The history of players who join a team after being bought out isn’t really great. Every year fans all around the league get excited about some player who was once probably pretty good getting bought out and joining their playoff team to help put them over the top. Rarely, though, does that actually happen. Markieff Morris, however, has been the exception to that rule.
If you look at Morris’ stats, they won’t really impress you. Over the playoffs he’s averaging 6.4 points and 3.2 rebounds in a little over 18 minutes a night in the Lakers 19 postseason games. He’s tallied 20 assists to 14 turnovers and has a total 6 steals and 3 blocks in 346 minutes. He’s the definition of a role player and if that’s all you considered as his total contributions, you’d probably wonder why I’m even writing this, much less why you’re reading it.
Morris, though, has been more than that.
If LeBron James and Anthony Davis have been the keymakers — the versatile solutions to any lineup problem teams try to confront the Lakers with — Morris has been the one who has flanked them to help the team transform into the ultimate basketball oxymoron: a smashmouth smallball team.
You see, Morris is a bit of an oxymoron himself. He’s a bully, but also a stretch PF. He’s just as liable to flagrant foul you as he is to make a couple of 3 pointers in a game. His physicality as a defender and rebounder on one end of the floor is countered by his want to hover around the arc and take catch and shoot 3’s on the other end.
This dichotomy, though, is what allows the Lakers to maintain their identity as a physical force while also tilting them towards the best versions of themselves via floor spacing on offense and smaller, more mobile lineups defensively. This is the ethos that epitomizes this version of the Lakers who are now within one win of an NBA championship.
They’re the team that is nearly impossible to score on when they’re scrambling all over the floor while still having LeBron and AD covering the back lines; the team that is extremely difficult to stop from scoring when they’re making the types of open 3’s that double as lane creators for LeBron and AD to threaten the front of the rim.
And Morris is a main part of it all. He’s shooting 43.1% on 3-pointers during the playoffs, including 51.4% on ones where he’s classified as “wide open” per the NBA stats site.1This is when a defender is more than 6 feet away from him. It’s this type of success that makes defenses pay for showing extra attention to Bron and AD. Defensively, the data also shows that when Morris is on the floor their 3 point defense improves in both attempts allowed per 100 possessions and in overall 3-point FG%.
Most importantly, though, Morris’ effectiveness next to Bron and AD plays out in the numbers. Of 3-man Lakers lineups who have played at least 100 minutes these playoffs, the Bron, AD, and Morris trio boast the best net rating, a ridiculous +20.2, which is anchored by a crazy 90.4 defensive rating. The Lakers simply demolish teams when those three are playing together in the Lakers front court.
The Lakers series vs. the Rockets turned once Morris became a starter and got big minutes. In the Lakers crucial game 4 win over the Heat, Morris started the 2nd half and the Lakers played the best defense they had all series. I’m not saying this is all Morris doing, of course, but he’s a key ingredient who has helped the Lakers unlock an elite level of play.
Not bad for a player the Lakers got on the buyout market, huh?