Photo Credit: The Associated Press
Darius Morris
Image Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea | US PRESSWIRE

As the rumors of Phil Jackson’s coaching return continue to swirl around Laker-Land, another promising asset is beginning to emerge. That asset is second-year point guard Darius Morris.

Starting point guard Steve Nash suffered a small, left leg fracture on November 1st in a game against the Portland Trail Blazers. This injury to the two-time MVP has recently opened the door for Darius Morris to step in and contribute. Morris set career highs in points (10), assists (5), rebounds (5) and minutes played (26) in last game’s 101-77 win over the Golden State Warriors.

Interim head coach Bernie Bickerstaff gave him the perfect opportunity to showcase his skills last night, and Morris responded by playing the best game of his career. Sure the past few games have only been a small sample size, but Morris’s stellar play raises the question: who will retain the backup point guard role once Nash returns to the lineup?

Although the Lakers labeled Steve Blake as their backup point guard before Nash’s injury, Morris’s play looks to challenge that position. Since Phil Jackson will most likely be named the next head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, Jackson’s predetermined notion of refusing to play younger players will follow and possibly inhibit Morris’s play. The Lakers are certainly made up of a veteran group, but younger guys like Darius Morris could lead to an effective balance of youth. Hopefully Jackson will change his traditional view and give Morris a long look at the backup point guard position. The following is a breakdown between Blake and Morris:

Steve Blake

Steve Blake has been the Lakers backup point guard for the past few years, but he’s produced at a below average rate over that time. Blake is shooting a measly 34% from the field this season although his 42% from three-point range is decent. His 3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio also proves he’s been taking good care of the ball this season, which has been an area of concern for the Lakers as a team so far (18.2 TOPG).

The biggest knocks on Blake are his defensive abilities as well as his limited athleticism. When Nash returns to the starting lineup, Blake will join Morris back on the bench. The problem with having Blake back up Nash is that Blake practically brings the same tools and abilities as Nash, just to an obviously lesser degree. Blake’s defense has also been an area of concern throughout his tenure with the Lakers. This culmination of athletic and defensive deficiencies leads to the fact that a change-of-pace guard could be more effective off the bench.

Darius Morris

Darius Morris, on the other hand, brings much more athleticism and strength to the table. Morris has clearly benefitted from his intense off-season workout regimen, which saw him add both muscle and quickness. Since the Lakers’ veteran guards, namely Nash and Blake, are not the most athletic, Morris’s athletic ability gives the Lakers another angle of attack. Morris has great end-to-end speed and is able to get out and push the ball, making him a prototypical change-of-pace guard.

Playing at a quicker pace, as Morris tends to do, will create more fast break opportunities and get the Lakers’ bench easy buckets. With easier looks on offense, the defense of the second unit should improve along with their offensive efficiency as a group. If Jackson does indeed return to coach, Morris’s athleticism will add another element to the famed triangle offense. As a score-first point guard, Jackson will be able to rely on him as a much-needed spark off the bench, as Jordan Farmar once was for Jackson years ago. An increase in bench production would hopefully reduce the minutes of the starters and save Nash and Kobe Bryant from even more wear and tear. Morris has also significantly improved his outside shooting, shooting 50% from 3-point range this season, which will keep opposing defenses honest.

For much of last season and even parts of this season, Morris’s biggest weakness has been his poise. Like most rookie point guards, Morris entered the league trying to play too fast and trying to do too much. Morris has also had difficulties playing defense off the ball in the past, looking lost in his rotations at times. This season, however, he has shown great improvement in these areas, especially his decision-making and defensive instincts.

Morris displayed great poise in last game’s win as he looked much more comfortable running the second unit without having to coordinate Mike Brown’s complex system. With coach Bickerstaff, and Phil Jackson most likely to follow, Morris will continue to flourish and add the much-needed elements of speed, quickness and the ability to get to the basket.

The final say…

With all of this in mind, Darius Morris makes the most sense to be the permanent backup point guard once Steve Nash recovers. With his “change-of-pace” mentality and a dedication to the defensive end, Morris makes the most sense to lead the bench unit in the future. Hopefully over the next few games Morris will continue to showcase the improvements he’s made since last season. Because Morris’s skill-set is so unique to this veteran Lakers team, he would be the perfect fit to assume the backup point guard role once Nash returns.