That's Pretty Interesting: The Celtics are erratic, but Marcus Morris is suddenly a stabilizing force
Also: Wilson Chandler has things to say, a mixtape of De'Aaron Fox blocking shots, checking in on Jarrett Allen and more
NEW YORK -- The Boston Celtics are erratic. They have the NBA's third-best net rating, a reflection of their ability to look like title contenders, but it's hard to trust them on a night-to-night basis. Leading up to their (impressive!) victory against Toronto on Wednesday, they shot 40 percent in a loss in Miami last Thursday, couldn't cool down Terrence Ross in a loss in Orlando on Saturday and trailed by as many as 27 points in a loss in Brooklyn on Monday.
Everyone in the Celtics' rotation has had wild swings in his production over the past three months. Everyone, that is, except the stabilizing force that is Marcus Morris, who is averaging 15.4 points and 6.0 rebounds while shooting 49.5 percent and making 44.8 percent of his 3-pointers. All of those numbers are career highs.
"He's been a guy we all can lean on every single day," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. "You know what you're getting. Even when shots don't go in at the same rate as maybe some other nights, you always know that he's going to give every effort to do what he's supposed to do. He's been an excellent presence for our team and has obviously played great."
Sage veteran Al Horford was even more effusive, telling CBS Sports that Morris is having "an unbelievable year" on the court and as a leader. Horford called him "a great example for everyone."
In his eighth season, on his fourth team, Morris is suddenly an All-Star candidate, in the mix for Most Improved Player and a vital part of a team with championship aspirations. An incredible turn of events in its own right, this is even more remarkable because Morris was supposed to be marginalized this year, a reserve on a team full of established stars and rising ones.
Morris told CBS Sports he had a "big summer," but he does not believe his improvement is entirely because of what he was doing in the gym. You might have heard that Morris became a father last July: he tweeted a photo of the newborn Marcus Jr. from the hospital, is now officially listed as Marcus Morris Sr. (the back of his jersey reads "MORRIS SR.") and he wore custom shoes with his son's face on them for the Celtics' Christmas Day game. He sees a direct link between his play and the perspective that comes with being a father.
"I feel like I'm at a more settled place in my career," Morris said. "Just being really calm, having a lot of stuff figured out. Having my son put me in a place where everything else is really not that important."
The 29-year-old forward is "not moving as fast as before," he said, sounding at peace with life as an NBA dad. He knows "all the distractions that could possibly be had" in his profession, and feels a real difference going through a season with his new sense of clarity. As anyone who has to perform under pressure knows, it is easier to do it when you're not all that worried about the result.
"It's your career, you want to do the best at it," Morris said. "You want to play [your best] every minute. But in all reality, you won't."
Some nights, Morris said, he knows he won't shoot the ball well and won't play as aggressively as he'd like. The best players, though, are able to accept that and move on. There is a cruel irony in the fact that these words came from the Celtic who has so rarely had an off-night -- if only the rest of the team could live like him.
In August, ESPN's Jackie MacMullan published a series of stories about mental health in the NBA. Morris featured prominently, discussing the violence he grew up around, the anxiety and depression he's lived with and the various ways in which he has tried to cope. Morris praised Dr. Stephanie Pinder-Amaker, the psychologist who talked to the Celtics as a group last season and encouraged Morris to try meditation to ease his stress. He was careful not to say that he is now stress-free -- the difference is that he is better at dealing with it.
"Stress is a part of life," Morris said. "I think the biggest thing about stress is how you are able to work through it and not let it continue to bring things down in your life. By dealing with it head-on and being able to speak about it, I think it's very helpful. Whenever I'm not like not feeling comfortable or whenever there's something bothering me, I speak on it. That really helps me, definitely, not even just in basketball. Just in life."
Months ago, when it wasn't clear if Morris' hot start would sustain, he was hesitant to talk about it. More than halfway through the season, he acknowledged that he is "playing very well" and is simply trying to keep it going and be himself. Marcus Morris Sr. is the same tough competitor he has always been, with better numbers and a different outlook.
"You know how they say calm before the storm?" Morris said. "I'ma reverse the words and say storm before the calm. And that's it right there."
Wilson Chandler has things to say
On Jan. 7, Philadelphia 76ers forward Wilson Chandler tweeted that, if he could change three things about the NBA, they would be analytics, a slightly shorter season and the use of CBD products. After the Philadelphia 76ers' win over the New York Knicks on Sunday, he elaborated on all of these subjects and explained why he deleted Twitter that morning.
On analytics: "I understand the business side and the numbers and all that. It just takes the fun out of the game. I think you can manipulate numbers, too, also, to your advantage, if you're a team."
On analytics guys: "I also think those guys who did that were the guys who were trying to find their way into sports that really didn't know how to play or wasn't good enough to play on that level. And those guys who do that are not basketball guys. They're numbers guys. So I think just from that standpoint, it makes at difficult. Guys who crunch those numbers with analytics, they're not basketball guys at all."
[Note: His follow-up tweet -- "trash the whole shit" -- is the most succinct distillation of his feelings on this subject.]
On the schedule: "Eighty-two games, plus playoffs, with the travel, it's just a lot on your body. If we were able to have a shorter season, it would spread out the games, make road trips less taxing on the body."
On whether or not the season is too long: "We all love playing basketball, so it's not that it's long. It's just a lot of games in a short period of time. Back-to-backs and travel, five games in six nights, you know? Shit like that."
On CBD: "I just think it's a great tool to have as far as healing the body. I know everybody associates CBD with marijuana and smoke and all this stuff. But when you get away from smoking and just taking the THC out of it, and just using the healing properties … I think it's good for a lot of different things that players go through, whether it's arthritis, whether it's sleeping or whether it's muscle pain or depression, anxiety. It helps so many things. I think it's beneficial to players and I think we should be able to use it."
On putting CBD in context: "You can smoke cigars, you can drink wine, you can drink liquor, you can take opiates, over-the-counter pain medications and all these different things. Cold medicine. So I mean, if you can do all that, CBD is the least of our problems. If you're just sitting at home watching TV and there's a commercial for whatever it is, Zofran or whatever, it'll be like, 'oh yeah, it helps with this,' and then at the end they name all these side effects off real fast. Might cause stomach pain, bleeding in the stomach or f---ing nausea, headaches, all this other shit. You end up taking another medication just to offset whatever that starts. If you're taking pain medication and then your stomach starts acting up, you can't use the bathroom, you start taking stool softeners. And all this other shit. [CBD] doesn't get you high. There's no side effects. Nobody never got sick, died or anything from it."
On deleting Twitter: "I was just tired of social media. No, like, personal reason. Nobody was messing me or nothing like that. I just wake up, I find myself checking my social media. I find myself when I'm at dinner with people, I'm just not really being in the moment when I'm certain places. So I just wanted to get away from it."
[Note: Chandler has since reactivated his Twitter account.]
The mixtape: Star Fox blocks shots
De'Aaron Fox isn't the most frequent shot-blocker, but he's one of my favorites. The Sacramento Kings guard is so fast that chase-down blocks look easy for him, and he has a knack for surprising people with swats at the rim. Here's a little mixtape, set to some Star Fox music, of course:
I considered doing the "What Does The Fox Say?" thing here, but didn't want to have to listen to it. If you would prefer this set to a Foxing song, though, hit me up.
Checking in on … Jarrett Allen
Brooklyn Nets center Jarrett Allen entered Wednesday's game against the Houston Rockets averaging 11.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 26.6 minutes, fine numbers for a 20-year-old in his second season who was labeled a project coming out of college. The stats, though, only tell a small part of the story here -- Allen is a critical part of a playoff-caliber team, helping the Nets on both ends and continually improving.
Allen plays with no ego. He frees shooters with solid screens. He runs the floor hard. He doesn't care if he gets dunked on, and for that reason has managed to block LeBron James, Blake Griffin, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard at the rim this season. Brooklyn is no fun to guard because of the way it spaces the floor, and the mere sight of Allen rolling to the rim makes opponents panic.
"If you get too spread out, you're really in trouble because, as much as you want to get to the shooters, they're such good drivers," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. "And then Allen has really opened up a lot for those guys in that regard. His ability to roll to the rim, his ability to catch it at 12 feet high makes it so you have to be pulled in and you have to be ready to fire out. Any wasted movement, you usually get scored on."
Stevens said this before Boston's loss to the Nets on Monday, and it's easy to find examples of what he was talking about in that game. Look at how open Rodions Kurucs is at the top of the key when Allen rolls here:
On Brooklyn's next possession, the Celtics played the pick-and-roll more conservatively. They didn't need to rotate to take away Allen's path to the hoop, but they surrendered a comfortable 3-pointer to D'Angelo Russell:
And finally, look at how scrambled Boston's reserves are as they try to account for Allen and the Nets' shooters at the same time:
A peek into my process: I had this section sketched out before Allen's 20-point, 24-rebound performance in Brooklyn's 145-142 overtime win in Houston. Allen added James Harden to his , and he exposed the limitations of the Rockets' smallball lineup. Try not to laugh as he punishes them for their lack of rim protection time and time again:
Hmmmm: Brett Brown looks forward to facing the elite
On Thursday, the Philadelphia 76ers will visit the Indiana Pacers, who are one game ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings. Then, before the All-Star break, they will play the Thunder, Rockets, Spurs, Nuggets, Lakers, Warriors, Kings, Raptors, Nuggets (again), Lakers (again), Celtics and -- finally, an easy one! -- the Knicks. Wjrtlkajfdslkfdj.
Ahead of this brutal, potentially season-defining stretch, Sixers coach Brett Brown said he tries to disregard opponents' records, referencing recent losses to Washington and Atlanta. His mission, he said, will continue to be improving their defense and cohesion. He also harnessed the power of positivity.
"I think the level rises," Brown said. "I think our talent rises. And I look forward to playing some of the elite."
Brown does not shy away from anything, and I love that about him. Last season, I went to Philadelphia in late December when the team was 14-16 and had lost seven of their last eight games., rather than letting their confidence waver, the Sixers' struggles had given them "greater resolve." That night, they blew a 22-point lead and Brown answered a bunch of difficult questions. His message stayed simple: Philadelphia would get healthy and get better. He spoke as if he knew that success was just around the corner. It was hard not to believe him.
That said, this schedule -- oof! I get that you're supposed to want to be tested, but it'd be nice if there was a Cleveland game in the middle there. Or even just another trip to New York, where Philadelphia was lucky to escape with a win. If this team is going to get where it needs to go, it will need to be able to beat the league's best teams. Seeing almost all of them in a few weeks, though, doesn't really seem like something to look forward to.
10 more stray thoughts:
I often can't believe Kyrie Irving is a real person ... Draymond Green is passing the hell out of the ball ... One player doing good work on an irrelevant team: Richaun Holmes ... I am way too interested in what the Magic do at the deadline ... This Danuel House standoff is fascinating ... It's hilarious that Spencer Dinwiddie is still coming off the bench ... I love that Terrence Ross ... I don't usually worry about young players' turnovers, but Josh Jackson is an exception ... The schedule eased up, but hey, look at the Jazz ... Free Dennis Smith!
All statistics current as of games played on Jan. 15.
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