Monte Morris signed an extension shortly before the season started on December 9th of last year, and, if it weren’t for a couple of nagging injuries, he was on pace for another outstanding year off of the bench for the Nuggets. He remains the straw that stirs the drink for the second unit for Michael Malone, and, when Jamal Murray misses time, he’s usually the player that gets the call to lead the starting backcourt.
One of the main factors that could be gleaned from this season was just how important extending Morris was for Denver. When Morris was out of the lineup, the team’s second unit consistently looked disjointed and without direction. His ability to penetrate, run the pick-and-roll and set up his teammates is a skill that none of the other reserve guards were able to perform on a consistent basis.
Murray will likely be sidelined for part of the start of the season which would have Morris in the starting lineup, and, when considering the drop-off most teams have when losing their starting point guard, it’s a great piece of the puzzle to have a player that can start for you when asked for just over $9 million per season after joining the team as a two-way player in 2017. Morris struggled some in the playoffs, but he was still Denver’s most consistent guard after Murray.
After playing limited minutes in his first game of the season against the Sacramento Kings, Morris went on a nice little run scoring in double digits in 13 of the next 15 games while shooting 53.7 percent from the field during that stretch of games. The Nuggets struggled with bench issues all season long due to injuries and a constant rotating cast of available bodies, but Morris was as consistent as ever as he had been through his first three seasons in Denver.
Once Denver got to the playoffs, the assumption was that Morris would be in the starting lineup in place of Murray, but, with the litany of injuries to the guards, they couldn’t afford to pull him from the bench unit because there was no other player that was capable of running the unit. His shooting, outside of a couple of off games, gave the second unit at least one consistent form of offense with the other four players around him hoping to hit a shot.
Season Grade: B
You could bump this grade up to a B+, and I wouldn’t fight you that hard over it. Morris improved his field goal and 3-point percentage from last season. He also scored at a higher rate during the regular season before averaging 13.7 points per game in the playoffs, which was fourth on the team if you’re including the three games played by Will Barton.
Morris’ overall shooting percentages looked much worse in the playoffs than they truly were. He shot 2-of-17 from the floor in Games 1 & 2 against the Phoenix Suns. If you remove those two games, he shot 66.7 percent from the field in the playoffs. There are two main reasons his grade is getting dropped for this season. One was his health, as he played only 57 of a possible 82 games between the regular season and the playoffs along with his defense. His Defensive Box Plus/Minus registered a -1.1 which was the worst mark he has registered through his first four seasons. He’s not a defensive specialist, but he has to be better on that end next season.
Season Highlight: Game 5 against Portland Trail Blazers
A double-OT win in a pivotal Game 5 where Morris scores his career-high in points? Yeah, that’s the highlight of his season. Morris scored 28 points in the game with 14 of them coming in the second half, including going 7-of-7 from the free-throw line. He added nine more in the overtime periods, including going 2-of-2 from 3-point range which got the momentum rolling in Denver’s favor after Damian Lillard had tied the game with 3.7 remaining in regulation which sucked the life out of the home crowd.
What’s next for Monte Morris
Heading into next season, Morris is the clear second-best guard on the roster behind Murray currently under contract. Assuming the NBA season starts on October 19th, it’s highly unlikely that Murray will be ready to go just six months removed from his torn ACL. Morris would likely become the starting point guard for Denver which would give Malone the chance to see how he wants to run the second unit without Morris.
With R.J. Hampton gone to the Orlando Magic, the only true young and developing guard that Denver has on the roster is P.J. Dozier, and it would be wise for Morris to work with Dozier before next season to help him develop his game on the offensive end of the floor. Among guards under contract for next season, only Facundo Campazzo is older, and Morris will be expected to take on more of a leadership role heading into this stage of the career.
At the end of the day, Morris’ main focus for this offseason heading into next year is to get his body right and to be ready for the start of next season. This goes for every player on the team’s roster, but Morris missed 25 games this season. The team can’t afford to have him on the shelf for that long with how important he is to run the second unit.