PHOENIX, Ariz. – This was not the plan.
Markieff Morris was not supposed to play the role of sixth man for the Phoenix Suns. He was supposed to play the role of starting power forward.
But then fate intervened.
Actually, it was a right elbow.
When Morris’ elbow connected to the face of Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka during a preseason game, it set off a chain of events that, for now, has cost the third-year pro his starting job, but rewarded him with a starring role coming off the bench.
“It happens,” he said. “I missed the first game (suspended for the season opener) due to the elbow. I’m enjoying it right now.”
Morris has helped lead a second unit that is sixth-best in scoring (38.4), fourth-best in rebounding (17.9) and second-best in steals (4.1) according to hoopsstats.com.
“I’ve been on the team longer than most of the guys,” he said following practice Tuesday. “I feel like that’s my role. Coach (Jeff Hornacek) put me in the second unit. That’s our unit. We play through me for the most part. We get a lot of ball movement and get open shots.”
The shots have been falling more frequently for Morris, who in his new role, just had his best week as a pro averaging 22.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals while shooting 69.8 percent from the floor. The Suns went 3-1.
For his efforts, Morris was named Western Conference Player of the Week, becoming the first Suns player to earn such honors since Amare Stoudemire five years ago.
“Our record means more than (the award),” said Morris, who closed the week with three straight games shooting 75 percent or better. “I thought they would give it to (Minnesota forward) Kevin Love (32 pts, 15 rebounds vs. Dallas), but (vice president of basketball communications) Julie (Fie) told me yesterday. It happens…and move on.”
And for now, Morris will move on as a bench player.
“It’s working for us,” Hornacek said. “It might be a time where we say, ‘Hey, the best thing is maybe get him in the starting lineup’, but right now that group that’s coming off the bench is giving us a big lift. That’s always great to have. If the first group is not playing all that well we get those second guys in there and they’ve been really giving us that jump start and that energy we needed.”
Starting may have been important to Morris at one point, but in a sign the 24-year-old is maturing as a player, he’s letting something else dictate his success.
“The winning is more important than starting or coming off the bench. It’s about who’s in at the end and getting wins,” he said. “We’re not worried about who scores the most points. It’s about getting wins. A lot of people have low expectations for us. We’re a young team. We’re hungry. We’re going to play hard every game and compete.”
So, perhaps then the right elbow was a blessing?
“Yeah,” Morris answered smiling, “except for the money (the NBA) took.”