Evaluating Marquese Chriss’ rookie season is dependent upon the lens in which you choose to view through. Detractors will nit-pick on the amount of fouls he accumulates in short bursts of time (he averaged 3.2 per game), the few times a game he would lapse and lose his man on defense, and his occasionally streaky offensive arsenal. Others will champion each of those details, flipping them into positives under the mantra of this dude barely knows how to play basketball yet and he is still being productive.
Call me crazy, but I would say that I fall more into the latter category than the former. Marquese Chriss receives an A from me, and nobody is going to to be able to tell me otherwise.
Chriss was afforded starting duties from Earl Watson early on in the season — perhaps the first step in the enhancement of his confident demeanor. Although he was relegated to only 21.3 minutes per game, this is the rare case where I believe that the starting nod holds more weight because that meant he learned the ropes while playing alongside Devin Booker and Eric Bledsoe. The minutes shared with each blitzing guard not only mean well for the future, but fall more in line with the attributes within his game.
A pogo stick come to life, Chriss shows all the outlines of a modern day four-man that can split time as a five in a pinch. His pick-and-roll chemistry came and went with both Bledsoe and Booker — you could argue he had his best chemistry with Tyler Ulis because it seems like every big did — but when things broke right, it was a pretty sight.
(Look at where he jumped from!)
The decisiveness in which Chriss attacked the rim is the most important factor, and something that could take years to develop on a consistent basis. Both Bledsoe and Booker are solid pick-and-roll dishers (I side with Bledsoe, but Book is not far behind), and Chriss has the requisite explosiveness to wreak havoc in this setting without much restrain. In other words, he is a poster waiting to happen.
As teams start to trap Booker to halt his impact in the half-court, Chriss will need to serve as the outlet and spark lucrative four-on-three scenarios. Instances like these is where Draymond Green makes his money, and as time goes on, Chriss will need to figure out where all of the chess pieces align in a moment’s notice.
Jusuf Nurkic does a good job here acting as a release valve for Damian Lillard, surveying the floor, and throwing a dart to an open shooter with his bear paws.
I promise you that Chriss will be placed in similar situations as early as next season, and how he handles these situations will be instrumental towards how the Suns function on offense without the benefit of a fastbreak.
Much of Chriss’ rookie season was spent spacing out the floor stationed in the corner, ready to spot-up when a barreling drive by one of the guards sucked the defense away from him. The results were mixed, but I would argue that the 32 percent he shot on nearly three attempts per game were above the benchmark set in the majority of minds before the season started. Even more than that, his stroke is smooth and controlled, and you could see the confidence in his shot grow with each passing game. That percentage will increase.
A lethal outside shot will unlock all sorts of goodies for Chriss’ game. Take for instance this “45” action (my favorite play in the league) that he runs with Alan Williams and Booker.
Teams are going to be so hellbent of stifling Booker’s momentum that Chriss will almost always be allowed to sneak away for an open look. Quite honestly, I don’t understand why teams don’t run this play every time down the court. The geometry works particularly well for the Suns because they have a center that can catch a lob on a dive (Tyson Chandler), two lethal guards that can wiggle, and a flurry of capable shooters that can knock down an open three.
The best part about Chriss’ game is that he has shown flashes of being able to serve as either a) the diver or b) the leaker — the ability to do both can keep a defense guessing for the half a second needed to secure an opening.
Lastly, but most certainly not least, comes the real area of focus for Chriss’ future: defense. Due to his size, length, speed, and general mean streak ingrained within him, Chriss has all of the tools to be a Serge Ibaka-like defender. He is unafraid of switching onto smaller guards, sticking with them laterally, and then pouncing on their attack to the rim like a hawk.
Marcus Smart is not exactly Isaiah Thomas as a driver, but that is still an impressive display of all the defensive tools coming together. Chriss has a knack for smacking his blocks into the backboard and sparking a fastbreak going the other way; a seemingly minuscule detail that can have a big impact.
As I mentioned earlier, Chriss can be a little anxious with his hops and get himself into foul trouble more than he should. I would attribute that to the steep learning curve of getting used to the speed of the professional ranks. Chriss will eventually learn when to pick his spots when it comes to fouling. He wants to block every shot thrown his way, and I would much rather have a player with that mindset than a matador.
The Suns got a good one in Chriss — he has all of the makings of a new Ibaka, just with a head start on his jumper. He gets an A in my unofficially official grading system, and I look forward to having a front row seat in watching his development.
Shout to FreeDawkins for the highlights shown throughout this piece. You can view his channel here.