Is Marcus Morris the answer for LeBron James on the defensive end of the floor?

When the Celtics traded Avery Bradley for Marcus Morris, I read that the one reason Celtics fans could be excited about him is that he's another player we could throw on LeBron James. Just last week, someone on the YouTube (yes, I am that YouTube guy who makes Celtics highlights and more) asked me for some Marcus Morris defensive highlights as there weren't many on YT. I thought it could be a good time to look a little bit closer on Morris-James matchup.

It was kind od hard to get all games they went against each other from last two seasons but finally I got my hands on all 10 of them. Then I had to watch every game to find every defensive possesion Morris had on James. Well, that wasn't easy but I also got a good look on Kyrie Irving so that's a good thing! First off, here are the full defensive highlights of Morris defending James:

As you can see, Marcus Morris is not Kawhi Leonard but he had some success going against LeBron this past two seasons. Remember when we all thought Jeff Green could someday stop LeBron? Morris is everything we could have asked for. In fact, he was probably the best defender on James in 2015/16 season. He slipped a lot in 2016/17 but still. Some takeaways:
  • LeBron can easily shoot over him when he gets to his spots. But rarely can he bully him into the paint so he's forced to make his shots from mid-range or the 3-point range.
  • Morris forces a lot of passing from James which sometimes may be a bad thing with LeBron's great vision as he had some GREAT ones these last two season against the Pistons. But for the most times, when James gets rid of ball it's a good thing.
  • LeBron probably cannot be stopped in the transition and Morris couldn't do that either (so James had some easy and-ones). I am not sure anyone can.
  • Morris has good speed, nice footwork and solid frame so he's been pretty effective guarding LeBron one-on-one. As you could see, he's not overly agressive, goes under the screen and is like a shadow for LeBron so he can stop him from getting to the paint. And it seems daring James to make his shots from distance is still the best strategy for guarding him.
  • By my count, over last two seasons LeBron shot 26/53 when guarding directly by Morris. That's 49 FG% as James shot 53.4 FG% last two seasons combined.
Here are some more stats on Morris-James matchup (LeBron stats per100 possesions with Morris on/off court and overall for the season):
Marcus Morris defense on LeBron James

As you can see, Morris was doing really well against James in 2015/16 season. LeBron was minus-0.5 when Morris was on the court! That's huge comparing to plus-23.6 last season (on the other hand, James was monsterous plus-60.8 with Morris off)... The one thing Morris stoods out at is keeping James from the paint and forcing him to get rid of the ball. In 2015/16 season, James shot 34.1 FGA (per100 possesions) in restricted area when Morris was on the court and 50.0 FGA when Morris was off (in 2016/17 the difference was minimal: 38.1 FGA with Morris, 38.5 FGA without Morris).

OK, now let's see at some other players versus James:

2016 RS, LeBron per100 possesions vs:
  • Morris - 18.7 pts, 40.5 FG%, 20.0 3P%, 103.2 ORTG, 49.3 TS%
  • Kawhi - 35.1 pts, 54.5 FG%, 20.0 3P%, 103.6 ORTG, 61.9 TS%
  • Butler - 37.0 pts, 55.4 FG%, 33.3 3P%, 104.4 ORTG, 59.0 TS%
  • Carroll - 29.2 pts, 33.3 FG%, 0.0 3P%, 122.8 ORTG, 49.0 TS%
  • Iguodala - 30.2 pts, 36.7 FG%, 0.0 3P%, 84.2 ORTG, 40.2 TS%
  • Tucker - 28.9 pts, 61.1 FG%, 16.7 3P%, 126.5 ORTG, 69.9 TS%
  • Crowder - 34.8 pts, 47.8 FG%, 10.0 3P%, 106.8 ORTG, 53.0 TS%
2017 RS, LeBron per100 possesions vs:
  • Morris - 35.5 pts, 53.8 FG%, 11.1 3P%, 116.8 ORTG, 58.2 TS%
  • Kawhi - 27.7 pts, 50.0 FG%, 25.0 3P%, 97.2 ORTG, 56.3 TS%
  • Butler - 33.7 pts, 55.6 FG%, 30.0 3P%, 104.3 ORTG, 59.8 TS%
  • Carroll - 35.4 pts, 45.9 FG%, 33.3 3P%, 106.9 ORTG, 56.8 TS%
  • Iguodala - 38.8 pts, 52.2 FG%, 16.7 3P%, 100.2 ORTG, 55.7 TS%
  • Tucker - 38.1 pts, 68.4 FG%, 50.0 3P%, 132.7 ORTG, 76.2 TS%
  • Crowder - 32.7 pts, 53.8 FG%, 40.0 3P%, 115.1 ORTG, 60.2 TS%
  • Brown - 32.5 pts, 44.1 FG%, 36.4 3P%, 116.5 ORTG, 56.0 TS%
Marcus Morris for sure is not the best option to guard LeBron James but he's defnitely a capable one. There's no stopping LeBron but Morris showed in the past he can do good things on the defensive end of the floor. Last season, he wasn't that good as in 2015/16 but he still was one of the best defenders on LBJ in the league. And yet, I rarely see his name in that disscusion. Celtics now can throw Brown, Hayward and Morris (heck, maybe even SEMI!) on James. Also, by trading Bradley for Morris (and then Thomas for Kyrie) they got longer and in certain line-ups (with Smart at PG, Brown/Hayward at SG) they can switch pretty much everything.

Another thing I noticed about Morris: he moves the ball and he's willing passer. He should be fine in Stevens system. He took some bad shots a'la Marcus Smart but mostly Morris have made good decisions with the ball in his hands (and when there is "right pass" to make, he pretty much always makes it). He can sometimes go into ISO-mode but his capable of creating his own shot and that alone is big advantage over Jae Crowder.

I am curious what you guys are thinking about Morris guarding James and hope I shed some more light on Morris-LBJ matchup. The whole post was made thanks to suggestion I got on YouTube so if anyone would like to see some highlights of something, feel free to hit me up. Also, you can support me at Patreon which would be really helpful in doing more projects like this (as I had really hard time finding games from 2015/16 season).


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