Boston Celtics and their Marcus Morris Conundrum

Morris, out for tonight’s game at Charlotte, has missed over half of the Celtics’ games this season.

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BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 24: Kyrie Irving #11 and Marcus Morris #13 of the Boston Celtics looks on during the game against the New York Knicks on October 24, 2017 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

 

When Marcus Morris entered Monday’s game against the Washington Wizards, his appearance not only represented the first time twins have played against each other on Christmas Day, it also served as just Morris’ 17th game played on the season.

During a year in which nearly everyone on the team has suffered some sort of malady, Morris’ resides somewhere between Gordon Hayward’s ankle and Kyrie Irving’s face.

Because of the significance of the Isaiah Thomas trade, Avery Bradley’s trade to Detroit went largely unnoticed. In due part, so did Morris’ arrival to Boston.

Mike Zarren, Boston’s assistant General Manager, said that Morris was going to be a “big part of the team this year,” shortly after his arrival, while Danny Ainge said that the Celtics were excited to add a player with such a “versatile skillset.”

Instead, fans have only been left with flashes of what may be one the league’s better antidotes to LeBron James.

When Morris has played consistent minutes, the results have typically been positive. The sixth-year NBA vet averaged 13.6 points and 5.5 rebounds on 45% shooting during an eight-game stretch in mid-November (the Celtics were 7-1 during this time), as Morris flashed a versatile ability to play both big and small at the same time.

Then, after shooting a combined 3-of-13 in two games against Milwaukee and San Antonio, it was reported that Morris would miss extended time due to issues with his knee.

Despite his ability to defend both perimeter and post players well, Morris owns the third-worst individual defensive rating on the team. As a team, the Celtics have been slightly below average with Morris on the court.

Morris and Aron Baynes have flip-flopped responsibilities when playing next to Al Horford, as Baynes and Horford possess the team’s second-best defensive rating in two-man lineups with over 200 minutes played together. In contrast, Morris and Horford have struggled defensively, but have put together the team’s second-best offensive rating under the same variables, according to NBA.com.

Given the topsy-turvy start to Morris’ tenure in Boston, it’s hard to measure it without a large grain of salt. One thing to note is that Morris has taken a large share of his shots (21% of his field-goal attempts) between 16 feet and the three-point line, according to Basketball Reference.

Given the Celtics’ high three-point attempt rate, sixth in the NBA according to Basketball Reference, it will be interesting to see if Morris curtails that as he – hopefully – becomes more comfortable in Brad Stevens’ system.

Perhaps, like former Celtic Evan Turner, Stevens understands that a strength of Morris’ game rests with his mid-range shot (over a quarter of Morris’ field-goal attempts came from this range last season with the Pistons). Or, perhaps more likely, Stevens just wants healthy bodies (veterans, in particular) on the court.

Morris’ absence leaves a void at the swingman position, which was thought to be a strength heading into the season. The Celtics have had to rely on a duo of youngsters in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum in place of Hayward and Morris.

Any prolonged absence from Morris puts more strain on Brown (21-years old and battling ankle and Achilles ailments) and Tatum (19-year old ROOKIE) at the NBA’s suddenly most important position. The domino effect also provides more on-court time for players who aren’t ready for extended NBA minutes (Ojeleye, Nader and Yabusele).

Morris played 15 unforgettable minutes during his Christmas Day rendezvous against his twin brother Markieff, and is reportedly out for tonight’s game against Charlotte.

Whether he returns tomorrow against Houston, next week against LeBron and the Cavs or in time for the postseason, in somewhat odd fashion, Morris’ presence is greatly missed.