Monte Morris - 2021-22 per game statistics
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The story of the regular season
Monte Morris was asked to endure the most drastic change of any Denver Nuggets player this year. Before this season, Morris had started just 31 total games, crossing the 30-minute threshold in a grand total of 34 times in the first four years of his career. This year, Morris played 30+ minutes in 41 out of 75 games, setting a career high in minutes played against predominantly starters.
And Morris maintained his greatest skill within the Nuggets starting five: stability. Without Jamal Murray for the entirety of the season and Michael Porter Jr. for all but the first nine games, Morris was one of Denver’s pillars throughout the season, executing the offense, setting the table for Nikola Jokić, and hitting a career high 124 three-pointers at a 39.5% clip. There were some initial doubts as to Morris’ abilities, but throughout the season, Morris was the most consistent perimeter option. He wasn’t the best defender or most athletic slasher or flashiest passer, but he did his job, helping the Nuggets accumulate 48 wins.
Without Morris, the Nuggets would have been sunk. The key difference between him and his primary backup Facu Campazzo was the level of shooting talent. The Nuggets needed that extra boost throughout the year, and Morris came up big for Denver in several spots.
Did it translate in the playoffs?
Morris’ playoff run obviously lasted just five games, but he played pretty well offensively. Shooting 42% from three-point range is a great start, but Morris’ 5.4 to 1.6 assist-to-turnover ratio stands out as well. Morris found success as a scorer and playmaker against the Warriors, even though he was consistently defended by taller players in Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins.
It’s clear that guarding Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Jordan Poole was a little out of Morris’ wheelhouse though. He was consistently put into off-ball actions while guarding Steph and rarely saw time on Poole due to the young guard’s combo of elite first step and off-the-dribble shooting. When he was on Klay, the taller defender posted him up several times to frequent success, and Morris struggled to stay attached to him on the perimeter as well.
Morris was far from the only weak point defensively, but the reality is that he struggled to make an impact on that end of the floor.
Best Moment - Buzzer Beater versus Golden State
Could it really be anything else? This three-pointer right before the All-Star break was an excellent feel-good moment for the Nuggets. The entire team was exhausted, but they gutted out a victory and capped it off with an incredibly clutch shot by Morris over Steph Curry.
Season Grade: B+
The final grading decision came down to either a B+ or an A- because Morris did an excellent job of filling in for Jamal Murray. He was Denver’s second best player for large portions of the season, and his chemistry with Jokić propped up the Nuggets in ways reminiscent of Murray. The only reason this isn’t an ‘A’ grade is because Morris mostly translated his previous production and efficiency from bench minutes to starter minutes. There wasn’t an excessive amount of growth in his game that would suggest he profiles as a starter going forward. He filled in admirably, but Morris will likely return to the bench next season.
What does the future hold for Morris?
As stated above, the most likely scenario involves Morris returning to lead the Nuggets bench unit when Murray returns to the starting unit. That creates an interesting dilemma with Bones Hyland, who will most likely be back and play next to Morris in a bench role. Bones played his best minutes at point guard though, and neither guy is a plus perimeter defender, meaning there’s some potential overlap in their roles. There are ways to get around this, like one of Morris or Bones starting next to Murray, moving Denver’s incumbent star to shooting guard; however, that creates similar defensive problems in Denver’s starting unit that the Nuggets may not be able to avoid.
Suffice to say, the entire roster around Jokić, Murray, Porter, and Aaron Gordon is fairly fluid. Finding the right mix of pieces can be difficult, and while the most likely scenario involves Morris back and pushing for a title, there’s a possibility that he’s part of a deal to improve Denver’s perimeter defense woes.
Whatever the case may be, Morris has been a stable member of Denver’s organization for a long time. He has two years remaining on a fairly affordable contract, and the Nuggets would surely prefer to keep it that way. His consistency helped Denver remain alive while Murray and Porter were sidelined. Imagine just how helpful he could be when Murray and Porter return.