It's difficult to toot anyone's horn when the record is 3-8, but the presence of Markieff Morris as the Wizards' starting power forward is paying dividends above and beyond his $8 million a year average salary. In Thursday's victory over the New York Knicks, he took away Kristaps Porzingis similar to how he made it incredibly difficult for Paul Millsap and Serge Ibaka.
These names are all relevant because matchup-wise, those players have given the Wizards fits because of their inability in recent years -- before Morris was acquired in a trade in February for a mid-first-round pick in a shallow 2016 draft pool -- to defend stretch fours. Porzingis, Millsap and Ibaka were too quick for the likes of Kris Humphries, Nene, a traditional back-to-the-basket power forward, and too big for Jared Dudley who was a career small forward unfairly tasked with getting posted up by more athletic bigs.
This is no longer an issue and there's ample evidence to show it with Morris. He only had eight points on 4-for-11 shooting in a 119-112 over New York to go with eight rebounds. But it also shows why reading boxscores to determine effectiveness, or plus-minus ratings, is hardly the most accurate gauge. With Morris on the floor, the Wizards were plus-5, the lowest of any starter.
Sometimes his rebounding numbers will be lower because he's out on the arc defending stretch shooters like Porzingis, taking Morris out of prime defensive rebounding position.
After scoring 35 points the previous night, Porzingis only had eight points through three quarters in Washington as his team trailed by 22. The focus here will be on the first half when Morris only had two points, and what role he played in helping them get out to a double-digit lead:
-- 10:22-10:12: Porzingis slides along the baseline to the weakside for an isolation post up just outside the paint, the same kind of play the Knicks run for Carmelo Anthony and the Chicago Bulls for Dwyane Wade. Morris is on top of him with resistance immediately, not allowing Porzingis deeper position. Porzingis starts his move out farther from the rim than when he started as Morris stays square, doesn't bail him out with a cheap reach-in and doesn't allow him to get to his right shoulder to the middle of the paint. Forced to run baseline for a lower percentage look, Porzingis rises and lofts an airball for a shot clock violation and Morris still contests without fouling. This is picture perfect position defense that's every bit as good as a blocked shot. In fact, it's even better because you're guaranteed possession.
-- 6:22-6:09: Long before Anthony's entry pass to Porzingis in this isolation, Morris fights him out of his position pre-catch. Porzingis does not catch this one in the mid-post area with his momentum going into the paint. He catches 1-2 feet beyond that and is angled towards the baseline. When he tries to go into Morris with his right shoulder, he doesn't have the leverage and is quickly stripped by Morris who anticipates his dribble. It leads to a layup for Bradley Beal.
-- 5:16-5:07: This has nothing to do with Porzingis. Courtney Lee heaves a three-pointer that misses. The only player for the Knicks near the ball is Willy Hernangomez, but Morris is in a switch and finds his man's body and keeps him from having a shot at the board. Morris doesn't even go for the rebound himself but he makes sure his teammate gets it cleanly. This is why rebounding isn't necessarily about your personal numbers but helping your team rebound better with you on the floor. That's the number that matters most.
-- 1:57-1:41: To get Porzingis some room, the Knicks use sceen-roll with Derrick Rose. Porzingis, however, slips to the basket which forces a rotation. Jason Smith comes over to seal him from the rim as Morris recovers. Notice Morris' right arm extended to make Rose have to go over the top with the pass and drop it in. Morris jumps with his hands straight up. That forces the pass to arrive a half-second later than if he would've just given up on the play completely. Morris switches with Smith on Porzingis and then stunts towards him to create a mishandle as Porzingis has to retreat to get under control. Morris goes to find the open man after his stunt to get in position for a possible rebound. But Smith doesn't give the same resistance to Porzingis as Morris. Why? If Smith gets too close and physical with Porzingis, he'll get beaten off the dribble. Porzingis gets the separation and a clean look for the made shot. With Morris, that's a more difficult finish because he'd get neither.
-- 0:31-0:24: This is Morris creating a shot that could not be finished by any recent power forward on the roster. Porzingis is a very athletic and long big, but Morris is still quicker. He attacks the close out and when Morris first touches the paint with his foot the corner has been turned on Porzingis. Usually his wingspan is enough to help him recover to alter the shot.
And for extra emphasis, these are some looks on Morris' defense from earlier in the season in which he proved to be a differnce-maker as a stretch four defensively (in the paint and on the perimeter):
A year ago, Kyle Korver gets a cleaner look to send this game into overtime from three. But Morris is big, long and mobile enough to alter the shot. Imagine Dudley, Humphries or Nene trying to do this. Instead, the Wizards pulled out their first win 95-92 vs. Atlanta:
Ibaka roasted the Wizards last season, before Morris' arrival. This is an attempted post-up that turns into a contested, low-percentage chuck at the basket because Morris again is strong enough to fight him off his preferred spot and stay balanced and in position with his feet to contest. Ibaka set a career-high for made threes against the Wizards when they put a true big like Nene or Humphries on him. If it were Dudley, this is a clean and easy post-up look:
The versatility Morris has offensively is on display in this clip vs. the Magic. Name a player at the four spot pre-Morris who could do this on the offensive side of the ball? He doesn't make the basket here but he blows by Jeff Green on the close out to draw the foul for two free throws:
From the earlier look at Ibaka, this is his teammate Nikola Vucevic, who is bigger and stronger and getting the ball in a similar position. He's attempting a duck-in to the lane but Morris keeps him from turning to his preferred shoulder. The result is the same missed shot as Ibaka with a contest at the point of release:
Back to the offensive side, put an undersized four on Morris to defend him away from the rim like Green, he can still do this off the dribble and get to the rim for the finish. He's too big for smallish fours and has a lot of their finesse game to match to create separation/in-traffic finishes like this: