The Phoenix Suns will enter the coming season having made numerous offseason moves, including the signings of Goran Dragic, Michael Beasley and Luis Scola, all of whom will be inserted into the starting lineup.
Though the Suns took a great first step towards rebuilding for the post-Nash era, they are far from contending. For Phoenix, looking to the future may be more important right now than focusing on the current season.
When the team first signed power forward Luis Scola this summer after Scola was cut via the amnesty clause, many were surprised. The team already had Channing Frye and Markieff Morris clogging up minutes at the power forward position. But now with Frye out for the season, it looks as if signing the versatile veteran was a smart move by the team's front office.
Coming off a season in which he averaged 15.5 points and 6.5 rebounds a game, Scola will definitely start the season in a starting role. But the question is, just how long can he hold onto it? With Frye out of the way, sophomore Markieff Morris has the perfect opportunity to work his way up and steal the starting spot.
In his rookie year, Morris put up 7.4 points and 4.4 rebounds in about 19 minutes a game for the team while shooting an unsightly 40 percent from the field. He had some great stretches during the season, earning him a start in five straight games. But at the same time, he was incredibly inconsistent and also had his fair share of games where he was unable to even make a shot.
Morris' struggles may have a lot to do with the fact that he was at times trying to be what he simply isn't, a stretch four. Morris has range, and he connected on 34 percent of his three point attempts last season, but he took way too many threes and did not use his post game nearly enough last year.
Going into this season, Morris may just be ready to breakout and start to surprise the league. We recently received news that Morris added 13 pounds of muscle over the summer, something that will certainly enable him to be more dominant on both ends of the floor. Morris is now in position to be a very versatile and dangerous scorer. He's a 6'10", 245 pound forward who has the ability to either post up, use his quickness to drive to the basket or shoot the ball from behind the arc.
And that extra muscle won't just help Morris score. He's got enough size to box out and out-rebound a lot of smaller NBA forwards now. Morris averaged 8.2 rebounds per 36 minutes last season, and Morris' improved strength and hustle suggests that this stat is likely to go up. And as for defense, Morris will continue to be aggressive. He might have finished with more fouls than starter Channing Frye last season, but his aggressiveness and confidence are a strength and can allow him to continue to develop into a great post defender who can protect the rim.
Morris also isn't only saying he's improved, but he's already started proving it. In five summer league games in Las Vegas, Morris averaged 19.8 points and 9.8 rebounds a game, establishing himself as one of the more dominant players in the league and the MVP of the Suns' summer league roster. It may have only been five games against lesser competition, but Morris was able to score effortlessly, gobble up boards in the paint and defend down low. He's really working on becoming a great all-around player.
The only way to see if he improves is to watch, but his future definitely looks bright. Channing Frye may never be the same player again, and Luis Scola is already 32 and has started his decline. Morris shows the potential to be a tough, double-double machine with some range and could be a great contributor for the Suns in the future if he can prove himself now.
With two first round picks and plenty of cap room, there is no denying that the Suns have other options in the upcoming years. But do not underestimate Morris' talents and please do not bury him in the back of the rotation, because he has all the tools to be a borderline all-star player down the road, perhaps averaging anywhere from 15-20 points per game. Don't be surprised if Markieff Morris establishes himself as the starter for the team within the next couple of years.