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Marcus Morris returns to Phoenix with more responsibility on the Pistons

A fruit basket wouldn’t mark the final parting of Markieff and Marcus Morris as they began their own NBA journeys.

The Phoenix Suns attempted to create a unique synergy when they traded for Marcus three seasons ago, pairing the twins in the NBA. And all that led to was 24 combined technical fouls between the two last season, a Twitter clash with Arizona Sports’ John Gambadoro and the eventually inclusion of Marcus in a trade with the Detroit Pistons.

Even though the Morris twins didn’t react well to what should be their final separation, the move very well could have inspired growth on the basketball court. Marcus has taken to a huge opportunity with the Pistons, who visit Phoenix on Friday night.

Nothing shouts opportunity like minutes played.

Marcus is averaging 38 minutes per game in Detroit’s first four outings, a huge increase from his 25 minutes off the bench for the Suns last year. More than that: Morris has nearly equalled his amount of playing time last year by playing 24 minutes per game with the Detroit starting five of Andre Drummond, Ersan Ilyasova, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Reggie Jackson.

Head coach Stan Van Gundy’s heavy leaning on his starting unit has paid off with a 3-1 start to the season, and Morris’ quick acclimation to the Pistons can be attributed to Van Gundy’s confidence in the combo forward.

Morris is averaging 17.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, which from last season translate to a slight uptick of his per-36 minute averages.

The differences in his game are less about the production or efficiency, and more about how he’s producing.

Morris is more keen at drawing fouls rather than taking bad shots. He’s getting to the free throw line much more; 5.5 times per game despite never averaging 1.8 foul shots per night for a season. Many of those trips to the line have come off offensive rebounds, where he’s also excelled more than ever playing alongside center Andre Drummond, who earns his fair share of attention on the glass.

But when it comes down to his role in offense, Morris is living in the mid-range, not beyond the three-point line.

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It’s a change he’s cherished, he told NBA.com’s Keith Langlois.

“When I was in Houston … they didn’t allow me to play my game,” Morris said, noting the Rockets’ analytics driven emphasis on shooting at the rim or beyond three-point range. “And the mid-range game is my game. I enjoy it. There are only a few guys in the league that still play in there. I give a lot of credit to the coach and a lot of credit to my teammates for just allowing me to be confident. They’re throwing it to me in those positions.”

The Suns, while not quite to the same extent as the Rockets, also asked Morris to take the three over the mid-range shot. They often had him stretching the floor rather than attacking in the mid-range with the ball in his hands.

The new responsibilities with the Pistons, however, haven’t hurt Morris’ shooting percentages. So far, he’s shooting 44 percent from the floor — just a percent above what he shot a year ago — and has made up for any lack of efficiency with more choosiness from beyond the arc.

This year, Morris is pulling up off the dribble 52 percent of the time, a 20-percent increase from his last season in Phoenix, meaning his catch-and-shoot rate has dropped off the same amount (from 40 percent of his attempts with the Suns in 2014-15 to 20 percent with the Pistons so far).

Last year, 53 percent of Morris’ shots were taken without him taking a dribble, but that has fallen off to 28 percent with Detroit. That’s led to more contested shots — nearly a quarter of his shots last year were wide open but this year it’s less than a tenth, according to NBA.com/Stats.

Yet, Morris is hitting 52 percent from what NBA.com deems the midrange, as the shot chart above shows.

With more minutes, there’s a bigger role. But Morris’ efficiency hasn’t waned under the trust coming from Van Gundy, who has balanced the old-school approach with the analytical one he also believes in.

“Across the league, it’s not a high-percentage shot,” Van Gundy told Langlois of Morris’ role. “We know that. But everything is based on individuals. It’s not based on a league-wide average. The league-wide average on those shots might be 37 percent, but Marcus is shooting 52 percent. He shot better than that in the preseason. It’s an efficient shot for him and for us right now.”

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