1. Markieff Morris – The best Jayhawk in the NBA this season has been a man who hasn’t started a single game. Who would’ve thought that would be the opening line of the Jayhawks in the NBA Power Rankings, nearly half way through the season. The fact of the matter has been that Markieff Morris is the best Jayhawk in the NBA by a sizeable margin. Markieff Morris has had an extremely productive season, and when you extend his totals out to 40 minutes, he’s averaging roughly twenty points and ten rebounds. Think about that. Markieff Morris is even receiving national attention as a contender for the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award. One word really stands out when you mention Markieff Morris: Efficiency. Markieff Morris has made 50% or more of his field goals in each of his last five games, and he has shot 54.5% from beyond the three-point line in that time… and from the free-throw line? 81.5%. You know who hasn’t done that? LeBron James. Stephen Curry. Carmelo Anthony. Kevin Love. Need I continue? I’ll go more in depth about Morris’ week below (as you probably guessed… he is the player of the week), but I do want to bring up something that Markieff Morris has really done quite well this season. Markieff Morris has always been a decent three-point shooter, especially for a big man, but prior to this year he was always quick to settle for the long-range jumper. In each of the last two seasons Markieff Morris has taken over 120 three-pointers, but this season, he is on pace to take less than ninety. His better shot selection has not only allowed his three-point percentage to increase (to a career high), but it has also allowed his field goal percentage to increase by 7% (also a career high). Markieff Morris has not gotten enough credit for his shot selection, as going inside has also led to him drawing more than twice the amount of fouls per game as his previous season high. Combine that with the fact that Morris is shooting a career best 77.2% from the free-throw line and you have yourself the best Jayhawk in the NBA.
2. Mario Chalmers – Mario Chalmers was very good this week, as he managed to jump Paul Pierce and move up to the second spot on this list. Chalmers averaged 12.0 points, 4.3 assists, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.0 steals per game in the past seven days. Chalmers went 15-26 from the floor (57.8%) and really only had one weakness in his game… turnovers. Now don’t worry, I’m not going to repeat the word turnovers twenty times like I did last week, but the fact that he has been averaging 3.25 turnovers per game over his past four contests is troubling. However, this stat is much more forgivable considering he has averaged nearly five assists per game in that time. Chalmers has had his ups and downs, but he has managed to stay on the list every single week, which is a pretty spectacular accomplishment in its own right. Last week I highlighted his game against the Lakers as a key matchup, and Chalmers did not disappoint. The former KU great had 11 points (5-6 shooting, 1-1 from three-point range), three rebounds, and three assists on a nationally televised game, as the Heat won narrowly (without Dwyane Wade I might add). It will be quite interesting to follow Chalmers this week as the Miami Heat will be facing off against the likes of the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, and New York Knicks. All of those games will be nationally televised, including two on ABC, and one on ESPN. With Chalmers playing in rematches of two different NBA Finals in one week there will certainly be room for him to impress and maybe even take the top spot on the list
3. Paul Pierce – Pierce is very lucky that he only fell to third on the list this week, as he really could have dropped to fourth, fifth, or even further. Pierce was playing some of his best basketball of the year, and then what happens? Illness, injury, and fatigue. Over the last week Pierce averaged just 1.3 turnovers per game (which was actually quite good for him), but he only managed to score 9.3 points per game, as he shot just 10/21 (47.6%) from the floor and 1/9 (22.2%) from three. This season has gotten to the point that I am actually wishing that Paul Pierce can get the Nets to the playoffs, maybe win a series, and then retire before his legacy is damaged any. Pierce is a surefire Hall of Famer, but his below average PER and lack of scoring production suggests that he is having a pretty mediocre season. I honestly hope we have not seen the best from Pierce’s 2013-2014 season already, because it would be quite troubling to imagine Pierce playing any worse than he is right now. Hopefully, Pierce does bounce back, but we could very well be witnessing the end of the storied career of one of the all-time greats. Now obviously, the Truth has accomplished a lot, so I want to mention some of the many achievements he has accomplished in his 16-year career as a Celtic/Net:
Pierce is a ten-time All Star, and he has been named to an All-NBA Team on five separate occasions. Additionally, Pierce won an NBA Championship in 2008, and was named the Finals MVP in one of the greatest years for KU fans ever (KU Football won the Orange Bowl, KU Basketball won a National Championship). Pierce won the Three-Point Shootout in 2010, posting the eighth highest score for the final round in the history of the event. Scoring is certainly nothing foreign to Paul Pierce, as he has racked up nearly 25,000 points in his NBA career (18th all time, and he should move up to 15th or 16th by the end of the year) and has played in 1138 games (46th all time). Wow. That’s all you can say. Wow. Pierce has had a fantastic career, and it really is a shame that it is nearing its end.
4. Marcus Morris – Marcus Morris had a bit of a down week, as he struggled to really make a large impact in any of his three outings. This was certainly disappointing as Morris was poised to jump over Pierce and Chalmers and move up to second on this list, but alas it was not so. The younger Morris had a forgettable week, averaging 6.3 points along with 2.0 rebounds and 1.3 assists in just 57 minutes of playing time. However, if history has taught us anything, it is that no player bounces back as well as Marcus Morris, so I do expect big things from him moving forward. It should be noted that Marcus Morris was facing some stiff competition, including the Indiana Pacers who have been fantastic this year. Against all odds Marcus Morris and the Suns absolutely lit up the Pacers, winning 124-100. Marcus Morris even had a late game dunk (pictured above) that really put the exclamation point on the victory. While Morris did struggle shooting the ball, his hustle and effort were things that remained constant as he continued to bring his physical style of play to the court. One thing is for sure, the value of having both Morris twins on your team is constantly growing, and I don’t think either one will be leaving the Valley of the Sun anytime soon.
5. Jeff Withey – Yes, you read that correctly. Jeff Withey (pictured below) has recovered from being dunked on in one of the greatest highlights of the season (yes, it’s the same link I’ve posted 1,000 times… it’s that awesome of a dunk), and had a career-best outing this week. Side note… that link has nearly 290,000 view on youtube, and I am convinced that at least half of those are from me… but I digress. The fact of the matter is that Jeff Withey has been one of the most efficient players in the entire NBA this season; Withey just really hasn’t had the playing time to show it. A couple of numbers that should jump out at you from the table at the top of the page are Withey’s steals, blocks, and rebounds. Jeff Withey is averaging a combined 3.5 blocks and steals per forty minutes, something Tim Duncan, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Josh Smith, and Joakim Noah aren’t doing. Chris Paul, Paul George, Stephen Curry, and John Wall aren’t either. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Blake Griffin? No, no, and no. Withey’s 9.1 rebounds per 40 minutes is also quite impressive, as he is thirteenth out of all rookies in that stat. Withey has continued to defend without fouling, as he is fifth out of all rookies in blocks per foul, and 27th out of all centers in the NBA. And while I’m talking about stats, I would be foolish to ignore Jeff Withey’s absurd shooting percentage: 63.0%. Sixty-three percent… sixty-three percent. If you know basketball at all, you recognize how ridiculously high this percentage is. In fact, Jeff Withey is currently 11th in the ENTIRE NBA in field goal percentage, ahead of EVERY SINGLE potential All-Star selection this year.
Alright… Let’s come back down to Earth for a second. I have just given you a multitude of statistics that should make you pretty fired up about the future of Jeff Withey, but it is important to remember that he is far from being a star, or even from being a starter in the NBA. While he is a productive man off of the bench, Withey won’t be asked to play very many minutes, due in part to the fact that the player ahead of him on the depth chart is a contender for MVP this season. However, it is not unreasonable to assume Withey could fill in for an injured player and hold his own, just look at his performance against Sacramento. Withey came in and scored 14 points, adding five rebounds, two assists, two steals, and two blocks in 27 minutes. Translate that to 40 minutes and you have yourself a night with 21 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists/steals/blocks. Not bad at all.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Markieff Morris
Markieff Morris has been playing at a great level, so when I saw the story “Mark Morris injured” on the front page of ESPN I was quite disappointed. Then I did a double take and saw it was actually Mark McMorris (a slope-style snowboarder… don’t ask me what that means, I couldn’t tell you)… and just like that “Morris-sanity” was back on. This week Morris was his usual self, averaging 16.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 1.3 steals per game. The older Morris also shot 60.7% from the floor and a blistering 75.0% from three-point range. I’ve talked about turnovers a lot, maybe even too much (see me using the word turnovers 26 times in last week’s article), so I feel the need to point out when a player is really limiting his turnovers. Markieff Morris had a total of two turnovers in the past week, which included three games (Morris played 76 minutes). Furthermore, Morris has been averaging 1.2 turnovers per game for the month of January, better than power forwards such as Blake Griffin, Anthony Davis, and LaMarcus Aldridge, among many others. It should be noted that this is Markieff Morris’ fourth time as player of the week, which ties Paul Pierce for the lead (although Markieff Morris has been on the list for one more week than Pierce). There hasn’t been a lot new to say about Markieff Morris this week, but I fully anticipate much more of the same for the older twin.
Overall… this was a bit of a wild card week in the NBA, as numerous players had the opportunity to move up (or down) on this list. Paul Pierce was perhaps the most fortunate of players, as he only dropped one spot on this list, when in fact if Xavier Henry wasn’t injured and Marcus Morris had put up a better performance, he’d be at number five… or worse. Markieff Morris really established himself as the top player in the NBA, and it’s really enjoyable to get to watch him and his brother play for the same team. I also want to note that Mario Little (pictured below) has put together a bit of a fantastic season this year, albeit in the NBA D-League, but he could be playing his way into an NBA contract. That will be something to follow… and speaking of things to follow/watch for… let’s move on to the segment with the same name…
What to Watch for: For the umpteenth week in a row, there are exactly three key matchups I would like to highlight. However, the first game isn’t exactly a traditional matchup. The Tulsa 66ers will square off against the Rio Grande Valley Vipers this Monday (27th), at 7:00 pm. Now why in the world would I be telling you to check out a D-League game? Well, as I mentioned, Mario Little (who plays for the 66ers) has been impressive, but he will be squaring off against another interesting player… Jordan Henriquez. Henriquez is just one year removed from Kansas State, and his legacy for many Jayhawk fans may always be this video. Moving on we have a pretty interesting matchup this Wednesday, as the Heat will face off against the Oklahoma City Thunder at 7:00 pm local time. Be sure to check that game out, as it will be on both ESPN and www.WatchESPN.com. Last, on Saturday, February 1st, Jeff Withey and the New Orleans Pelicans will host Kirk Hinrich and the Chicago Bulls. It will be interesting to see how much time Hinrich actually spends in the game, since his replacement (due to injury), D.J. Augustin, has been playing out of his mind. Also, if you live in the New Orleans area… tickets are still available for less than five dollars, so that’s a great opportunity to check out YOUR New Orleans Pelicans (I’m never going to get used to that name)! Finally, I will leave all of you with a recap of the first thirteen weeks. As always, if you have any comments or questions please write them below or send them to me on twitter: @SChasenKU.