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2021-22 Denver Nuggets Media Day Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

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Is Monte Morris ready for starting point guard duties?

Leading off our 2021-22 player preview series is one of the most pivotal players on the roster: Monte Morris

Monte Morris 2020-21 per game statistics

Games Minutes Points Rebounds Assists Field Goal % Three-Point % Estimated Plus-Minus
47 25.4 10.2 2.0 3.2 48.1 38.1 -0.8

Overview

Monte Morris had always been steady as a rock for the Denver Nuggets. He barely played his rookie season, but in his second (2018-19) and third (2019-20) seasons, Morris was the embodiment of consistency. He was a low mistake, high floor point guard who helped others around him as a reliable decision maker.

Last season (2020-21) featured a version of Morris with slightly more aggression. It didn’t show up as often in the per game numbers, but he attempted a higher number of threes (37.4% of his shots came from behind the three-point line) and a higher number of free throws (18.9% free throw rate) than in any of his previous seasons. Morris was more sure of himself, more confident in his abilities, and pushed the boundaries a bit more as a scorer. That manifested in two strong performances against the Portland Trail Blazers in Games 5 and 6, closing out the Blazers to the tune of 50 combined points and 14 combined assists.

Now, in the 2021-22, the Nuggets are hoping, perhaps expecting, Monte Morris to take a leap, to increase his production and effectiveness in a ways he hasn’t to this point in his career. With Jamal Murray, Denver’s incumbent starting point guard, sidelined while recovering from an ACL tear, the pressure is on Morris to take a step forward in his own personal development. At 26 years old and just entering his fifth season, Morris has the capability to reach new thresholds as a player. If his goal is to become a permanent starting point guard in the NBA, then he has a perfect opportunity to develop his skills as Denver’s de facto facilitator.

Playing next to Nikola Jokić, the 2020-21 NBA MVP, tends the make the game easy for most players, but for Monte Morris, it simply changes his play style. During the 2020-21 regular season, Morris shared the court with Jokić for just over 800 minutes. Morris’ scoring efficiency didn’t really change when Jokić was on or off the floor (57.3 TS% w/Jokić ON vs 57.4 TS% w/Jokić OFF). It was Morris’ scoring volume that changed drastically (13.9 USG% w/Jokić ON vs 20.2 USG% w/Jokić OFF). The same shift in play style occurred in 2019-20 as well (12.6 USG% w/Jokić ON vs 19.6 USG% w/Jokić OFF).

For Morris, this upcoming season will have to be about learning to play a more aggressive brand of offense as the starting point guard. There’s a certain mentality shift that has to come when playing next to two of the top scoring talents in the NBA in Jokić and Michael Porter Jr., but striking a healthy balance is better than anything. Morris is a talented scorer, and his manipulation of dribble hand off sets, pick and roll, and isolations on switches could absolutely lead to a career high in scoring in a larger role. The Nuggets will need the offense too, as Jokić and Porter can’t be the only two players that ever have big scoring nights.

Is Morris ready for it? That remains to be seen.

NBA: Denver Nuggets-Media Day Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Best Case for 2021-22

Morris makes a leap as a dynamic playmaker, translating his offensive game to the starting lineup and helping pick up the slack as a third or fourth scoring option on most nights. He becomes the primary pick and roll partner with Jokić, helping ease the burden of the MVP winner. His own personal growth allows Porter, Will Barton, and Aaron Gordon to focus on slightly more narrow roles that don’t involve as much creation off the dribble.

When Murray returns, Morris returns to a sixth man role but utilizes his additional playmaking experience to elevate himself to a leading bench guard. He solidifies his hold as the best backup point guard in the NBA, occasionally finishes games ahead of Barton, and fills 25 to 30 minutes per game as Denver’s sixth man on the way to a Finals run.

Worst Case for 2021-22

Morris struggles to remain healthy after an offseason procedure to reduce the pain in his knee, which also limits him on the court. He has some good games every now and then, but he’s primarily a facilitator in the starting unit who takes a backseat on most games. Ultimately, Morris is removed from the starting lineup to help place him back into a role he’s more familiar with, but he ultimately has a down year by his standards from an efficiency and production standpoint.

When Murray returns, the Nuggets try to play their bench guards together but ultimately decide to go with the more defensive Campazzo and the more dynamic Bones Hyland. Morris is phased out of the playoff rotation entirely as the Nuggets attempt to recapture previous magic with a different group.

One Bold Prediction

The best case scenario will be more in line with what we see from Morris. In fact, Morris will set new career highs as a scorer (30 points), shooter (six three-pointers), and passer (12 assists) on his way to a fantastic fifth season.

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Game Recaps

Recap: Denver Nuggets fall to Utah Jazz shorthanded on the road