Jayhawks in the NBA: Power Rankings – Week 2

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1. Markieff MorrisA Man on a Mission: This phrase perfectly characterizes Markieff Morris this past week, as he finally broke out, scoring 17, 23, and 28 points in his last three games. Morris has a season player efficiency rating of 24.93, which is greater than many All-Star big-men, including Dwight Howard, Marc Gasol, and Tim Duncan. The older Morris made an impressive jump from being unranked (although he had only played in one game due to a suspension), to being at the top of the list, but this shouldn’t come as a total shock. Having played in the fewest number of games as everyone else, Morris hadn’t really had a chance to get his feet wet in NBA basketball. Now that he’s seeing consistent minutes, expect Morris to stay up around the top of this list, especially because he plays for a Phoenix team that wants to run and push the tempo, allowing him ample opportunity to rack up points, rebounds, and assists in a hurry.

2. Paul Pierce – I believe the quote I used last week for Pierce was something along the lines of “Father Time is undefeated.” Well this quote described Pierce’s second pretty well, as he played 30+ minutes in only one game (out of four), despite doing it in each of the first two games of the season. Additionally, Pierce averaged a mere 10.0 points in just over 27 minutes per game over his last three contests. These numbers could be a function of two things. The first is that Jason Kidd (head coach of the Nets) knows what its like to be old, and he doesn’t want Pierce to get used up early in the season. With 82 games in an NBA regular season, Kidd could be focused on limiting Pierce’s minutes so that he will last for the entire year. However, the second reason is a little more troubling. Pierce may have simply hit a wall, and he may not have the ability to create and move as he did last season. Prior to this year Pierce had never averaged less than 33 minutes per game… This season: 28.7. I expect Pierce to hang around on the list for a while, but his time as an elite scorer in the NBA may very well be behind him.

3. Mario Chalmers – Mario Chalmers moved down a spot this week through no fault of his own. Chalmers continued to put up solid numbers, but the fact of the matter is that Markieff Morris just had an outstanding week. The only thing that really limited Chalmers was foul trouble. In the four games he played last week, Chalmers found himself in foul trouble three times. In fact, those were his only three games on the season not scoring in double-figures. Obviously Mario Chalmers has tons of talent (not to mention tons of confidence) so I expect his numbers this year to end up in the 10/7/2/2 range. Remember, Chalmers holds the Heat record for three-point field goals made in a game, with 10 (he shot 10/13 from three on the night), and he is certainly capable of have having a tremendous scoring output on any given night, so look for Chalmers to hang around on this list for a while.

4. Marcus Morris – The second new addition to the list, Marcus Morris took after his brother this week, averaging 12.7 points and 7.7 rebounds over his last three games. In fact, the younger Morris had his best game as a member of the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday (against the Pelicans), posting 16 points, nine rebounds, a steal, and an assist, with only one turnover. He also went two-for-three from beyond the arc in that game and shot 50% from the field. However, due to the emergence of Gerald Green as an absolute force and PJ Tucker as a lockdown defender, Marcus Morris will struggle for minutes this year. Morris hasn’t seen more than 26 minutes in a game, and his average of 21.7 minutes per game will probably stay consistent for most of the year. However, Marcus Morris’ ability to put up numbers efficiently will keep him in and out of the top five, as he looks to lock down a spot as a key member of the Phoenix Suns.

5. Xavier Henry – By the skin of his teeth, Xavier Henry stays in the top five this week. Ben McLemore made a push, scoring 19, 15, and 13 points in three of his four games, but it was his performance in Portland (no points, no rebounds, no assists, seven minutes, four fouls) that kept him off of the list (where he likely would’ve been number four). Now in all fairness, the only reason that McLemore put up those horrendous numbers was because of foul trouble, while Xavier Henry did barely enough to stay on the list. “The X-Factor” has been very hit-and-miss this season, evident by his scoring output, which ranges from a couple of three-point games, to  an 18-point and 22-point game. You really don’t know which Xavier Henry is going to show up, and to be blunt, Henry has looked plain bad in his last three games, shooting just 4/18 (22.2%) from the field, 0/4 from three, and averaging a total of two assists and rebounds COMBINED per game. Xavier Henry had a strong performance against Atlanta, allowing him to stay in the top five for a second straight week, but he could be in some serious trouble if he doesn’t turn his season around, especially considering that Kobe Bryant will eventually return, and take up a lot of the minutes and shots Henry is currently getting.

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Markieff Morris

Author’s Note: In addition to ranking the top five players of the week, I am also going to select a “Player of the Week,” who will be chosen solely on his performance from the previous week, not from the entire season like the rest of the rankings. Last week Paul Pierce was the de facto “Player of the Week” simply by being ranked number one overall in the first week, however, now the award will jump around depending on player performance.

Markieff Morris was an absolute beast this week. Over his last two games he has averaged 25.5 points per game, 11.0 rebounds per game, 1.5 assists per game, and 2.0 steals per game. Morris posted double-digit scoring numbers in three of the four  games he appeared in this week; in the game he didn’t score 10+, Morris played for just 19 minutes, which is the fewest amount of minutes he’s played in a single game all year (excluding his one game suspension). Markieff Morris has absolutely shined for the Suns (pardon the play on words), and Phoenix is looking to get him the ball. The Suns have made a push toward winning, and not tanking as many expected, which means they will likely try to get the most they can out of Morris this season. One last note: Markieff Morris has absolutely dominated the boards in the last two games, and a lot of that is due to his off-season regimen. Markieff Morris slimmed down over the summer, allowing him to have an increased motor and increased athleticism. If Morris continues to work hard at getting his body and his game in the right place, he could be a starting big-man in this league for a long time to come.

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Overall, it was a very competitive week for the Jayhawks in the NBA. There were seven guys who put in solid performances, and it was a shame to leave a couple of them off of the list. It will be interesting to see how the players continue going forward, because guys like Ben McLemore and the Morrii are trending up, while Paul Pierce, Xavier Henry, and Kirk Hinrich have fallen back down to Earth. It should be exciting to follow the Hawks and see where they all end up next week. One key matchup to watch will be Friday, November 15th, when the Morris Twins face off against Paul Pierce, Tyshawn Taylor, and the Brooklyn Nets in Phoenix. There will be times in that game when Marcus Morris will be matched up against Pierce, and Kevin Garnett will provide a big test for Markieff Morris, as this game could be a defining one for each of the Twins.

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