The moment the Wizards went after Al Horford in free agency to offer him a max contract, it meant Markieff Morris would've had to return to a role from earlier in his career as a sixth man.
Morris, still the starting power forward, begins the second and fourth quarters with the second unit players and tends to go against opposing team's second units. And even when he's facing starters, his versatility puts him at an advantage most of the time when he can face up from 20 feet and beat even finesse bigs off the dribble.
"We've figured out who we are as a team," said Morris, who had 19 points and 11 rebounds in Tuesday's 123-108 rout of the Boston Celtics. "Every game we just staying with that same intensity. That same defensive intensity. We're getting wins."
Morris has five double-doubles, with four of them coming since Jan. 1. He also had four assists Tuesday, proving to be a playmaker with the ball from the high post or low as he quickly exploit defenses trying to help on him.
He now has a chemistry with backup point guard Trey Burke that was non-existent for months. They've run the pick-and-roll to near perfection in recent weeks, benefitting from each other's presence.
Defensively, Morris has responded. When he was with the Phoenix Suns, he was asked to do so many things away from the rim. Foot and ankle injuries earlier this season seemed to slow him down from a fast start.
"His ability to switch and guard and make perimeter players take tough shots, I thought that was another important key to our win," said coach Scott Brooks, who has emphasized to the 6-10 vet second efforts and contesting three-point shooters more aggressively.
Isaiah Thomas drove into the paint with the Celtics trailing 91-84 but was stopped at the rim by Morris' help. He snatched the rebound and went to the other end to attack backup Jordan Mickey off the dribble for the and-1 layup which stretched the lead back to double digits.
Not long after that, Morris hustled back following a turnover and challenged Thomas' three-pointer that hit the side of the backboard. Once he grabbed the rebound it put Bradley Beal in transtion for a throwahead dunk.
“It’s a simple philosophy. If you contest the shot, he has a less chance to make it," Brooks said. "We’ve talked about that philosophy many of times. It’s the moment of truth. Every possession ends up with either you are going to contest the shot or you’re not. I think we are doing a much better job of doing that."
The Wizards can play a two-man game with Morris which they exploited in the fourth quarter with Beal posting up the 5-foot-9 Thomas and the big making the entry pass. That gives Beal a high-percentage look if there's no help or Morris can read off the help and get the ball back for a better shot himself.
Kelly Olynyk, Jonas Jerebko and Mickey had no chance sticking with Morris. Even Horford couldn't defend him well enough on post-ups.
Horford, who starts at center, had 22 points but just four rebounds in his matchup with Marcin Gortat. But he lost that battle just as the Wizards lost out on traveling to Atlanta to recruit him in the offseason.
Morris, who is on a contract that pays him an average of $8 million per year through 2019 and acquired in a deal with the Suns for a 2016 first-round draft pick in a weak class, is averaging 14 points, 6.6 rebounds.
Horford has the same issue now that he had before leaving the Atlanta Hawks where he also was disadvantaged playing so much at center. He's posting 15.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists, but the Celtics gave him a contract that pays an average of $28.25 million per for four years.
That's another numbers game that ends up in the Wizards' favor, ending up much better off salary-cap wise in the long run.