While his arrival in Beantown was originally met with mixed reviews, Marcus Morris has suddenly become the Boston Celtics’ second-most prized offensive asset this season. How is he putting up these shooting numbers, and what does it mean for the team going forward?
At the halfway point in the NBA calendar, the Boston Celtics seem to have to steered their offense back on track after a sluggish start to the season. As things sit after game 41, the team is ninth in the NBA in offensive rating (110.8 points per 100 possessions) after holding the 27th spot 20 games into the season (104.6 points per 100 possessions). While the team doesn’t have everything figured out (their second-to-last free throw rate is a good place to start), their offense has shown a marked improvement, spearheaded not only by a stellar season from Kyrie Irving, but a historical shooting performance from … Marcus Morris.
Yes, you read that right. Not only is Marcus Morris averaging a career high 15.5 points per game for the Celtics this year, he’s doing it with an extraordinary shooting split: 50.1/45/88.2. All three figures easily clear career highs for Morris, and the forward now finds himself fifth in the league in three-point percentage. In other impressive stats: Morris is shooting two-pointers at a rate of 54.7% (more than 6% higher than his previous career best) with a 64.4 TS% and 60.4 eFG% to boot.
To put things into (a completely exaggerated) perspective, there has been one player to ever match Morris’ current percentages from deep and from two-point range, while also taking as many shots. That player is Steph Curry, during his record breaking 2015-16 season.
While this is in no way trying to equate the two seasons, it does provide a bit of an idea how unprecedented Morris’ current shooting levels are given the volume of shots he’s taking. His offensive performance hasn’t just looked good on his own stat sheet, either – it’s saving the team’s offense.
With Morris on the floor, the team has a 113.3 offensive rating – the highest individual rating on the team. When Morris is on the bench, the Celtics post a 103.4 offensive rating – nearly 10 less points per 100 possessions without Mook. That mark is second only to Irving, who improves Boston’s offensive rating by 11.2 when he’s on the court.
“I’m just playing with my teammates,” Morris said of his efficiency after the Celtics’ 135-point performance against the Pacers. “I’m open, making shots – the guys are doing a great job of finding me and I’m happy to get the win.”
That win saw Morris score 22 points on 8 shots, further proving that for the time being, he is putting up one of the most efficient seasons in Celtics history, and is currently sporting one of the most impressive three-point clips in the league. How was he able to make such a drastic improvement in his sophomore campaign in Boston, and how will it affect the team going forward?
How Marcus Morris has improved his shot
While Marcus Morris has seen some fluctuation in his shooting percentages throughout his career, nothing has been as pronounced as his one year turnover with the Boston Celtics: his splits increased from 42.9/36.8/80.5 last year to 50.1/45/88.2 today. The former marks spell role-player; this year’s percentages spell dollar signs for the 29-year old this off-season.
What has Morris done differently? Despite putting up only 10.7 shots a game, his lowest mark in four years, Mook has gotten more of the good stuff: more threes, more assisted shots, and more shots in areas he excels in.
The simple act of taking more shots from deep this seasons seems to have paid dividends for Morris, as the Celtics have a strong track record in games where Morris is a perimeter threat: Boston is 17-6 when he takes at least five shots from behind the arc in a game. And perhaps even more impressive, out of those 23 games, Morris has shot a 40% clip in 18 of them.
It seems to be all about getting into a rhythm. Morris is currently averaging 43.4% from deep and 48.2% from the field in the first quarter, which is already a firey start, but he gets more efficient as the game goes on. Both percentages slowly crawl up until you get to his mindblowing fourth quarter splits: 55.3/48.8/90.3.
Another important change to note: not only is Morris succeeding at finding his rhythm, he has also changed his shooting habits a bit to make for an even more efficient season. Mook is taking 47.2% of his shots from beyond the arc this year, a career high and noticeable increase from last year, where he took only 38.3% of his shots from deep.
And in practice, it just makes Morris look like a better decision maker on the court. Take this pass from Gordon Hayward against the Minnesota Timberwolves:
The second the ball reaches Morris’ hands, his body language shows that he knows exactly what he’s going to do with it. As he sees Taj Gibson come in on the closeout, he gives him a pump fake to throw him off – Gibson has to chase, as Morris is shooting 46.5% from deep on catch-and-shoot opportunities this year.
Once Gibson is taken care of, Morris has the option to step up and take a wide open mid-range shot, or even make a drive at the basket with a potential assist to Al Horford. Instead, he steps up, takes a step back, draws Karl-Anthony Towns (leaving Horford room to grab an offensive board) and drains the deep ball.
It’s a subtle shift, but Morris looks more comfortable making a home out of the perimeter, and the Celtics have taken well advantage. Take a look at this play from the same game, just a quarter earlier:
Yep, same play design. This time, though, Morris has no problems with the 6’4″ Josh Okogie coming out to the perimeter, and he sinks the three right from the catch. Set plays like these have been the key to the Celtics’ offensive turnaround – they score more points than any team in the league off of catch-and-shoot opportunities, and come only second to the Bucks in catch-and-shoot three-point makes.
Speaking of passing the ball around, Morris also happens to be scoring 68% of his baskets off of assists this season, a mark he hasn’t seen since 2012-13. His rapport with Irving, the other offensive savant on the squad, has blossomed in his second season: Morris has already scored 41 times off of an assist from Uncle Drew, compared to a mere 30 total last season. When both players are on the court, the Celtics boast a 116.9 offensive rating, which is the sixth best duo effort in the NBA this year.
Not only is Marcus Morris taking the right shots, finding the right spots on the court and letting his teammates help him along the way, he’s doing all of these things at career levels. His game right now is an efficiency purist’s dream, and with 41 games to go, the Boston Celtics will need that shooting to remain a top offense.
Looking even further ahead, it should be noted that Morris’ performance is all coming during a contract year, a development that should have the 29-year-old’s agent foaming at the mouth as he enters free agency this off-season. Morris is making a bit over $5 million in the final year of his deal. He’ll be getting a lot more this summer.
Will the Celtics be the team to pay him? That remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: Morris is having a historic shooting year, and his newfound efficiency has been one of the unsung elements of the team’s 25-16 record through the first half of the season.