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Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris (11) drives past Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016, in Phoenix. The Rockets defeated the Suns 111-105. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
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Suns coach Watson: ‘Markieff Morris has been an amazing leader’

Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris (11) drives past Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016, in Phoenix. The Rockets defeated the Suns 111-105. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
LISTEN: Earl Watson, Suns interim head coach

Markieff Morris has looked like a different basketball player since Earl Watson took over as the team’s head coach.

In four games since the change, Morris has averaged 21 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game while shooting .441 from the field and making 40 percent of his 3-point attempts.

In 32 games under Jeff Hornacek, the fifth-year pro averaged 10.2 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game on .384 shooting, with a 3-point percentage of just 28 percent.

So, while Watson has yet to earn his first win as a head coach, it appears as though he may have won over one of the team’s most important and mercurial players.

“We’ve gotten better every day as a group and as a team,” Watson told Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Tuesday morning. “Individually, I think Markieff Morris has been an amazing leader for our team.”

Watson cited a play in Monday night’s loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder where Mirza Teletovic lost handle of the ball and as it bounced away down the court, Morris sprinted after it and dove on the floor in an effort to save it.

“To me, that was changing of our culture, that was the changing moment, defining moment where you said everyone’s bought in, everyone’s sacrificing their bodies, sacrificing their pride,” Watson said. “And Markieff had a really interesting statement about a day ago. He spoke to the team, and what he said resonated.

“He told the team there’s no cool way to play this game. The cool way to play basketball is the losing way. Never to accept losing — he’s never accepted losing his entire life. He came from a place where he could have given up, but he believed and he fought. And that speech he gave to the team resonated into today.”

Watson added that Tyson Chandler is another player who has provided excellent leadership, but getting other players to speak up and hold each other accountable is another step in the right direction.

And that it is Morris who is speaking up speaks volumes.

If Morris has indeed turned over a new leaf and become a different player with a new attitude with increased effort and focus, people may wonder why he changed. The answer to that question, Watson said, is one that only the player can provide.

“Markieff and I, we had a conversation when I took over the team, we took over the team as a group, and it was never about basketball,” Watson said. “I think you have to connect beyond and communicate beyond the court, because we have to remember the AAU generation has been constantly used for winning and losing games, and talent.

“When these guys come into the NBA, we have to show them — which is a Coach (John) Wooden thing — that all that matters is you do your best, you play the right way, you become a better person and you grow from a young man to a man.”

Watson said that’s something one of his former coaches, Hubie Brown, emphasized, and then pointed out that the 26-year-old Morris is not at all a veteran.

“He’s too young for us to define him for the rest of his life or his career,” he said. “I think it’s more beautiful to see him go through trials and tribulations, grow into a man who can represent the Suns and everyone is proud of and he can look back and tell the kids, ‘Look, adversity, resilience, you can overcome anything.’

“That’s the role model that actually went through it, not the role model that came with a perfect slate.”

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