Before his Washington Wizards stepped onto the Verizon Center hardwood to beat the Philadelphia 76ers 116-108 Monday night, Coach Randy Wittman again complimented Markieff Morris’s seamless transition since the Wizards acquired him 11 days earlier.
The Wizards, Wittman said, have been able to implement wrinkles for him faster than he anticipated. Morris was quickly becoming comfortable, even calling plays himself. Wittman was then asked if the plan was still for Morris, acquired from the Phoenix Suns on deadline day, to enter the starting lineup at power forward.
“We’ll see,” Wittman said with a laugh. “I don’t think about those things.”
Ninety minutes later, Morris was introduced as the starting power forward and the Philadelphia native, who replaced Jared Dudley in the starting quintet, posted his first double-double in a Wizards uniform with 16 points, 13 rebounds, and five assists in 38 minutes. He became the first Wizard to record a double-double in his first start since Nene in March 2012.
“It was cool,” said Morris, who also logged minutes at center in the second half against his hometown team. “It felt normal. It was a game-time decision and coach just told me so I wanted to bring energy. Come in and play hard and get the win.”
Morris’s presence does not provide as much spacing as Dudley does — Dudley ranks fourth in the NBA in three-point shooting while Morris is shooting 25 percent from beyond the arc on the season and is 0 for 11 with the Wizards — but he supplies other dimensions Dudley doesn’t. The most notable are his size (listed at 6-foot-10 versus the 6-foot-7 Dudley) and his athleticism. As a result, he’s a better rebounder and Washington can utilize him in the post on smaller defenders if defenses switch on pick-and-rolls. He’s also proven to be an adept passer thus far in Washington.
“It’s a little different,” Wizards point guard John Wall said. “He can make the three, but he wants to be midrange more. But the good thing is when teams want to get like this switching pick and rolls, you can post him up and throw it to him. And he’s a willing passer and great enough passer for us to make shots and finish plays in the post.”
Wittman explained he decided to start Morris because the 76ers are usually big up front, but Philadelphia didn’t have starting center Jahlil Okafor available because of a shin contusion. Consequently, power forward Nerlens Noel moved to center and Jerami Grant, a DeMatha product, started at power forward. The change made Philadelphia’s frontline more perimeter-oriented — Grant is a willing three-point shooter despite shooting just 21.8 from beyond the arc this season entering Monday — but Wittman stuck with Morris regardless.
“I thought he handled it well,” Wittman said. “Rebounded well for us. He’s getting comfortable. He’s starting to understand what we are trying to do and how we are doing it.”
Morris started alongside Marcin Gortat, his teammate for two seasons with the Phoenix Suns, in Washington’s frontcourt. The two combined for 33 rebounds — one more than the entire 76ers roster. They also became the first Wizards duo since Jahidi White and Popeye Jones in January 2002 with at least 10 rebounds each in a first half.
“It was like old days,” Morris said. “As long as I pass it to him, we are cool.”
The Wizards will travel to Minneapolis Tuesday where there will take on the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night at Target Center. The Timberwolves are coming off a 128-101 loss to the Dallas Mavericks Sunday and are 19-41 on the season.