Our exit interview series on the 2023 Clippers continues with a review of the season of much-maligned veteran power forward Marcus Morris.
Weight: 218 pounds
Position: Power Forward
Years in NBA: 12
Key Regular Season Stats: Started all 65 of his appearances and averaged 11.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.8 assists on 42.6/36.4/78.2 splits in 28.1 minutes per game
Postseason Stats: Started 2 of his 3 appearances and averaged 8.7 points and 4.0 rebounds on 34.5/16.7/100 splits in 2.7 minutes per game
Marcus Morris was a key figure of both the Clippers’ 2021 Western Conference Finals run, making 47% of his threes that season and starting 18 of LAC’s 19 playoff games, and their stubborn 2022 campaign with injured stars, increasing his scoring average to 15.4 points per game and shouldering a greater offensive workload. It was hard to blame him for his efficiency declining from 2021 to 2022–without full seasons of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard demanding defensive attention, Morris was forced to work for his own looks instead of cashing in on clean corner three looks. But heading into this season, with the Clippers’ stars back on the floor (and before you say anything, those guys played more total games this season than they did in that 2021 year), the expectation and hope was that Morris would get back to his sharpshooting ways. After all, a pair of fellow veteran power forwards, both better on the defensive end of the floor and both on 8-figure salaries, were waiting in the wings. Marcus justifying his starting role was going to require shot-making.
Sadly, it just didn’t materialize. This was Marcus’ age 33 season–he’ll turn 34 in September before training camp begins this fall–and it really does feel like the knee stiffness that has plagued him for years prevents him from moving well for more than a few weeks at a time. Morris’ three-point efficiency didn’t return to his 2021 level, or even gain ground on his 2022 level. In fact, Morris shot notably worse than his backups, Nico Batum and Robert Covington (36.4%, 39.1%, and 39.7%, respectively), while also taking the fewest three point attempts per 100 possessions. If we put together “Marcus justifying his starting role requires high-level shot-making” and “Marcus shot worse than the other power forwards,” it probably won’t surprise you to hear that the Clippers lost Morris’ minutes this season (despite him being in the stronger starting lineup and playing more minutes with the stars!) and were notably worse when he played than when he sat.
But that doesn’t fell the whole story of Marcus’ season. Through his first 41 games, he was much closer to his expected self: 13.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 44% from the field, and 38% from deep. That production still falls well short of his amazing 2021 shooting, and still should have left the door open for others to get opportunities, but it was acceptable. Then, in a 24-appearance stretch that endured for over 2 months from mid-January to late March, Morris averaged just 7.6 points and 2.6 rebounds as a starter, shooting a miserable 38.8% from the field and 31.3% from deep. It was an absolutely brutal shooting slump, and Lue sticking with him cost the Clippers games. Finally, it was announced that Batum would take over the starting power forward spot as Morris missed time in late March in the NBA’s health and safety protocols. In the playoffs, with Leonard and George both sidelined and Batum completely ineffective offensively, Lue again turned to Morris, with underwhelming results: he shot 34.5% from the field and 16.7% from three across 3 appearances. In all three games, the Clippers lost the minutes he spent on the floor (by 7, 19, and 15) and won the minutes when he sat (by 2, 7, and 9).
Future with Clippers
Marcus has one season left on his deal worth $17.1M, but it’s tough to imagine the team keeping him around this summer. The power forward position is clearly the Clippers’ biggest issue, with a need to get younger and more athletic (possibly by moving Kawhi Leonard to power forward and adding a younger wing, like Terance Mann, to the starting lineup). A 34-year-old Marcus Morris next season doesn’t fit that description. And moving him to a backup role doesn’t make a ton of sense, since they have 2 other veteran forwards with 8-figure guaranteed salaries for next season, both of whom were better than Marcus last year. Sometimes, a front office has to take a player away from a coach who that coach just can’t quit trusting despite clearly superior alternatives–I think this is one of those times. I’m looking for Marcus, along with Eric Gordon’s slightly larger salary, to be the two expiring money pieces the Clippers shop along with their limited assets (pick #30 in this year’s draft, future 1sts in 2028/2030, swaps in 2027/29, Terance Mann, and Bones Hyland) to try and find a third star. But even if that doesn’t work out, moving on from Marcus could be a pathway for the Clippers to try and avoid the league’s new “second apron” luxury tax rules.
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