We can argue about how well the Wizards would've performed this season with better health. We can argue that installing a brand new offense in training camp was always false hope under this coaching staff or that the front office never gave them the tools to even make it possible.
But at this point, does any of it matter? The Wizards are currently 23rd in offense, 15th in defense, with a point differential of a 12th place team in the East. Sure they have a built-in injury excuse, but how many games have been lost due to Randy Wittman sticking with the wrong lineups in the fourth quarter? Or because the team looks flat-out hopeless coming out of halftime? Or because they simply play down to their opponent despite already being one of the most disappointing teams in the league? And remember, they're three games back of the eighth seed despite ranking 10th in the conference at the moment. Every game matters.
And yet, they deal for Markieff Morris, all but ensuring a playoff chase. It reeks of an organization desperate to save face in a lost season. And at the price they ended up forking over -- a top-9 protected 2016 first rounder -- they could've had him last offseason the second he became disgruntled over the Suns trading away his brother to Detroit.
I can get behind adding a player that makes this team better in the long run, provided his legal troubles check out. But to do this now, after they spent this past offseason passing on talent to keep their books clean for 2016 AND passing on Bobby Portis in the draft just doesn't sit well with me. This all could've been avoided, just like many of the trade deadline deals they've made in year's past.
There is a tantalizing prospect somewhere in Markieff Morris; a dynamite offensive weapon that will bully smaller mismatches down low and blow-by bigger defenders from the perimeter. He can function as your go-to scorer down the stretch or hang around the perimeter waiting to attack off a kick-out. In essence, he's a souped-up version of Jared Dudley on offense (with far less outside shooting), meaning teams won't get away with sticking a wing on him.
Just watch how he wrestles Jae Crowder for position down low, and how he manages to get both feet in the paint before receiving the entry pass:
The problem is, we've rarely seen this version of Markieff amid this tire-fire of a season, and if Washington is expecting the sort of return on their investment that they hope, it'll require him snapping out of a season-long shooting slump.
As our Suns blog notes, of players averaging at least 20 minutes per game, only 27 players average a worse field goal percentage on the season than Markieff's 39.7 percent, and he's doing it on a higher volume than anyone on that list other than Kobe Bryant and Emmanuel Mudiay. He's shooting just 37 percent on pull-ups, down from 43 percent last season and his catch-and-shoot numbers have plummeted 6 percentage points, which should be his bread and butter.
Some of that could be coming in the form of regression after he made a name for himself last season as someone who took and converted a lot of tough, contested shots. Last season, he shot a ridiculous 49 percent on shots with a defender within 4 feet of him, per NBA.com's stats page. This season that's down to 42 percent, and he's had a fair share of those coming at the end of the clock to bail out Suns guards after they've dribbled the air out of the ball.
Washington provides him with stable point guard play, but that will require him trading some of those post-ups and isolations he loves so much for more spot-up duties. He'll have to catch-and-shoot more frequently as opposed to holding the ball and jab-stepping like he's fallen into so often this season. And unless he raises his three-point shooting from his career 31-percent average, he may not last very long in the starting lineup.
I always scoff at the notion that effort is what makes a good NBA defender, but then I watch Markieff Morris and Jared Dudley -- two guys at the opposite ends of the spectrum. Morris doesn't have great lower body strength and doesn't sport a tremendous wingspan, but he's extremely quick with size to switch anything. Yet he struggles so much on this end because it often looks like he just doesn't give a damn. He'll allow leak-outs in transition because he's jogging while his man is in full-sprint:
And he'll often just give up if his man has a step on him, lazily poking at the ball from behind and giving up easy dribble penetration:
The Wizards will look to play him at the 5 with Dudley, and that has the makings of a killer offensive unit, but if he's not engaged on the other end with his head on a swivel, he doesn't stand a chance. He has to be ready to provide backside help when their guards are fronting the post and he needs to be in position to switch any ball screen. When the Wizards play those micro-ball lineups, they're ramping up pressure in order to prevent the offense from getting to the basket. Morris cannot be coasting through it.
Morris has had a mini-resurgence since Earl Watson took over for Jeff Hornacek. He's running the floor harder, showing slightly better shot selection, and is kicking out to shooters rather than barreling into traffic. Like Washington, Phoenix likes to push off makes or misses, and Morris has smartly used some of those opportunities to get in quick post-ups before defenses are able to load up on him. Watch how he runs right at Klay Thompson and takes him straight to the block:
Wizards have never had such a luxury in their frontcourt. Nene was, and still is, capable of creating from the low-block, but his face-up game comes and goes, and he has nowhere near the first step Markieff possesses. At the very least, this is a boon to their fourth quarter offense, a safety valve in case their offense shuts down, and a player that can reliably create in isolation. But it's going to be tricky, this isn't a clean fit, particularly if he never hones his three-point shooting or tries harder on defense. But for the first time in this era, the Wizards have a player that can create for himself on a given possession. I'm interested to see how they use him.
Timing is everything. Markieff Morris could be a fine player in a new environment with hopefully all his off-the-court problems behind him. But this trade would've looked better eight months ago. Now? It looks like a front office realizing how poorly they attacked last offseason.