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Markieff Morris needs to be versatile and consistent for the Wizards this season

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NBA: Preseason-Toronto Raptors at Washington Wizards Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

With the Wizards’ backcourt beef, the questions about who will start at small forward, and all the offseason additions, Markieff Morris has flown under the radar this preseason. After struggling for the majority of Washington’s exhibition schedule, he turned in a strong performance in the Wizards’ final regular season tune-up, scoring 19 points on 8-10 shooting, including 3-3 from deep, in 30 minutes of action.

While these numbers are encouraging, there are questions about which Markieff Morris the Wizards will get this season.

Morris was drafted by the Phoenix Suns in 2011 and really broke out during the 2013-14 season where he finished fourth in the Sixth Man of the Year voting. He was moved into the starting lineup the following year and was a stable frontcourt presence for an otherwise inconsistent Suns team.

Morris looked to be headed for more success last season until a summer trade sent his twin brother, Marcus, to the Pistons. Markieff was vocal about his frustration with the move and never seemed to get on the same page with Phoenix after that. The Suns shipped him to the Wizards right before the trade deadline.

After taking a few weeks to adjust, Morris finished the season strong with Washington. In his final 15 games, Morris averaged 15 points a night while shooting an impressive 50 percent from the field and 37 percent from three.

If Markieff Morris can consistently play the way he did the final month of the regular season, he will be a huge upgrade over anyone else the Wizards have played at power forward the past few seasons. Morris is one of the more versatile bigs in the NBA, and while his diverse skill set didn’t always shine through last season, he has proven in the past he can be an effective starter on a good team.

Let’s look at a few examples from a 2015 game against the Wizards. On this play, Morris attacked his man early in the shot clock, caught him off guard, and found Alex Len open underneath the basket for a layup.

While passing is not necessarily a strong point of Morris’ game, he has shown flashes of potential as a facilitator, which the Wizards can use in the frontcourt.

Later in the same game, Morris showed off some of his polished post moves. Here, he gets a bucket by spinning baseline and finishing with his off hand even after getting the ball knocked away.

In this next clip, Morris faces up against the much less agile Marcin Gortat in the post. Gortat has to lay off a little bit to protect against the drive, and that tiny bit of air space is all Morris needs to raise up and hit the jumper.

While his three-point shooting has never been consistent, Morris is formidable from inside the arc. In 2014 and 2015 he shot over 44 percent on midrange jumpers, which puts him well above league average and is especially solid for a power forward.

Also notice how after he hits the shot he wastes no time in getting back on defense. John Wall tried to push the ball to find Gortat on a rim run but Morris got back in time to help force a turnover. While Morris’ overall defensive effort can be a bit sporadic, there is no doubt that when he is engaged he makes teams better on that end of the floor.

Here is a play from later in the same game where Morris shows off his defensive versatility.

On this single play alone, Morris guards three different players, perfectly defends two pick and rolls, and collects the rebound. In 2014-15, the Phoenix Suns had a defensive rating of 104.5 when Markieff Morris was on the floor, and that number shot up to 109.7 when he was on the bench.

This type of power forward play is exactly what the Wizards need. In years past, Nene would start at the four when healthy, but he never developed a consistent jump shot and missed far too many games. Last season, after it became clear that Kris Humphries starting at the four and taking over two threes a game wasn’t a permanent solution, Jared Dudley started 41 games. And while Dudley is an elite three-point shooter, he couldn’t create his own shot and didn’t provide the defensive upside Morris does.

There is no doubt that Markieff Morris is talented. The only question with him is whether or not he can consistently stay engaged on both sides of the floor for a full season. He did it twice in Phoenix, putting together solid seasons in 2014 and 2015 while only missing one game. If he can put together a similar year this season, he can help turn the Wizards into one of the most complete starting lineups in the Eastern Conference.