When the Wizards started the season 2-8, Markieff Morris became the scapegoat for a lot of the team’s criticism. Yes, the bench was awful, and yes, Bradley Beal was struggling at the time too, but Morris’ numbers were significantly lower across the board than what they had been during his peak in Phoenix.
Now, after Washington went 12-4 in January and is playing like the best team in the Eastern Conference, Morris has flipped the script on his season’s narrative. The once inefficient four-man who didn’t rebound is now one of the hottest shooting power forwards in the NBA and is punishing opposition on the glass.
Why, you may ask, is Morris playing so much better? How can someone who was averaging 5.8 rebounds in November have averaged just under nine a game in January?
Well, the answers to these questions are actually quite simple, as Morris helped illuminate following the Wizards’ win over the Knicks Tuesday night:
Markieff Morris on why his rebounding numbers are up in Jan.: "I don't know. I just feel like rebounding now. Something woke up in there."— Ben Standig (@BenStandig) February 1, 2017
My initial takeaway from this is that Morris might be my new favorite NBA interviewee. He has proven multiple times over the last few days that he is one of the more entertaining quotes in the league.
Here he is earlier this week speaking with the Washington Post’s Candace Buckner about his major improvement:
“I just a got a little bit of motivation,” he teased. “A little bit of extra motivation that made me realize I could do more and I can bring more to the team.”
Prodded about the mysterious motivation, Morris shared the story.
A couple weeks ago, his agent sent him a text. There was a note about a Bleacher Report story that listed the NBA’s top 30 power forwards at the halfway point of the season. Morris didn’t click the link or see the names; he only read Dan Brinkley’s message.
“They didn’t have me on there,” Morris recalled.
All joking aside about who and what is motivating Morris, it is great to see him playing so well. On top of his aforementioned improved rebounding, Morris averaged more than 17 points on impressive 49/41/85 shooting splits in the month of January. That was good enough for superb 58 percent true shooting, and his improvement from three helped space the floor for Wall to drive and kick back out to the likes of Bradley Beal and Otto Porter.
Morris probably won’t keep up his current torrid pace, but the fact that he is building confidence as the season progresses is a great sign. The Wizards have been at their best during the John Wall-era when they have had a power forward stepping up as a key contributor late in the season.
Whether it was Nene dominating in the post during their 2014 playoff series victory over the Bulls, or Paul Pierce stepping up as a reliable stretch four when they swept the Raptors in the first round the following season, Washington thrives when their four-man is their X-factor. Markieff Morris is proving why he can be just that for the Wizards this season.