising for the occasional uncontested mid-range jumper when it presents itself – a shot Morris Sr. shouldn’t become overly infatuated with.

The Clippers can also utilize Morris Sr. at the five in a small-ball lineup. While the Clippers could have previously done this with the criminally underrated JaMychal Green at the five prior to Morris Sr.’s arrival, they didn’t (despite Green at the five working to take two games off the all-time great Golden State Warriors team of last year. But I digress).

The Clippers already flashed the lineup in a last gasp attempt to overcome the Philadelphia 76ers, though the sample size is simply too small to conjure up any legitimate takeaways.

In spite of this, the concept is exciting. Maximum spacing for George and Leonard to operate 1-on-1 is a mouth-watering thought. Teams will pay a hefty price for doubling with the likes of Shamet, Morris Sr. and Beverley flanking LA’s star tandem.

True, the Clippers gave up a lot to acquire Morris Sr. Harkless was far from a disaster, and was quite frankly a stud on the defensive end.

But come playoff time, the fact of the matter is he’s a non-shooter. The possibility of him being played off the floor – as he has been the case the last few years in Portland – was fairly high. High enough to execute this deal.

That won’t happen with Morris Sr. Though not as good as Harkless defensively, he remains competent as well as tough on that end. Offensively, no such worries even enter your train of thought. It’s a given that he’ll be fine.

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Ultimately, the Clippers improved following the deal. Whether it was necessary or crippling for their long-term future remains to be seen. What is clear is that the Clippers are undeniably all-in.