Lost Potential


Apr 28, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers point guard Darius Morris (1) handles the ball during the first quarter against the San Antonio Spurs in game four of the first round of the 2013 NBA playoffs at the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past week, news has been broken that Darius Morris and Devin Ebanks will join the Philadelphia 76ers and the Dallas Mavericks, respectively. Neither will be seen as a great loss. But their departure acts as a sad indictment of the Laker’s lack of a youth culture.

Both were second round picks and, as such, were not expected to be great. But they had potential – I wouldn’t be surprised if we heard more from them soon.

Morris was especially intriguing to me. Personally, I am a big fan of tall point guards and Morris fit the bill at 6’4”. He wasn’t rail-thin either; his frame had already filled out nicely and after the draft I remember the Kamenetzky brothers (then writing for ESPN) comparing him to a poor man’s Andre Miller. His Draft Express profile notes his “impressive frame” right off the bat.

Morris was able to translate that frame into a pesky and defensive presence last season. The young point guard was able to garner support for his effort from none other than Kobe Bryant, who said, that he “is a fantastic defender.” The Lakers needed defense last season and, at the very least, Morris gave great effort on that end. At times he could get lost on defense and would show his immaturity by too often jumping passing lanes. But his man defense showed promise and his ability to pick up opposing point guards full court was impressive.

Unfortunately, Morris’ defense wasn’t enough to overlook his offense. Here as well, Morris showed some promise but not enough. He flashed decent touch from behind the arc and you could see his confidence in that shot, especially from the corner, rising as the season went on. Unfortunately, as his shot chart shows, he tended to be erratic within the arc. This is especially damning for a player like Morris who had a decent ability to penetrate. Like his defense, Morris was too hyperactive inside. He wanted to do too much. His size meant that he could afford to be more patient around the rim, a la Andre Miller. But you have to like that 49% of his shots came at the rim. For comparison, Duhon – Morris’ competition – only got a shot at the rim 13.8% of the time (then again, it often felt that Duhon was taking shots from the halfway line so the rim may be too much to expect). His ability to penetrate and his improving shot can only be a good sign for his future.

Morris also reduced his turnovers last year. In his rookie season, he averaged 4 turnovers per 36 minutes. In his second season, he pulled it down to 2.4 turnovers per 36. It’s an encouraging sign from a player who too often would get trapped aimlessly dribbling around. It showed signs of progression and maturity. He seemed to be shedding himself of some of the erratic tendencies that plagued his game. You’d expect that progression to continue.

Morris is a talented player in a position that the Lakers have struggled to fill at times. He showed promise when giving the keys for a while once Mike Brown was relieved last year. As Bernie Bickerstaff so wonderfully put it once, he “just needs to take a little sugar off his game”.

The fact the Lakers couldn’t sign him is disappointing. He’s the kind of young player the Lakers could gamble on, and maybe they see some higher returns. Look at Cory Joseph on the Spurs. Is he really that much better than Morris? Joseph was playing Finals minutes for the Spurs; and doing so at an adequate level. Faith in a young player can go a long way.

Now though, he’s on his way to Philadelphia where Adrian Wojnarowski reports he will play more “meaningful backcourt minutes this season”. Unfortunately, he should have been playing more minutes last season. This is why his loss is a sad indictment of the Lakers and D’Antoni.

They just can’t and won’t push through youth. I’ve only mentioned Ebanks once this article and that’s still more times than D’Antoni probably called his name last season. He was glued to the bench and it may as well have been one in a park in London, England. Even in the horror show of the playoffs, he could barely get game time. And Ebanks can play. He has strong defensive qualities and wasn’t bad as a starter during Mike Brown’s Metta World Peace 6th man experiment to start the lockout season. But he couldn’t even get close enough to the scorer’s table to get a cold shoulder from D’Antoni.

Nobody, meanwhile, would blame Morris for leaving when he was stuck behind Chris Duhon. Somehow, Duhon played more minutes than Morris despite the youngster being a better defender, scoring more points in less time and actually knowing where the three-point line is (yes, Duhon’s penchant for shooting 6 feet behind the three-point line drove me crazy). The Lakers were playing for their playoff lives but Duhon wasn’t helping. Morris may have taken cutlery off the table (namely, his turnover ratio) but he added more than Duhon could hope to. If Cory Joseph can be trusted to play minutes in the biggest games of the season, the Lakers should have believed more in Morris.

One last point: maybe Morris wasn’t ready and would do more harm than good. But then why wasn’t he sent to the D-League? The Lakers have a D-League affiliate in the D-Fenders. Both players should have been sent to work on their game. Not as punishment but as a compromise that works for both sides.

Once again, we should look to the Spurs and their situation with Cory Joseph. He asked to be sent down. Because that’s the culture the Spurs have. It’s the culture the Lakers need to have.