Report Card 2011: Darius Morris

Dylan Burkhardt

When Darius Morris committed to Michigan he was arguably the highest rated commitment that John Beilein had landed during his coaching career. Beilein spent a significant amount of time recruiting the California native after prioritizing him early in the process. In many ways, Morris’s commitment helped alleviate concerns regarding Beilein’s recruiting, as he was clearly a different level of prospect than Zack Novak, Stu Douglass, Ben Cronin and Jordan Morgan. Morris’s commitment was a recruiting statement and fans expected an immediate impact.

After being touted as the future of the program before setting foot in Ann Arbor, Morris’s freshman season was a disappointment. He turned the ball over, shot poorly from the perimeter and looked nothing like a top 100 player. He never looked comfortable on either end of the court and was the least efficient offensive player that played major minutes in a season that went horribly wrong from the get-go.

The Darius Morris that we saw this season was a completely different player. Whether it was the workouts with John Wall back home in California, long hours working on his jump shot, or just feeling more comfortable in his role, Morris was easily one of the top five most improved players in the country. He seized control of the Michigan offense. Not just by taking and making big shots but also setting up his teammates. From game 1 to game 35, this was Darius Morris’s show.


The Good:

  • Creating for Others: Morris was arguably the best setup man in Division-I basketball. He assisted 44% of Michigan’s made field goals while he was on the floor, the third best assist rate in Division I and one of just two major conference players in the top 20. Morris handed out seven dimes per game and had a number of jaw dropping assists, whether they were 40-foot passes, off the pick and roll or made while falling onto the floor.
  • Two Point Shooting: Morris made 53% of his two-point shots, a figure which stacks up very favorably against other guards. He showed an uncanny ability to create shooting space in the lane and showed tremendous coordination to make shots from a variety of angles. He excelled with the ball on the post, using his size to score over smaller guards, and just always seemed to find a creative way to get the ball in the hoop. It wasn’t always a thing of beauty but Morris produced.
  • Free Throws: John Beilein’s teams have never done a good job of getting to the charity stripe but Morris was the one Michigan player that consistently showed the ability to earn freebies. He attempted a team best 151 free throws, one of just two Wolverines to top 100 FTAs, and drew five fouls per game 40 minutes (9th B1G). Morris also improved his free throw shooting percentage significantly pulling it from 63% to 72%.

Room for Improvment:

  • Perimeter Shooting: Three point shooting was the one glaring weakness of Morris’s game and he finished the season 16 of 64 (25%) from three point range. That was better than his 18% a year ago but a truly consistent three point shot, something like 33%, would make Morris nearly impossible to guard.
  • Going Left: Darius was able to work through his strong preference to use his right hand because of his size and creativity which allowed him to make so many two point shots. Still, teams overplayed Morris to the right and often dared him to go left. He seemed to improve as the season went on, finding some opportune times to drive and finish with his left hand, but still strongly favors his right hand.
  • Defense: Morris has all of the tools to be a great defender but he hasn’t shown the consistency required to actually be a great defender. The five or six plays that could go either way distinguish good defenders from great defenders and for Morris those plays seemed to break the wrong way. To his credit, he probably expends more energy, mental and physical, on the offensive end than any other Michigan player but he still could improve on the defensive end.

You want a point guard to make his teammates better and that’s exactly what Morris did this season. He was extremely proficient in the pick-and-roll game, demonstrating great chemistry with his roommate Jordan Morgan, but also managed to find his shooters in prime position. It’s almost impossible to ignore the fact that all of Michigan’s returning three point shooters were significantly more efficient this season compared to last.

Sure there are areas where Morris can improve but as it stands now he’s a terrific college player. It’s scary to think about how good he could be if he’s able to add a consistent three point shot to his repertoire. Over the next 18 days Morris will make very important decisions while deciding whether he wants to enter the NBA draft and then if he wants to withdraw his name or forgo his final two seasons of eligibility. If Morris enters the draft, hopefully it’s because he is confident he’ll be a first round pick. If he returns to school, it’s tough to doubt his offseason work ethic. He improved almost every aspect of his game between his freshman and sophomore seasons and, while similar sized jumps are unrealistic, more improvement should be expected.

  • Dustin C.

    Please come back for one more year.

  • alan

    I hope Darius understands that him coming back for one more year will help Michigan turn the corner as a bball program

  • Will Wheaton

    I’m SURE that thought has occurred to him, as I doubt he is oblivious to the fact that this team has the potential to be special – mainly because of him. That being said, if he wants to play in the NBA and they tell him first round…I could see a very rational calculus in which he decides that the pros of leving outweigh the benefits of being at michigan next year. For everyone who says that he should work on his shot and left hand…if pro teams are willing to take him (assuming we are talking about in the first round), then it would me more beneficial for him to just go to the pros and work on it. There he would have no distractions of class, etc and be around other very high quality players. Also, being in the late first round has its perks (get on a better team), as teams like the lakers are in need of a point. I realize this whole post is contingent on him being 1st round caliber..but my point is i don’t think dmo is dumb or is surrounded by dumb ppl and I think his decision will be informed.

    • Beast1530

      A lot of top players like Barnes are coming back. Even the Kentucky players like Knight, Liggins, etc, are declaring for the draft but didn’t sign with an agent. This tells you that the lockout is looming.

      • Chris

        Your point about top players coming back actually would seem to work for Morris’ draft stock in this case.
        The more top end talent that stays in school, the closer darius is to being a 1st round lock. Which if he ends up being guaranteed that rating, general consensus would seem to say go pro anyways.

  • South Florida Maize Rage

    He’s gotta come back, right?

  • Mattski

    25% from three–I must have been out of the room for every one of them. But the leap to 33 does not seem distant from there. I assume that’s the aspect of his game he had least call to develop thus far in his career, and that there’s no real reason why he can’t be good from the perimeter–anyone see it differently? Just getting that bit more respect from defenders outside can profit both Darius and the team a great deal.

    • JD

      It probably seems like he didn’t hit a 3 because he only hit 1 after the game at spartie, going 1 for 14 in the final 14 games. Up until that, he was at 30% on the season. Not electric but at least from that view, you could see how he might be able to get to 33% next year.

      As for the NBA, I think there are far too many negatives for him to go. Even if he has a secret “guarantee” from a team, he’s not NBA-ready and (should there even be a season) he will probably spend most of his time in the D-League if he gets drafted by a contender. Either that, or he’ll be stashed deep on the bench.

      Say, if his hometown lakes take him. They do need a PG but I still think he’d have a hard time beating out Steve Blake or Shannon Brown for those back-up minutes. He’s got the potential to be better than those guys but the lakes aren’t really looking to develop rookies on the court. Their window of winning with Kobe is starting to close.

      While I think there may be a season next year, I still think it’s likely that there will at least be a lockout in the summer which eliminates the Summer League. That puts you even deeper in any team’s rotation that is picking in the late-first.

      I don’t think Manny Harris would’ve had an invite to training camp without the Summer League.

      As a guy who has plenty to work on, he needs that extra development time somewhere. As objectively as I can be on this, I think the best place for him to get it and help himself in the long run is at Michigan. He can boost his draft stock next season to at least the mid-first round if not higher. He will probably find a better playing situation being picked in the 10-15 range than 27-30 (which is his best case scenario in this draft).

      • JD

        I know Manny was not taken by a contender but I thought I’d throw that in anyway.

  • Bluebufoon

    IF Morris improves half as much this off-season as he did over the past year, U-M is going to have a very special player. Obviously the out-side shot needs wrk but for me DM most glaring weaknesses are that he tends to over-dribble at times and whatever the (attitude) issues in the middle of the season were with the coaching staff. Hopefully all of that is behind us and Morris is the leader on and off the court that U-M needs as Brundidge and Burke get acclimated to college ball and this staff pursues quality players on the recruiting trail. As good as I envision Darius Morris play next season, I’m already hurting a little when I think how good Morris would be if he came back for his SR year, which obviously isn’t likely to happen.

  • ScottGoBlue

    A+ year from Morris. He’s still got room to improve (I agree with the weaknesses). But WOW, what a year. He made this team go.

    Regarding 3-point shooting, my recollection is that he was better in the early part of the season than the later part. If that’s true, then perhaps he worked on it a lot last off-season, but it hasn’t “stuck” yet in his game. I think we’ll see it (consistency, a la 33%) this year, assuming he comes back.

    I’ve said this here before: I have to disagree with the “over dribbles” comments. I think he was coached to do that this year. This team needed him to be in control, to create offense for others, and to create it for himself. Seems to me the coaches gave him a long leash with dribbling so he could make things happen. And who better to have their hands on the ball for long stretches? This will mostly go away next year because nearly everyone on the team will take a significant step forward. So he’ll be leaned on less to break slumps and bail us out. Morris will still be called occasionally to do the one-on-one stuff. But that’s your playmaker’s job, and it takes some dribbling to get it done.

  • YpsiTuckyBoy

    Dylan, what are the odds that Will Regan considers us for his transfer school?

    • Kenny

      Why would Beilein take him now? Michigan cooled off on him after the Smotrysz commitment.

      • YpsiTuckyBoy

        Woops – read the article too briefly. It said “ACC Academic All-Conference.” I thought it said “ACC All-Conference.” Big difference.

  • MiamiWolv

    If Morris comes back, we are positioned to have very strong squads the next two years. Moreover, I believe that Morris’ return makes it more likely that Hardaway is also back for his junior season, since THJ won’t be the unquestioned go to scorer. If Morris leaves, I believe Hardaway could average 18-19 points a game, and could play his way into the mid 1st round.

    Ideally, Michigan’s 2011-2012 lineup

    Darius Morris
    Tim Hardaway Jr
    Zak Novak
    Evan Smotrycz
    Jordan Morgan

    Key reserves: Stu Douglass, Matt Vogrich, Jon Horford

    If we lose Morris to the NBA, as well as Novak to graduation, we are capable of absorbing those losses with the additions in 2012-2013.

    Projected starters
    Trey Burke
    Tim Hardaway Jr
    Glenn Robinson Jr
    Evan Smotrycz
    Jordan Morgan

    Key reserves: Brundidge, Horford, Vogrich, Biefeldt
    That team may have more explosiveness and athleticism then next year’s squad could potentially be better then the 2011-2012 team. Burke would have a year under his belt before he’d be thrust into the starting role. Hardaway could be an all-american. You’d lose Novak, but add a potential better scorer in Trey Robinson.

    • Kenny

      If Morris is gone, THJr will likely touch the ball more. But with Morris, Tim gets better scoring opportunities.

      In 2012-2013, you forget Stauskas, who is as much underrated as GRobIII, and will likely be part of the backcourt rotation.

    • mitch

      I like the look of that 12′-13′ team. Looks like we are going to be solid and possibly Big Ten contenders for the next 4,5 years.

  • georgeesq.

    Nice highlight reel. The kid has panache.

    • MaizeNBlueJ

      Thank you, sir.

  • jack
    • Jeff

      The funny thing is that Morris has NOT entered his name into the draft. It’s a fact that seems to have escaped all the national medias.

  • gpsimms

    awesome video again, guys

    • gpsimms

      psh. and i remember dylan at one point writing something about how darius had to quit with the one-armed bullet passes.

    • MaizeNBlueJ

      Thanks man.

  • Michigan State’s most hated Wolverine since Mike Hart? Yeah, Darius is awesome.

  • Darius and Hardaway Jr. seem to be pretty tight. Would imagine they both know that with the quality of the supporting cast coming back next year that this team has a decent shot at going very far in the tournament and really even making it the the Final Four. I would love to think Morris comes back to have one more go around with arguably one of the fastest improving players in the countr last season… Hardaway.

    But I live in an utopian world.

  • Gary

    Loved the video – nice to see that several drives in there that had him moving to his left.

    Gotta give him credit – we would have been nowhere this season without the big jump in his play over the summer.

    • MaizeNBlueJ

      Thanks man. Glad you enjoyed the video.

  • maxwell’s demon

    Ah not even one butterfly sound byte?

    • MaizeNBlueJ

      LOL. I avoided it like the plague!

      I couldn’t decide whether I wanted it in or not, and then I realized how much Doyle annoyed me when he said it, so I decided against it. If it’s any consolation, I had to hear it at least 3 dozen times when I was editing the video!

  • billiam

    At last count that was 1 Morris dunk and 7 Morgan assisted dunks. That’s so the year he played.

    And I LOVE IT!

  • KJay

    Awesome video. What a great year for Morris and this team.

    We are legit again, thanks in no small part to Darius. (At least) one more year!

    • MaizeNBlueJ

      Thanks to you and everyone else who likes the video and voiced your support. I definitely appreciate it.

      • Mattski

        Kudos to you, sir.

  • MikeSal

    If DMO stays another year he will explode I can feel it…we all know the benefits of him coming back ie taking trey under his wing and giving him some time to develop…but let’s face it he has the skills to be the best PG in the B10 let alone the country. I wish him the best in whatever decision he makes

  • Matt Y.

    FWIW, morris traveled at 1:26

  • Dave

    Staying for another year would be the smart choice. And Darius seems like a smart kid – that’s why he was able to improve so much this past year. Hopefully, he plays it smart and gives himself both a better chance at the first round and a better chance at a deep tourney run.

  • Erik

    Dylan, can you make this available for download? It’s a sweet video that I have watched at least half a dozen times, but it’s real choppy for me, even when fully buffered. I don’t think my PC likes Vimeo for some reason.

  • Quick Darshan

    Looking at the UM roster (including the incoming freshman), I see three NBA Prospects:

    D. Morris, Hardaway and Horford. Burke is probably an outside shot because of his size. And Horford will probably take four years to develop enough to warrant drafting.

    Looks like UM is stocked with talented four year players for the near future.

    • I’d put Morgan in that NBA prospect category more so that Jon. Really polished up throughout season. But I do like Jon though, hope he’ll have a big jump next season

      • Quick Darshan

        At 6’8″/6’9″, I can’t see Morgan getting drafted unless he develops a varied offensive game.

        Horford will get a look because of his size and decent athleticism.

  • MikeM

    awesome job on the video!