When the Phoenix Suns traded for Marcus Morris in February of last season, many questioned the player’s fit on the roster, given his twin brother’s presence in the Valley. Did the Suns really need identical players on the team together?
And at first, it looked as if the whole thing was a mistake. Marcus and brother Markieff, whom the Suns drafted in the first round of the 2011 NBA Draft, logged a net rating of -18.9 when on the floor together — one of the worst combos on the Suns for the season. The 24-year-olds out of Philadelphia had a -83 plus-minus, failing to make an impact on a troubled team down the stretch.
Things are night and day this season.
While a guest with The Doug and Wolf Show on Thursday, Suns’ play-by-play man Al McCoy noted the difference.
“Since Coach (Jeff) Hornacek has decided to use them together a great deal of the time, they’ve just exploded,” McCoy explained.
Though their roles had them on the floor at separate times during the first part of the season, lately Hornacek and the Suns have strategically been playing the Morris brothers together — capitalizing on their innate chemistry.
“It means a lot to them to be able to be on the floor together,” McCoy went on. “And they certainly have responded.”
That they have. In 20 games, and 341 minutes, on the floor together — mostly coming in the team’s most recent stretch — the twins have arguably been one of the better two-man lineup features on the Suns. They have logged a 3.8 net rating — leaps and bounds better than last season’s efforts — and a +25 plus-minus, also dramatically improved.
The 13th and 14th overall picks from the 2011 NBA Draft, Markieff and Marcus, respectively, have gotten off to the best starts of their careers.
With Markieff averaging 13 points per game and 6.2 rebounds per game over more than 26 minutes a night, and Marcus getting almost five rebounds per game to go along with 11 points on 23 minutes a night, the brothers are together among the best on the Suns in player efficiency rating, logging a 19.3 and 18.0 respectively thus far this season. Only the starting backcourt, Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic, are better in the metric through the team’s first 21 games.
To McCoy, the performance is collectively owed to chemistry, first and foremost.
“They’ve played together so long, they just know where the other is going to be,” he explained on air.
Such logic, however, begs the question: will chemistry produce consistency? Is it dependable?
Or could the brothers’ performance, who have both been fairly streaky throughout their careers to date, be doubly volatile? Is it all or nothing with them? If they’re not both on one night, are they both off?
The show had to ask: can the Morris brothers indeed be consistent?
“They certainly have been of late,” McCoy said. “And I think the key has been knowing that they’re going to be on the floor together a great deal of the time.”
The Suns’ radio voice went on to describe a recent chat with each of the twins. They both, according to his account, emphasized the importance of playing alongside one another. With Markieff shooting better than 50% from the floor thus far this season and Marcus shooting nearly 47% in the 2013-14 season, the pair are both among the top six on the Suns in field goal percentage.
“They’ve been tremendous,” Suns president of basketball operations Lon Babby chimed in on The Dan Bickley Show with Vince Marotta on Thursday.
As shooters, Marcus is second from beyond the arc for the Suns and Markieff is second in field goal percentage.
But it’s when they’re playing together, feeding off one another, that the eyes of fans, broadcasters and front office folk alike all open.
“There are these moments during the course of the game when the twins thing becomes so evident,” Babby shared. “You can just tell they’ve been playing together their whole lives.”
What’s more? The twins aren’t the type to try to out-do one another, but they exist to complement, as Babby informs.
“There’s a chemistry there that’s special; there is a bond and a love between these two guys that is extraordinary.”
Somehow, such a quality has manifest itself in sports in a beautiful, sometimes unbelievable, fashion.
“There’s almost a telepathy involved and it plays out on the basketball court,” the Suns president went on.
And that’s something the Suns knew was there, from the twins’ collegiate days under coach Bill Self in Lawrence, Kansas, while playing for the Jayhawks.
Thus, the trade for Marcus, who was drafted by the Houston Rockets, and the consequential sacrifice of a 2013 second-round draft pick, which was used by the recipients to select Isaiah Canaan.
“The idea all along was that they’d be better together.”
Imagine that — a pair of twins who have been together since conceptions benefiting from one another.