Darius Morris Shows Promise
Darius Morris of the LA Lakers has clearly improved his game from last season; the big question is whether he has done enough to deserve second string Point Guard duties when both Steve Nash and Steve Blake return from injuries. Morris is showing typical young-but-talented growing pains in year two. He has had some flat out excellent games during this young season, and he has also had some pretty awful games where he seemed to lose the confidence of his coach (and lose minutes in the second half as a result).
When the Lakers chose Michigan Point Guard Darius Morris in the second round of the Draft two years ago, there were some grumbles of disappointment. Morris had great size for a PG, and his bullet passes were somewhat reminiscent of Magic Johnson, but he was not much of a shooter in college, and there were questions about his ability to defend. He was, as most second rounders are, a project.
In his rookie season, Morris posted the following efficiency scores:
SCOFF: 4.7 (Scoring Efficiency)
PAFF: 3.2 (Passing Efficiency)
HUFF: 1.4 (Hustle Efficiency).
Those numbers generated a position-specific rating of 51. For the record, a PG rating of 77 was needed to crack the top 30 PGs in the league. Morris's rating was better than only a handful who registered any meaningful minutes. In other words, Morris was individually quite bad. Digging a bit deeper proved instructive, however.
As a rookie PG in an offense with many weapons, it might not be surprising that Morris did not get to do a great deal of individual work. So, the SYNERGY stat is at least as important. SYNERGY measures the total points produced divided by the total possessions consumed by the player. Morris averaged 1.09 points per possessions as a rookie. That is not a bad number, overall, but it was the worst among all PGs on LA (fellow rookie Andrew Goudelock posted a slightly worse number, but Goudelock was never a PG). Morris's rookie season would have to be viewed as a disappointment.
Things looked bleak as Morris went to the Summer League and struggled mightily. Then he seemed to turn a corner. He finished SPL strong, leading the team in most categories. He was clearly the best offensive weapon on the team. His SPL numbers do NOT translate in a straightforward way to the NBA, but it is helpful to look at them nonetheless.
In other words, his SPL numbers were better in every category than his rookie numbers. These led to a position-specific rating of 68, which is quite good for a backup PG. The problem is that the biggest jump was in Scoring Efficiency. This stat rewards volume shooters, and there is a reason for that. If a player shoots 30 times per game and is able to maintain that pace, that is because that volume shooting is not killing the team. If it were, the player would have his role forcibly reduced. So a player like Morris can shoot more in SPL than he can in the NBA because he was one of the best scoring options in SPL and not in the NBA. More disastrously, Morris's SYNERGY stat fell below 1.00, which is atrocious for a Point Guard.
Concluding that Summer ball was a failure for Morris, however, would be a hasty conclusion. Just as the decreased level of skill from his teammates on the SPL team (partially) explained Morris's increased SCOFF, the same fact would help to explain a low SYNERGY. So, no surprise to most fans, the SPL data was really quite unhelpful in the grand scheme.
With early season injuries to the Steves (Nash and Blake), Darius Morris was thrust into the starting lineup. There have clearly been ups and downs, but overall Morris has looked quite a bit better than he did last season. Morris has not fallen off in any efficiency ratings. In fact, he has bumped up his SCOFF a bit, and his HUFF is way up. His PAFF remains constant (and solid).
These data contribute to a PG Rating of 57. That is more than a 10% increase over last season's rating. Unfortunately, it is not yet a good PG Rating, especially if that is your starting PG. There are, however, different ways to make your impact.
While Morris's individual numbers have not been great, his SYNERGY score has been excellent this season. He has posted two of the five highest single-game SYNERGY numbers on the Lakers this season. Morris's SYNERGY of 1.19 is better than every Lakers' starter except Kobe Bryant (1.27). This suggests that even if Morris has individually improved modestly, he is doing a much better job of knowing when to get the ball to people in scoring position. That is the true measure of a Point Guard in this system. With Kobe Bryant and (surprisingly reliable) three-point shooting from Metta World Peace up high and Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard down low, the scoring resources on this team are amazing. It just takes a skill to maximize those. Morris's early performance suggests that he has that part of his game in order. That is a promising sign from a second-round rookie.
Morris at a Glance
YEAR 1 / STAT / YEAR 2
4.7 / SCOFF / 4.8
3.2 / PAFF / 3.2
1.4 / HUFF / 2.3
51 / PG RATING / 57
1.09 / SYNERGY / 1.19