There’s no question about it — the Phoenix Suns have been one of the biggest surprises in the NBA this season.
Picked by most experts to win less than 20 games in 2013-14, the Suns are 30-21 at the All-Star break, good enough for the ninth-best record in the league.
While first-year general manager Ryan McDonough, rookie head coach Jeff Hornacek and point guard Goran Dragic (who should be playing in the All-Star Game in New Orleans) get most of the credit for the Suns’ success, the hidden key has been forward Markieff Morris.
You may consider that a pretty bold statement about a player who has yet to start a game this season. However, the numbers don’t lie.
Morris is averaging 12.5 points per game. When the third-year forward scores 13 or more points in a contest, the Suns are 17-4.
When the former Jayhawk records a double-double, Phoenix is 4-2.
When Morris has a +/- of +6 or better, the Suns sport a 13-3 mark, and when he hits better than half of his field goal attempts, they’re 19-4.
And using the advanced statistic of Game Score, when Morris has a mark of 10.0 or better, the Suns are 16-3.
On the flip side, when Morris has a +/- of -7 or worse, the Suns are 2-9.
Phoenix is 9-10 when Markieff has under 10 points. And when his shots are connecting at a clip of under 40 percent, the Suns are a woeful 7-14.
Early in the season, Morris was named the Western Conference Player of the Week when he averaged nearly 23 points and eight rebounds per game while shooting almost 70 percent from the floor. The Suns went 3-1 that week.
In the Suns’ 21 losses, Morris is averaging just 9.6 points, 5.0 rebounds while shooting .381 from the floor. In wins, those numbers jump to 14.6 points, 6.2 boards and .515.
During a five-game stretch in January, Morris struggled. His average Game Score in that span was a paltry 2.9. Phoenix went 1-4, losing to Chicago, Memphis, Detroit and New York.
The adjacent seven games featured a rejuvenated Morris; he averaged 19.4 points, 6.9 rebounds, shot .573 from the floor and posted an average Game Score of 16.5. The Suns went 5-2 during that run.
Again, Dragic has been outstanding and has been the Suns’ best player. But I believe Markieff Morris is their most important player.