Timberwolves

Monte Morris Is the Backup Point Guard the Wolves Have Been Looking For

Photo Credit: Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

After the Minnesota Timberwolves’ 129-105 win over the Milwaukee Bucks, a reporter asked Chris Finch about Monte Morris. “He’s a winner,” Finch responds. “He just kind of makes the right play. Super solid, low turnover guy. He’s used to playing off of a lot of star players really well.”

On Wednesday night, the Wolves traded Shake Milton, Troy Brown Jr., and a 2030 second-round pick to the Detroit Pistons for Morris. The trade is another attempt by the Wolves to solve their backup point guard conundrum. Morris has only played six games this season for Detroit. But he has a history of being a reliable offensive player with plenty of experience who may be able to replicate Mike Conley’s play with the second unit.

As Finch alluded to, he’s used to playing alongside stars. Offensively, Morris is a solid fit in Minnesota. Morris is a career 38.9% three-point shooter. His career average would rank sixth on the Wolves by three-point percentage. Look deeper into his numbers, and his fit becomes even clearer. Morris shot 44.1% from the left corner three in 2022-23. In Morris’s final season with the Denver Nuggets in 2021-22, his percentage was even better. He shot 49.1%, with 100% of those makes coming off of assists.

That year, 93.5% of Morris’s total three-point makes came from assists. That number dipped to 76.9% in 2022-23, likely due to Morris’ no longer playing alongside Nikola Jokic. These corner shooting stats are important because the Wolves have desperately sought a backup to replicate Mike Conley’s shooting. Conley’s teammates assist on 82.9% of his three-point makes, and he’s shooting 54.5% from the left corner.

Morris’s ability to play a shooting off-ball role in the offense when he needs to and replicate where Conley is most dangerous shooting makes him the perfect Conley proxy. The video below highlights why Tim Connelly and Co. targeted Morris. Jokic passes the ball off to Morris and sets a screen, and the entire defense collapses to Jokic as Morris hands the ball off to Will Barton to drive. Morris then drifts to the corner for an open three. Morris should complement Gobert’s screen setting and ability to roll and Edwards’s attacking ability.

Morris has also displayed an ability to get to the basket in his career. In the 2021-22 season, 48.1% of Morris’ points came in the paint, while only 4.3% were from the midrange. That’s unique for a 6’2” guard. But looking at Morris’ film, he appears to be crafty off of the pick-and-roll, especially with Jokic. He can lure his defenders into a screen and get them stuck or take advantage of the defense, overcompensating for Jokic.

That could translate to Minnesota with Karl-Anthony Towns’ pick-and-pop ability. Below is one of those pick-and-fades with Jokic where Morris uses his handle to go around the screen and straight into Jarrett Allen before hesitating and drawing Garland in. Because Allen is still protecting the drive, it leads to a wide-open Jokic three.

The similarities between Morris and Conley don’t end with corner threes. In Morris’ 2022-22 campaign, he had a 4.27 assist-to-turnover ratio and an impressive 20.1% assist percentage (percentage of teammate’s field goals Morris assists on while on the court). Morris’ 6.4 turnover ratio (percentage of plays per 100 possessions a player turns the ball over) is also stellar and supports Finch’s claim that Morris is a “low turnover guy,”

These stats again mirror Conley’s, who has a 6.12 assist-to-turnover ratio, 30.5 assist percentage, and 6.6 turnover ratio. While Morris is less productive offensively than Conley, the goal isn’t to replace Conley. Instead, it’s to have a viable replacement in his minutes off the court. Morris’ playmaking offers hope that he could help the Wolves survive in those minutes.

While Wolves fans should be excited for Morris offensively, Morris has had shortcomings defensively. Morris has never had a defensive rating under 105.1, with that coming in 2018-19 as his career best. In 2022-23, his rating ballooned to 117.3. For context, that would be Conley’s worst rating by a full 1.1 points over his 16-year career.

But there are some signs that Morris could improve defensively. Morris had a 21.3 % steal percentage (percentage of total team steals a player is responsible for) in 2022-23, which is comparable to Conley’s 22.9% this season. He could get steals at Conley’s rate in the past.

Morris is also allowing the players he’s guarding to shoot 35.1% from three, which is comparable to Conley allowing 34.3%, meaning Morris can defend the three-point line. But there’s a meaningful disparity between Conley and Morris on two-point shots. Morris allows opponents to shoot 56.3% overall and 64.3% when opponents are at the basket. Whereas Conley is at 51.4% from two and 60.3% near the basket.

While the 5% difference may not seem like much, Morris allows one more basket per 20 attempts. In 100 possessions, Morris would allow ten more points from two-point range than Conley. Of course, the positive side of this is that Morris will now play alongside Defensive Player of the Year favorite Rudy Gobert, which may assist in seeing his numbers improve drastically. The video below illustrates why there’s reason to believe that Gobert could help improve Morris’s’ defense.

Morris may not be a perfect Conley clone, but there is enough data to suggest that he could be the player to slide in and take ownership of the backup point guard role. Morris should be a great fit with his shooting and playmaking. Morris’s defense may drastically improve playing alongside Gobert. Furthermore, the Wolves have an open roster spot, and they’ll likely fill it with another complementary player.

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