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Suns Draft watch: Marquese Chriss could be the longterm Markieff Morris replacement

Washington forward Marquese Chriss, right, reacts as he dunks the ball for a basket over Colorado forward Kenan Guzonjic in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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Editor’s note: With the Suns trading the Kings picks and the rights to Bogdan Bogdanovic to acquire Marquese Chriss with the No. 8 overall selection in the NBA Draft, we rehash this feature on the Washington forward with a perspective on the high-risk, high-reward 18-year-old.

Having witnessed the Markieff Morris saga in Phoenix over the past year, maybe keeping the eyes peeled for the Suns’ longterm answer at power forward sat in the front of my mind.

But already, the rising profile of Washington freshman Marquese Chriss stood out while visiting the Pac-12 Tournament two weeks ago.

The Huskies two-game run ended in a hard-fought, 83-77 loss to a No. 1 seeded NCAA Tournament Oregon squad. Among the other things to like about the young but dangerous Huskies, it was Chriss who stood out with his dynamic offensive skill-set and aggressiveness.

His postseason of two Pac-12 Tournament games and two NIT outings only helped him decide to hire an agent and declare for the NBA Draft this week along with teammate Dejounte Murray. Chriss finds himself No. 15 in the Draft Express mock draft, just after the projected Suns pick acquired from the Wizards via the Morris trade.

“There is not much he can’t do on the basketball court,” Washington guard Andrew Andrews said after the Huskies drilled Stanford 91-68 to open the Pac-12 Tournament. “I think when you think of his position, that four position, you might think of someone that plays down low, but then you see a guy like him who is stepping out, hitting threes, who can take it off the glass, push the ball, who is also a good passer, plays above the rim.”

The 18-year-old Chriss had just come off an 18-point, 10-rebound performance against the Cardinal. He’d hit four threes, gone 6-of-12 from the floor and been the main defender of leading Stanford scorer Rosco Allen, a shooting 6-foot-9 senior who went 2-for-11 from the field in his final game.

“He switches one through five, so I think for us he contributes in so many ways that are outside of what he’s doing on the box score,” Andrews added of Chriss. “He just helps us out so many ways, puts out so many fires.”

The 6-foot-9, 225-pound Chriss, while inconsistent because of foul trouble as a freshman, can do it on both ends. Five minutes into the Huskies’ matchup against the Ducks, Chriss had already compiled a dunk, a vicious block and hit a corner 3. Then he went to the most Morris-like play, a series of moves that few can put together, let alone a former football player who didn’t pick up serious basketball until after the eighth grade.

Chriss faced up from the the left side of the three-point arc, blew by one of Oregon’s smaller, faster defenders, quickly posted himself on another and hit a jumper over his left shoulder. At the 20-second mark of the below video, Chriss showed off more of his face-up game and quick second-jump in the NIT opener against Long Beach State.

Indeed, he has his flaws. Chriss led the NCAA in fouls per game and his production took a major hit all year because of it.

His rebounding rate,13.5 percent according to Draft Express, is downright bad for such an athletic big man and curious for someone who in streaks can impact a game and the box score in such a great way. Chriss, who averaged as many offensive boards as defensive ones, recorded just six double-digit rebounding games all year but two of those came in his final four outings.

Then there are the positives.

Unlike a fellow Pac-12 big man who is seeking a lottery selection, Cal’s Ivan Rabb, the freedom for Chriss to operate in Washington’s offense only displayed his versatility and comfort in many situations. He has back-to-the-basket game, can face up and put the ball on the deck or catch-and-shoot – he hit 35 percent of his threes this past season.

Chriss’ athleticism already translates to being excellent in transition and on the defensive end (2.6 blocks per 40 minutes) given a year or so to put on weight.

As far as the Suns are concerned while navigating a draft where sure-fire star power is lacking, reaching to select such a young, unproven player with a lottery pick doesn’t appear too risky. It would follow suit with the Devin Booker selection around the same spot last year.

Speaking of which, Booker’s rise has done something (maybe we don’t know exactly what) to change the timeline of the Suns’ progression.

Pairing Booker with a multi-dimensional big man of the same age – Chriss turns 19 in July – isn’t a bad idea.


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