When the Phoenix Suns selected Markieff Morris with the 13th overall pick of the 2011 NBA Draft, many Suns fans groaned at the team again picking the "lesser brother" between Markieff and his brother Marcus.
Now, two months into the season, Morris has developed into the Suns most dependable bench player, averaging 8.1 points and 5.0 rebounds in 21 minutes per game and shooting an excellent 41% from behind the arc.
Morris was selected by a pool of the league's assistant coaches to play in the All-Star Weekend's Rising Stars game as he's the Suns first impact rookie since Amare Stoudemire in 2002. For the Suns to rebuild into a contender, it will take a lot more draft day successes like the Morris selection. Seeing him blossom into a solid player so quickly is an encouraging start.
Lesser brother? Hardly. Markieff Morris is the Phoenix Suns game-changer.
The widely used word to describe Markieff Morris after the draft was "tough". As Alvin Gentry said at the Suns news conference to introduce Morris: "We need a guy that can add some toughness to our team."
Morris credited his mother Thomasine for his toughness, and while Gentry might have been excited for Morris' physical toughness to bring to the Suns front line, Markieff seemed to be referring to mental toughness, resilience, work ethic and, as the matching tattoos of his and his brother Marcus read, "Family Over Everything."
That has been on display this season, as Morris has had a few bumps along the way, to be expected from any rookie, but works his way through them. He's had difficulties avoiding foul trouble and was uncomfortable playing with the starters early, but he continues to show improved consistency, bringing a lift and stability to a Suns second unit which desperately needs it.
Drafted for his interior defense, rebounding and toughness, Morris has also lived up to his billing as a top-notch 3-point shooter. This has been a tremendous help as Suns veteran stretch big man Channing Frye got off to a slow start. Morris has shown promise in his post game as well, though he still hasn't added much as a pick and roll finisher to his repertoire yet.
There is still plenty in Morris' offensive arsenal, though, as he's scored in double figures in 5 of the last 7 games, including 10 points and 8 rebounds versus the vaunted Lakers
front line of Pau Gasol
and Andrew Bynum
in the Suns big win Sunday night.
The Suns haven't had a rookie play this well in nearly 10 years. That is a game-changer.