Author’s Note: I’ve excluded Markieff Morris’ last game of the week from the statistics listed in this article due to the fact that he was only able to play a total of eight minutes, as he unsuccessfully attempted to play through illness. I ultimately felt that it would be unfair to penalize him for trying to play through sickness, especial considering the lack of time he spent in the game. The numbers from that game will, however, be accounted for in the upcoming week(s).
1. Markieff Morris – Markieff Morris (pictured below) had another solid week. That’s been about the eighth or ninth time I’ve opened with that comment, but truth be told, there is no more efficient Jayhawk in the NBA right now. The Suns received tough news, finding out that point guard Eric Bledsoe (who was a potential All-Star) would be out indefinitely due to injury, but Morris did not falter. The older of the Morris twins continued to put up solid numbers, averaging 10.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 1.0 assists per game. Morris also corralled a tough pass and provided the game winning assist on ESPN, when the Suns battled the Timberwolves (in a game I highlighted last week as a key test for Markieff Morris). Markieff Morris has been a barometer for the Suns’ success this season, averaging 14.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game in wins, while only managing 9.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.1 points per game in losses. Morris is a driving force for the Suns off of the bench, especially defensively, and he continues to be a serious candidate for the NBA’s 6th Man of the Year award. Markieff Morris’ biggest test this week will unquestionably be on Friday, when he faces off against Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks. Nowitzki is actually a decent matchup for Morris, who can get out on the perimeter and defend shooting big men, something many KU big men, including Thomas Robinson, Jeff Withey, and Cole Aldrich, really struggled with. Now you might be surprised to see Markieff Morris in the top spot again, but if you paid attention last week you’d know why. If you didn’t? Well you’ll just have to keep reading as I go more in depth about that issue…
2. Paul Pierce – “If Pierce can get over his turnover woes, there is a real chance that he can take over the top spot on this list.” Those were the words I left you all with last week. Pierce made some strides in this area, but not nearly enough to take over the top spot. Paul Pierce started off the week with a three-turnover game, and then he followed it up with a four-turnover outing. All and all, Pierce averaged 2.3 turnovers per game and had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.0. To give a frame of reference, Pierce has only had two seasons with an assist-to-turnover ratio that low, out of his 16 seasons in the NBA. I’ll discuss more about Pierce’s week below, as he was sort of the default player of the week with so many injuries plaguing the rest of the Jayhawks in the NBA. I will say this again though: If Pierce can put together a productive week, in both shooting and ball handling, he will likely take over the top spot on this list. I fully anticipate that he will take advantage of this opportunity, as the Nets will be facing just one team over the next seven days… The Atlanta Hawks. Pierce will need to play one of his best games of the year, but the Hawks provide quite a favorable matchup for The Truth.
3. Marcus Morris – If I had to guess, I would say that “bounce-back week” is one of the most common phrases I’ve used when talking about the Jayhawks in the NBA, and the Morrii in particular. However, you’ll have to bear with me one more time, because Marcus Morris truly had a bounce-back week in every sense of the phrase. Two weeks ago Morris averaged just 3.3 points and 1.0 assist per game, although he did snag an impressive 6.3 rebounds per game. Morris shot an abysmal 13% from the floor, and went just 1/11 (9.1%) from three-point range. He also made just 50% (3-6) of his shots from the charity stripe, way down from his season average of 76.1%. This past week, however, Morris averaged 10.0 points per game, while shooting a much-improved 41.9% from the floor and 10-10 (100%… obviously) from the free-throw line. Marcus Morris has become more valuable since the injury of Bledsoe, in that he can handle the ball like a guard, or at the very least, like a skilled slasher. This ability makes him a much greater asset, as the Suns look to push the tempo and run at nearly every opportunity. As these next few weeks go forward it will be important to keep an eye on the younger Morris, as the added responsibility will likely affect his position on this list, whether it for the better or worse.
4. Mario Chalmers – The KU-injury bug finally made a stop in South Beach, as Chalmers played in just one of Miami’s four games this week. Chalmers might have even fallen off the list, but one cannot deny the fact that the Heat are substantially worse without Chalmers. This last week the Heat went 1-2 without the former Kansas guard, losing back-to-back games for the just the third time this year, something the Heat have only done 15 times (when Chalmers plays) since LeBron joined Miami in 2010. To give a frame of reference, the Cleveland Cavaliers lost back to back games 25 times the season after James left; they went 19-63 that year. Furthermore, we aren’t even halfway through the NBA season, yet a few teams are already approaching Chalmers’ numbers. Among the leaders in the back-to-back loss category are the 76ers and the Magic with 12, the Bucks with 11, and the Jazz and the Cavaliers with 10. Suddenly losing back-to-back games 15 times in three-and-a-half seasons sounds pretty spectacular, huh? I’d certainly agree. If he can recover, Chalmers will have some interesting matchups in the next seven days, as he will take on John Wall in our nation’s capital, before heading over to Philadelphia take on one of the frontrunners for Rookie of the Year: Michael Carter-Williams. It should be intriguing to follow the Alaska native, as he takes on each of those unique point guards.
5. Xavier Henry – Xavier Henry (picture above) was not on the list last week, and he did not play a game this week, so the obvious question might be… why is he on the list? Well, maybe this will help explain it. Since Xavier Henry’s injury, the Lakers have gone 1-5, and they are 1-7 on the season when Henry plays less than 10 minutes (win percentage of 12.5%). However, when Henry has played ten or more minutes, the Lakers are 13-16, winning 44.8% of their games. That is a surprising, and perhaps even alarming, statistic. The fact of the matter is that Xavier Henry is really a productive and talented scorer, averaging 10.1 points per game, which is nearly two times higher than his best offensive season (prior to this year). It is interesting to note that Henry does average 0.463 points per minute, which is better than the likes of Chandler Parsons (17.2 ppg, 0.454 ppp), Kyle Lowry (15.9 ppg, 0.437 ppp), Josh Smith (15.3 ppg, 0.435 ppp), and Greg Monroe (14.6 ppg, 0.445 ppp), among many others. Xavier Henry is even 14th out of all small forwards in points per 48 minutes, with 22.3, and only eight of the players above him on that list shoot better from three-point range, including LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George (who many consider to be four of the top five or six players in the entire NBA). So what do all these numbers show? It’s actually quite simple. All of these statistics express the value of a player like Henry, and they show why he is a key piece of this list and a key player in the NBA, especially with dunks like these (trust me… it will never get old watching this video… never).
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Paul Pierce
Paul Pierce was really solid this week, and with no other spectacular Jayhawk performances, Pierce was sort of the de facto choice for this award. This marks the fourth time Pierce has won such award, which is impressive considering he spent two weeks off of the list entirely. Earlier, I touched on some of the negatives of Pierce’s play this season, and now I’m going to do just the opposite. Over the last seven days Pierce averaged an impressive 14.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game, while racking up 1.3 steals and 1.0 blocks per game as well. The Nets have been on fire as of late, winning five of their last six, including an impressive double-overtime battle against the Miami Heat (although it should be noted that LeBron James fouled out in overtime on a very ‘intersting’ call). That game was chosen by the NBA for the first ever appearance of “Nickname Jersey’s,” where players had alternate names listed on the back of their jerseys. Mario Chalmers chose the name “Rio,” whereas Paul Pierce went with the all-to familiar “Truth” (pictured below). It will be interesting to see where Pierce goes from here, as he only has one opportunity to defend his player of the week title in the next seven days, but with the rest he’ll be getting in the next few days, one can only expect more of the same for Paul Pierce.
Overall… This was somewhat of a down week for the Jayhawks in the NBA, but a few Jayhawks did manage to shine above the rest. Markieff Morris, Paul Pierce, and Marcus Morris all played relatively well, as they have done for most of the year. One thing to look out for in the upcoming weeks will be how the injured Jayhawks play after returning to their respective lineups, including Mario Chalmers, Xavier Henry, and Kirk Hinrich. Hinrich has had a slow recovery thus far, but things may be looking up for him as he’ll take part in an interesting and favorable key matchup this week. So without any additional prelude, let’s get to it…
What to Watch for: This week there are three key matchups I would like to highlight. First, the Nuggets will head over to Salt Lake City to take on the Jazz on Monday, January 13th. This game will provide Jayhawk fans with the opportunity to reminisce over the 2008 National Championship, as both Brandon Rush and Darrell Arthur will be expected to play. Rush has struggled to return to his pre-injury form, but in a promising sign, Rush has played 29 minutes in the last two games, something he’s only done three other times all year. On the other side of things, Darrell Arthur will be looking to rebound from a slow week, but he has been decent nonetheless, averaging 5.9 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 1.0 blocks per game over his last six contests. Additionally, he has played an average of 19.0 minutes per game in those appearances, which is up from his season average of 18.2. The next two matchups will take place on Wednesday, starting with a great NBA rivalry: Lakers-Suns. Xavier Henry has not yet returned to action, despite many thinking he’d be back by this point. There is a real possibility that Henry’s first game back will be against the Suns, but regardless, this game will offer a great opportunity to watch the Morris Twins battle with Pau Gasol. The Morrii have of course held two of the three spots on this list for quite a few weeks, and they’ll be looking to keep it that way. The last key game will occur when the Bulls face off against the Magic in Orlando (again, it will be on Wednesday the 15th). Bulls-Magic? Why might this game be interesting? Well, like the Jazz-Nuggets matchup, this game will offer Jayhawk fans a chance to reminisce on the past. For one, there is never a bad time to watch Kirk Hinrich run the Bulls’ offense, but there’s another player in this game that should bring some interest… good old Kyle O’Quinn. You might remember O’Quinn from Norfolk State, when he was apart of one of the greatest upsets in the history of the NCAA Tournament. 15-seed Norfolk State stunned 2-seed Missouri, who many (including President Obama in a segment ESPN dubbed “Barack-etology”) picked to go to the final four. The President also picked North Carolina to beat Kansas, which as we all know, is a classic mistake… but I digress. Back to the NBA, O’Quinn has had four points in each of his last two games, but filled out the stat sheet with five rebounds, one assist, and one block in his last appearance, playing 21 minutes (which is the third most he’s played all year). It should be fun to watch these Jayhawk fan-favorites go head-to-head. Finally, I will leave all of you with a recap of the first eleven weeks, and as always, if you have any comments or questions please write them below or send them to me on twitter: @ScottChasen1994.