USA Today Sports Images/Jennifer Stewart

Hodges’ Unsung Heroes – Markieff Morris

The former Jayhawk has launched himself into the Sixth Man of the Year discussion.

Does Markieff Morris deserve the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award?

He certainly believes so.

The 24-year-old forward recently told the Arizona Republic that he thinks he deserves the award because of the surprise success his team, the Phoenix Suns, have enjoyed this season.

“Coming off the bench with energy, scoring, rebounding, making my teammates better and winning games, especially when we were supposed to win 17,” Morris said. “When you’re supposed to win 17 and you got a guy like me averaging 14 points and we might pull off a playoff run 15 or 16 games above .500. You knew the Clippers (Jamal Crawford reference) were going to be good. You knew the Bulls (Taj Gibson reference) were going to be good, with or without D (Derrick) Rose. Y’all thought we were going after a Number 1 pick. I think I deserve Sixth Man Award for the team success.”

Entering this season, many believed that the Suns were a team destined for the lottery. However, the Suns (47-34) went down to the wire with the Memphis Grizzlies (49-32) and the Dallas Mavericks (49-32) for the final playoff spot in the tough Western Conference. Moreover, the Suns have a better overall record than four of the eight Eastern Conference playoff teams (Brooklyn, Washington, Charlotte, and Atlanta).

So how were they able to exceed such low expectations?

Much of the team’s success has been attributed to the backcourt play of guards Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. Despite Bledsoe missing an extended period of time with a knee injury, the duo remains one of the more talented and formidable starting backcourts in the NBA. Dragic is averaging a career-high 20.4 PPG, while Bledsoe is adding a career-high 18.1 PPG.

Head Coach Jeff Hornacek also deserves his share of the credit. Hornacek’s fast-paced style has the Suns ranked 7th in the league in total offense (they were 21st in 2012). The first-year coach has also been able to tap into the potential of the Suns’ many young players, including C Miles Plumlee and SF Marcus Morris, Markieff’s twin brother.

Markieff, however, has distanced himself from the rest of the Suns’ reserves in terms of his success this season and his importance to his team. Morris, who spent three years at the University of Kansas, is averaging career-highs in both points (13.7 PPG) and rebounds (6.1 RPG) while shooting 48.3% from the field, a 7.6% improvement from last season. Morris’ 18.35 PER ranks 19th in the NBA, higher than the PER’s of former all-stars Zach Randolph (18.09) and David West (17.56) and higher than fellow Sixth Man candidate Taj Gibson (16.52). Morris also has the third-highest PER on the Suns behind Dragic (21.51) and Bledsoe (20.00). All of this while coming off the bench and averaging just over 26 minutes a game.

What separates Morris from other power forwards in the NBA is his ability to make shots away from the basket. A so called “stretch four”, Morris converted on 40.4% of his three-point shots at Kansas. While his shooting touch has yet to emerge at the NBA level, Morris remains a threat to shoot from range if given the space. Moreover, his ability to draw opposing big men away from the basket creates opportunities for his teammates to penetrate and get to the basket, resulting in high-percentage shots such as layups and dunks.

If Morris continues to develop and progress as a player, he may eventually end up with the Sixth Man of the Year award he so highly covets.

Russell Hodges

About Russell Hodges

My name is Russell Hodges and I am a junior journalism and writing major at Texas Christian University. I was born and raised in Chicago and I love Chicago sports.

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