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NBA @ 2: Lakers Turn to Rookie PG Morris
Posted By Eric Pincus On January 17, 2012 @ 2:00 pm In All,Main Page,NBA | No Comments
The Los Angeles Lakers need help at point guard. That’s a given with an aging Derek Fisher (37-years old) trying to run the position in a young-man’s league.
Of course Fisher has his moments, as he did on Monday night against the Dallas Mavericks, hitting the game winning three to seal a 73-70 victory for the Lakers.
Derek has the ability to hit clutch shots which in itself still makes him very valuable to the team.
Nonetheless, through 15 games, Derek is shooting just 36.4% from the field and 22.7% from the arc. While his assists are at an all-time high (4.6 a game), his 4.9 points is only a hair above his rookie mark.
If Fish is there for those special moments, the Lakers need a high-minute reserve until a more major upgrade comes along.
Reserve Steve Blake struggled in his first year with the Lakers, shooting just 35.9% from the field in an offense he never felt comfortable with (Coach Phil Jackson’s triangle). While he’s improved some this year, at 7.3 points a game in 24.3 minutes while shooting 40.2% from the field, Blake is out at least three more weeks with rib injury.
Taking deep breaths is so painful, Steve has been advised not to do any conditioning work for two more weeks.
For now the Lakers must turn to rookie point guard Darius Morris for significant minutes, far ahead of schedule.
Morris, a 21-year old, 6’4″ Michigan Wolverine, started the season deep on the team’s bench. Looking for some level of bench production, Coach Mike Brown thought to try minutes with Morris at the point and Blake at the two.
Unfortunately Steve got hurt that very game and Morris has quickly become the team’s second point guard. Fellow rookie Andrew Goudelock has made eight appearances for the Lakers but Coach Mike Brown has been clear that he only feels Goudelock is suitable in the role of off-guard.
That means it’s Fisher and Morris for about 48 combined a night, a far cry from the inactives and DNP-CDs that Darius was racking up to start the season.
“Patience, Patience is something I kept telling myself, especially being a rookie on a veteran-led team like this on the Lakers,” said Morris. “Their track record of relying on rookies to come in and play a lot of minutes is not really deep so you can’t get frustrated, you just have to control what you can control.”
Whether Darius is ready or not, Brown feels he has few other options than asking the rookie to play a prematurely large role in Blake’s absence.
Against the high-level Mavericks’ defense, Morris’ inexperience was exposed as he turned the ball over three times without an assist in his worst performance to date.
Through four appearances, Morris is averaging 18 minutes a game while averaging 3.8 points, 2.5 assists and 2.0 turnovers a game. More importantly, the Lakers are 3-1 over that stretch.
“I don’t know if he’s prepared, but he’s confident,” said Brown. “He told my lead assistant John Kuester . . . he looked him in his eye and said ‘Kue, I can play.’ He was almost like, ‘Let me remind you guys, I can play the game.’”
Morris wanted to make sure he wasn’t the forgotten man.
“Sometimes closed mouths don’t get fed so sometimes you’ve got to let them know that you’re ready for the opportunity and just because you’re not playing, don’t think that you’re complacent with that,” said Morris. “You want to be just thankful to be here playing for the Lakers but at the same you want to let them know that you’re still confident in your abilities to go out there on the court too.”
Brown took kindly to the rookie’s initiative.
“When you have that or you feel that kind of confidence coming from anybody, let alone a rookie, then it gives you confidence as a coach in that person,” said Brown. “I think it was before the Utah game. It definitely before the injury to Blake. He wasn’t playing much and I think he just wanted to remind Kue, and in essence thought that Kue would remind me, and it might help him find minutes or something.”
Despite his inexperience, Morris carries himself with confidence as a player. After getting taken off the dribble by the Los Angeles Clippers Chris Paul, Morris responded with a buzzer-beating, quarter-ending half-court three.
“I think [confidence] is what you need to have at the point guard position because all the other four guys are looking at you when you bring the ball up the court so if you look rattled or you look nervous then they’re not going to have total confidence in you or the plays that we’re trying to run,” said Darius. “You’ve to be out there and you’ve got to be a leader although you don’t have as much experience as those guys you’ve got to show them that you belong here and I think that kind of just carries over when I check in the game and kind of translates through my game.”
Brown agrees with that approach.
“I’d rather have a player be confident especially at his age and stage in his career,” said Brown, noting that Morris is also a learner and a listener. “I feel like I can get on him and he’ll still respond the right way.”
Coming into the league, the scouting report on Morris was that he had true point guard skills but a shaky jump shot. He spent most of the extended summer working to fix that.
“A lot of hard work man in the summer and even just all my life,” said Darius. “A lot of people kind of look at my percentage at Michigan, ‘Oh his outside shooting wasn’t that well’, I took a lot of tough shots in college just because I had to, shot clock running down, but also I really did work on it in the off-season to disprove anybody that had any doubts about my shooting ability.”
So far his jump shot has been steady at 55.6% but the sample size of nine attempts may not necessarily reflect Morris’ abilities just yet. Openly admits he that he has plenty to learn.
“[I'm] learning how to control the pace of the game because sometimes you might be faster than a lot of guys out there but you don’t want to use your speed all the time so just learning the sweet spots of it, like when to attack and when not to, especially going in there and running the offense that you haven’t run in a game before,” said Morris. “You want to work on all parts of your game and if somebody is criticizing one part you don’t get mad about you just try to use that as motivation to better yourself.”
“I like that mental toughness,” said Brown of Morris.
Morris was “schooled” by Chris Paul who scored 33 against the Lakers on Saturday.
“He just tries to get in your head mentally about the way that you defend him by trying to pick up fouls, trying to create contact and he wants you to respond and if you do respond, boom, that’s going to be a foul on you,” said Morris. “One of the things I noticed in the first couple minutes of the game, that’s what he was trying to do, but don’t be the aggressor because he’s going to use that against you.”
“Oh he can play,” said Paul of Morris. “He played well against us in preseason as well. He’s a good player.”
The Laker rookie has had an uneven start to his career but the Lakers so clearly need youth at the point, this stretch of experience may be very helpful to the rookie. Over time he may prove to be a nice get with the 41st pick in the 2011 NBA Draft.
Meanwhile he’s relishing the chance to play and learn.
“I can’t even lie . . . especially playing the point guard position, it’s like being a quarterback,” said Morris. “You don’t have to just worry about yourself, you have to motivate the teammates, make sure they’re in the right spot, make sure they all know the plays. There’s a lot of stuff but that’s why I work so hard for it, to do it, be ready for this moment.”
Kobe on Paul
While Kobe Bryant was on a four-game streak of 40-point games, he and the Lakers fell to the Los Angeles Clippers.
It was primarily Chris Paul who did the damage, scoring 33 points on 12-22 shooting while carving up the Laker defense.
Paul actually injured his hamstring late in the game and is still questionable for the Clippers’ visit to the Utah Jazz on Tuesday night, although the MRI was clean and Chris is making the trip.
After the game, Bryant spoke highly of Paul – a player the Lakers almost acquired in the offseason.
“[Paul's] really the only other guy in the league, Derrick Rose probably [as well], who has the similar competitive edge as I see in myself,” said Bryant. ” He’s a dog. He’s going to fight for it.”
That’s high praise coming from Kobe but it’s also telling who Bryant left out of that sentence . . . LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo and a host of other various “top players” in the league.
That’s not to say Bryant doesn’t have great respect for some of his other competitors, in past interviews he has sung their praises, but when it comes to true competitive drive, Kobe has Paul (and Rose) on another level.
Battier Will Help HEAT
The Miami HEAT were two wins away from an NBA title last season, falling short to the Dallas Mavericks.
Clearly the team needed to upgrade at point guard and center.
When free agency arrived and the team had a scant $3 million to spend (Mini-MLE), Miami instead signed 33-year old small forward Shane Battier.
Although he’s started slowly, shooting just 32.6% from the field, Battier is the kind of role player the HEAT need to improve upon last year’s run.
The emergence of rookie Norris Cole and his firepower at the point (along with a healthy Udonis Haslem inside) has narrowed the gap some for Miami while Battier gives the HEAT one of the league’s premier perimeter defenders.
“All of the elite teams in this league have guys off the bench or in the starting lineup that contribute by making the extra pass, spacing the floor or just making winning basketball plays,” said Battier. “Every team that’s one a championship has had guys who do that at a high level and that’s something that I’ve prided myself on for a long time. Those are things that Miami really valued when they brought me here. It’s just nice to be appreciated.”
Unfortunately Battier missed some of the team’s abbreviated preseason with injury.
“I pulled my quad during the third day of camp,” said Shane. “I basically missed the week of training camp that we had. I’m just trying to play catch up and learn about these guys on the fly, which is a lot tougher to do without a training camp.”
Most recently the HEAT have struggled, losing three straight after an impressive 8-1 start. Up next they’ll host three of the top teams in the league (San Antonio Spurs, Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers) who have a combined winning percentage of 70.1%.
Miami is the league’s highest scoring team (106.2 points) but defensively they still need to improve (99.3).
Shane brought an additional defensive presence last season to the Memphis Grizzlies as the team not only won their first playoff series in franchise history, but nearly advanced to the Western Conference Finals before bowing out to the Oklahoma City Thunder in a contested seven-game series.
Battier came over to the Grizzlies in a midseason trade but wasn’t welcomed back after the season with a now healthy Rudy Gay (shoulder) ready to take on a primary role in the team’s offense.
“I think it was a mutual decision that it was my time to go,” said Battier. “I talked to [Memphis General Manager] Chris Wallace the first day of free agency and they had some ideas about what the team was planning to do with free agency and so did I. We didn’t close the door on each other but we both knew that we’d be going our separate ways.”
Battier spent the first five years of his career in Memphis before joining the Houston Rockets in 2006.
“It’s been a lot. I went from the lockout, to an abbreviated free agency period to making my decision in a short amount of time,” said Battier. “I also had to get acclimated to playing in Miami and playing with a new team. On top of that being banged up for the first ten games of the season didn’t help. It’s been a lot but I see calmer waters ahead.”
Can Shane find a role on the team, even if technically he plays the same position as LeBron James?
Battier isn’t worried, “I’m here to be a basketball player. For me it’s not about how many points I score or how many rebounds I grab. I’m here to make an impact on this team and to score.”
Of course by joining the team with not one but two elite perimeter scorers, Battier eliminated two players he’d be forced to guard incessantly in James and Wade.
“Oh yeah,” jokes Battier. “I’m no dummy.”
Instead he’ll free up the Miami superstars from the tougher defensive assignments, allowing them to put even more energy into carrying the team’s offensive load.
All the HEAT need to do is when two more postseason games than they did a year ago and the franchise believes Battier will be an important part of making that so.
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