Los Angeles — The long road trip might be starting to wear on Pistons forward Marcus Morris a little. Or maybe it’s the first part of the season starting to catch up with him.
Morris has been one of the pleasant surprises for the Pistons this season, fitting in well in the starting lineup after being primarily a reserve in his first four seasons in the league. He’s posting the best numbers of his career — 15.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists through the first nine games.
But Morris had a season-low six points and two rebounds in the Pistons’ 101-96 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday, showing signs that his sharp increase in minutes might be affecting his production.
After averaging a career-high 25 minutes last season with the Phoenix Suns, Morris has started all nine games for the Pistons this year, averaging 38.6, which ranks second in the NBA, behind only the Houston Rockets’ James Harden.
Although Morris has been a welcome addition with his versatility, coach Stan Van Gundy is looking for ways to get more rest for Morris.
“He’s off to a great start, playing really, really well and getting more of an opportunity — maybe even too much of an opportunity minutes-wise — and his minutes have really crept up,” Van Gundy said Saturday. “He’s playing as many minutes as most people in the league and that’s starting to take a little bit of a toll and we’re going to have to watch that going forward.”
Part of the issue is that Morris is the lead scoring option with the bench group early in the second quarter, as well as one of the few players who can create his own shot amongst the starters.
With so many close games in the first part of the season, he hasn’t been able to sit during the ends of games, but Morris isn’t making excuses about fatigue or how it might be affecting him.
“(My legs) are there; I’m good,” he said. “I definitely can tell the difference; I’m human. I feel like anybody, a little fatigued after playing 38 minutes. It’s still not an excuse for anything.”
Van Gundy estimates that he’d like to get Morris down to about 33-34 minutes, but it’ll be hard to find time to fill those spots, especially with a thin bench, missing shooting guards Jodie Meeks (toe fracture) and Brandon Jennings (Achilles rehab).
Without them, Stanley Johnson plays more shooting guard with the second group and Morris stays at small forward. But Van Gundy said Johnson isn’t ready to take some of Morris minutes at small forward yet.
Bench stepping up
While the bench production was a concern for much of the road trip, reserves have started to have bigger contributions, including 22 points in the loss to the Clippers. Johnson led the charge with nine points, all in the second quarter, as the Pistons jumped to a 17-point advantage.
Steve Blake, who missed the preseason after recovering from a concussion, has had his struggles on the road trip, but is getting a better grasp of how the reserves are working together and is seeing some progress.
“We had some really good stretches and we are starting to figure some things out,” said Blake, who had two points and two assists and two turnovers Saturday. “(Van Gundy) is helping us find things that will work for us. It’s still a work in progress.
“It’s going to take some time but we have to rely on our defense until we really get it cooking.”