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The Rentals, Part 1: Jaylen Morris

The Hawks have brought in several youngsters for the last handful of games.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Indiana Pacers Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

With the season coming to a close, Peachtree Hoops will be taking a look at each of the wings the Hawks have brought in on 10-day and 2-way contracts, what they’re bringing to the team, and what we can expect from them in the future.

With the volume of injuries to the Hawks’ back court and wing positions, ample opportunity exists for young players to step in and get some run as the season winds down. Jaylen Morris, Andrew White III, Damion Lee and Antonius Cleveland hold roster spots and qualify as wings. It’s unclear as to whether Cleveland will see time on the floor this season. It’s also undetermined if Morris will play again due to a sprained ankle.

But today we start a series reviewing the young wings on the roster heading down the stretch of the season to see how much and what type of talent and potential might there be within this group of youngsters trying to earn a place in the league.

Given that this is the first season the Hawks have had a dedicated G League affiliate, this analysis should reflect at least as much on how the Hawks are making use of the team in Erie to identify and develop players on the fringe of the league that might have some eventual upside.

We will start start with Jaylen Morris, who was awarded a contract for the remainder of the season after first playing on consecutive 10-day contracts.

Morris is almost exclusively a defensive prospect at this time. He is a better off the ball/help defender than he is defending at the point of attack and working over over screens. Offensively, his game is pretty limited, but the Hawks have proven to be an organization that can take defensive-minded players and work with them to develop enough of an offensive skill set to make them rotation-worthy NBA players.

As to dig in on his game, we will look at video from the two games in which Morris saw 20 minutes or more of action. We will look at some good and some not so good play.

But keep in mind this young, undrafted player paid his way into a G League tryout less than a year ago and ended up being selected by the Bayhawks in the second round of the 2017 G League draft.

March 4 - Hawks 113 Suns 112

TJ Warren of the Suns is one of the stronger mid-post scorers in the league, especially among players that spend most of their time at the small forward position.

On this play, Morris identifies that Dragan Bender does not have enough depth to operate as a post entry passer and he crowds Warren to discourage the pass.

Bender moves the ball to Marquese Chriss and sets a screen in an effort to free Warren up for the pass. Warrens prefers to begin a possession with his feet set and his back to the basket. And this action ultimately results in a missed shot by Warren working on the move.

This play may appear very simple on the surface. But the impressive defensive help that Morris offers can be seen during this complex assignment. Elfrid Payton is working with Chriss in the pick and roll on the right side of the offensive floor.

Morris begins aligned with Warren on the upper weak side block. But as Warren exchanges positions with Josh Jackson (being defended by Malcolm Delaney) he quickly realizes that he is the defender that is now assigned to help to defend the pick and roll action by “tagging the roller”.

While the awareness is really impressive for a player of Morris’ experience level, the tagging technique is not perfect but does prevent Chriss from finishing the play.

On this play Morris has the responsibility to help his teammate Isaiah Taylor contain the dribble penetration of Payton. Morris is expected to help with a “dig.” If he does his job as a help defender the result will be that the ball handler picks up his dribble. His timing and technique are not perfect but he gets the job done.

Morris also tracks Warren all the way through the rebound to successfully end the defensive possession.

On this play, once defensive contain is blown on the strong side of the play it becomes the responsibility of Morris to deny Devin Booker a path to the rim. He has to trust Taurean Prince to help account for Warren. His quick feet and technique discipline are evident as he gets set outside of the restricted area and is rewarded with the charge call.

As this game versus the Suns progresses, Phoenix makes adjustments as to what they see that Morris can execute as a defender. On this fourth-quarter possession, Warren is able to back Morris down almost to the restricted area.

While getting some help from Miles Plumlee, Morris competes enough to force an errant shot on the first attempt, but Warren is able to use his strength to overcome the smaller Morris to get the rebound and the put back score.

The Suns ultimately decide to put Morris into the pick and roll. His lack of ability to stay attached to Booker highlights how much better his off the ball/help defense is better than his defense on the ball.

From this angle it may seem that Morris eventually offers a solid contest on the shot. But Booker uses his elite ability to achieve horizontal separation to hit the jumper in full rhythm.

After having success on the previous possession by initiating the screen on Morris at the top of the key to open the mid range jumper, the Suns now initiate the screen just inside of half court. The result looks the same but this technique frees Booker up for the uncontested 3 point attempt.

One look at an offensive possession here. On this play the Suns defense has successfully forced the ball to the weak side of the Hawks offensive formation with the shot clock clicking into single digits.

Given Morris’ defensive profile and lack of experience, if he does anything useful on this play it’s a win for the Hawks. He demonstrates composure and hits a runner to pull his team to within 5 points of the Suns.

March 4 - Pacers 112 Hawks 87

We will look at just a few plays from this home loss versus the Pacers.

Here Morris is matched up with the Pacers small forward Bojan Bogdonovic, who is not as much of a threat in dribble penetration as most other wings in the league.

Morris uses his length to get a hand on the ball and ultimately secures a steal that leads to a transition opportunity for the Hawks.

There were plenty of examples of Morris’ struggling to defend in the pick and roll in this game in Indiana. But looking at more of those examples would not be informative in any other way than the examples from the Suns game.

On this play he is defending in the pick-and-roll versus Lance Stephenson, a player who can be a little loose with his dribble at times. Morris is able to use his length again to initiate the turnover and transition opportunity.

One quick look at an offensive play from this game.

One thing that is almost universally expected from any player in the league on offensive is that if your defender gambles for a steal and misses that you make an aggressive play with the ball as to try to punish the missed steal attempt.

Morris does so on this play and gets downhill with enough momentum to get to the rim with enough quickness that Myles Turner is not able to deter his lay up attempt without risking a defensive foul.

Should Morris return before the season ends, here are a few things worth tracking:

  • Does he continue demonstrating strong defensive help and technique discipline off of the ball?
  • Can he hold up as a defender at the point of attack against average offensive players?
  • Can he develop an improved ability to work over screens staying remotely attached to the player he is defending?
  • Can he demonstrate any threat offensively in catch and shoot opportunities or attacking against below average point of attack defenders and rim protectors?