When Ersan Ilyasova’s buyout from the Atlanta Hawks was reported, it gave the Hawks something to think about: once Ilyasova officially cleared waivers, the team would have two weeks to sign someone that would bring their roster number from 13 to the required 14.
There was a certain amount of intrigue when it came to this, as the Hawks had just tendered a 10-day contract to a player that was actually injured and, even to this day, has still not played for the Atlanta Hawks in Antonius Cleveland.
In the end, the Hawks kept the matter of this next roster spot a local affair, signing G League affiliate, Erie Bayhawks, forward Jaylen Morris.
With Cleveland already sidelined along with sophomore swingman DeAndre’ Bembry, the opportunity for some immediate rotation minutes seemed likely for Morris. And so it came to be, and over the course of his 10-day contract Morris has impressed — at least impressed enough to warrant the Hawks signing Morris a second 10-day contract, per Michael Cunningham of the AJC.
So, why is this the case? How has he impressed? What has he done to warrant a second 10-day contract?
The main area of the floor where Morris has really impressed in his short time with the Hawks is on the defensive end of the floor.
During the duration of his 10-day contract, some of the teams the Hawks have faced featured wing players of a very high quality in Golden State’s Kevin Durant and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan.
Morris was thrown into the deep end and, in the minutes that he did play, performed very admirably defensively against some very accomplished offensive players.
Here, Morris takes on the challenge of guarding Durant — stepping up to meet him at halfcourt — and does a very good job staying in front of him, forcing Durant to pass:
Durant wasn’t the only Warrior that Morris got a piece of, coercing Andre Iguodala into a turnover in the first half:
Here, against the Raptors at the end of the first half, Morris does a great job sticking with DeRozan the entire way and draws an offensive foul from DeRozan:
Moving his feet is something that Morris does well and helps him stick with offensive players off of the dribble.
But of, course, the Warriors and the Raptors aren’t the only teams the Hawks have played in this 10-day period. The Phoenix Suns were one of those teams and they have a fine, young offensive player themselves in Devin Booker. And Morris, again, in the minutes he was on the court was up to the challenge late in the fourth quarter in a close game:
Morris has also shown signs of solid team defense/defensive awareness.
Against the Suns, he quickly recognizes the danger in the form of the cutting Devin Booker and uses his quick burst to get to the spot to take the charge:
With his size and length, Morris also has the ability/versatility to switch defensively and guard multiple positions, something we saw against the Toronto Raptors as he goes from guarding Serge Ibaka to Kyle Lowry:
Speaking after the Warriors game, Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer said that the defensive side of the floor is where Morris had to start but also believed he had something to give offensively too.
“That’s where he’s got to start,” said Budenholzer of Morris’ defense on March 2. “He’s got to be great defensively. I think in a short period of time he’s made a good impression with how he can move his feet, how he can stay with his guy, the toughness, a little bit of strength. I think that’s usually, anytime you’re coming from that level— I guess there’s a few exceptions but, for sure, he’s got to be great defensively and I think he can help offensively also.”
The numbers won’t paint the prettiest picture (106 defensive rating) but Morris certainly passes the eye test. He does, as all rookies do, have improving to do (gets a bit lost when it comes to team defense at times and other general rookie mistakes) but the base of his defensive game is very solid.
Bud mentioned that he thought Morris could help offensively too.
At that time we hadn’t seen much from Morris offensively — 1-of-6 from the field in his debut game against the Pacers and 1-of-3 against the Warriors — but since then Morris has shown flashes that he can contribute offensively.
Against the Suns, Morris scored seven points on 3-of-6 shooting, including his first three-pointer in the NBA:
Something that Morris really has going for him is his pace, he’s very quick. This enables him to get into good positions with an opportunity to score, here’s an example against the Suns:
In addition to that, when Morris gets to the rim, he is capable of absorbing some contact. Here, Morris drives by Booker with ease, takes the contact and finishes the play:
Against the Raptors, he helps prevent a turnover before taking it strongly inside and makes the tough layup despite the contact:
It may have been in garbage time but the finish was anything but...
Morris’ feel for the Hawks’ offense is also improving and has shown flashes of facilitation — just making the right pass.
Off of a turnover, Morris leads the break, gets his head up and finds Malcolm Delaney for the three-pointer:
Against the Raptors, Morris does a good job setting up the table up for Miles Plumlee in the pick-and-roll for a lob and dunk:
In his four games, Morris is averaging 3.8 points per game on 36% shooting from the field and 20% from three in an average of 17 minutes per game (stats correct as of March 8).
Morris’ offense definitely trails his defense (and by some margin right now) but I think it’s reasonable to think that Morris’ offense can get to a point where it’s passable.
If he can hit an occasional three, perhaps utilize his pace effectively (would love to see him develop as a ball-handler and get to a point where the Hawks are comfortable with him handling the ball for a few possessions a game and maybe utilize his pace turning the corner off of the pick-and-roll) and make the right pass it would certainly make him a very intriguing player with the ability to help the team on both sides of the floor.
It remains to be seen what the Hawks will do when Morris’ second 10-day contract expires (whether he’ll be signed for the rest of the season or not) but he has been enjoyable to watch and gives the Hawks an interesting dynamic defensively (essentially becoming one of the better defensive wings almost immediately). He’s a player with potential and could — with a bit of work at ‘Hawks University’ over the summer — could be a very interesting prospect going forward.