by Spencer Suk & Jordan Lee
Not much separates twins Markieff and Marcus Morris off the basketball court. Markieff, the older of the two, is an inch taller and around ten pounds heavier, but their biggest difference is probably their preference in football teams; Marcus is a Philadelphia Eagles fan, while Markieff roots for their rivals, the Dallas Cowboys. Otherwise, the Morrises are as identical as can be (even though they are surprisingly fraternal twins). When they were attending the University of Kansas, the twins always had the same haircut and facial hair, drove the same car, signed up for the same classes, and listened to the same music. They even have the exact same tattoos to this day, no easy feat when you have this much ink on your body.
However, once Markieff and Marcus step on the court, all similarities dissipate. Even at Kansas, the twins had completely different playing styles. Marcus has always been the better shooter between the two, which allowed him to bloom quicker than Markieff. He scored way more points and had the more successful college career, having won the Big 12 Player of the Year. On the other hand, Markieff didn’t break out until his junior year, but when he did, he established himself as the stronger rebounder, interior defender, and post scorer. With his size advantage on Marcus, Markieff was viewed as a slightly better NBA prospect; scouts knew Keef could bang with other power forwards in the league while Mook, despite his scoring ability, seemed to be more of a tweener, not quite fitting the bill of a small forward nor a power forward.
June 23, 2011 was a bittersweet day for the Morris Bros. They would both undoubtedly fulfill their dreams of making it to the NBA, but they would also most likely be pulled apart from each other for the first time in their lives.
Of course it just so happens that the twins were taken with back-to-back picks. Markieff, born seven minutes before his brother, was drafted with the 13th pick by the Phoenix Suns. Five minutes later, Marcus went to the Houston Rockets with the 14th selection.
Through a season and a half of the twins’ NBA careers, things were looking much brighter in Markieff’s camp. Though he was averaging a modest 8 points and 4 rebounds, Keef had found consistent minutes in the Suns’ rotation as a gritty defender and floor-spacing big man. He even gained enough trust from former Suns Coach Alvin Gentry to get some starts under his belt.
Over in Houston, Marcus barely played his rookie season, appearing in just 17 games. In the beginning of his sophomore campaign, he drew some starts and shot the ball well from downtown, averaging 8.6 points on 38.1% three-point shooting. However, the Rockets didn’t see Morris in their future plans; he began to lose playing time before management decided to trade him.
So where did Marcus end up? With the Phoenix Suns, of course, alongside his brother Markieff. Coincidence? I think not. Both Markieff and Bill Self, who coached the twins at Kansas, pushed Phoenix’s management to reunite the brothers. Self apparently told Gentry, “You need Marcus. If you can get him, he’ll make Markieff work harder.” This proved to be true, as many within Phoenix’s organization now refer to Marcus as “Markieff Batteries.”
But the twins’ chemistry dives much deeper than one being the other’s “batteries.” In the 2013-14 Season, each Morris had their best year as a pro:
Both achieved career highs in minutes, points, rebounds, assists, field goal %, and free throw %. While a lot of this can be explained through the development and maturation of each twin individually, it’s hard to brush aside the idea that Keef and Mook simply make each other much better.
Psychologist Nancy L. Segal claims that twin athletes grew up with a “24-hour practice partner, had an uncanny knowledge of the other’s positioning and thinking as teammates and tended to encourage and challenge each other without being resentful of the other’s success.”
I’d say these findings perfectly describe the Morris twins. And while a lot of the Suns’ success last year was credited to Phoenix’s dynamic backcourt of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, as well as second year Head Coach Jeff Hornacek, the twins quietly gave the Suns an enormous boost. Especially when they were on the court at the same time.
On offense, the Morris twins’ skill sets really complement each other. They are able to spread the floor nicely, which is important considering the Suns have two starting point guards in Bledsoe and Dragic. However, they are much more than just spot-up shooters; both twins have diverse, but contrasting repertoires, making them quite the dynamic duo.
Markieff has proven to be an all-around scorer. He is a decent three-point shooting power forward, but has expanded his game way past that. When he wasn’t spotting up for three, Markieff used to just stand around the mid-range area, clogging up lanes and making life difficult for his lightning quick point guards. Now, he has learned to move around the perimeter, and cut in once his guards have already penetrated. Keef is underratedly athletic and can slash in for some monstrous dunks.
The most improved part of Markieff’s game, however, has come in the post. He has a very solid face-up game, athletic enough to get by defenders that are looking for him to shoot. But he has also added consistency to his fadeaway jumper, allowing him to back down smaller power forwards.
Even though he was shooting a lot of Dirk-like fadeaways, he still managed an extremely efficient 47.8% from 10-16 feet last year (he also shot 42.9% from 16 feet-3-point line). With the added post game, and ability to finish in the paint, Keef can now truly call himself a step-out power forward.
Mook, on the other hand, is key to the Suns’ success because of his imposing size at small forward (he’s 6’9” and 235 pounds). Phoenix has one of the smallest backcourts in the league (aside from Gerald Green) and a very small backup forward in P.J. Tucker, which is why it’s important for them to have someone as big as Marcus in a league filled with long, athletic 3s. Marcus needs to continue to improve on the defensive end, but has the tools to do it.
Marcus is definitely the better shooter between the twins and has the ability to make contested three-pointers (38.1% from deep last year). But just like his older brother, he has started to expand his game. Mook has a nice pull-up mid-range jumper that he utilizes off pump fakes, as well as the ability to shoot jumpers over smaller defenders on the block.
And even though Keef has a reputation for being the better passer, Mook’s passing and playmaking is much improved. Marcus has a knack for finding his twin brother on alley-oops and is starting to find open shooters when he drives. His assist numbers don’t stand out, but he is averaging a career high 2.5 per 36 minutes this year. His improved decision-making surprisingly has him second on his team in pass to assists (a.k.a. the hockey assist) at .88 per 36 minutes, placing him between point guards Goran Dragic (1.02) and Eric Bledsoe (.67).
Keef and Mook have each taken another step in the 2014-15 Season, as they are now both starting alongside each other, but the big news for the twins came in the summer.
This past offseason, the Morris twins worked out one of the most unique contract extensions ever with the Phoenix Suns. The two wanted to stay together so badly that they negotiated a joint contract, in which the Morris twins would receive a combined $52 million over 4 years. But how that $52 million would be split was left up to the twins and their agent, Leon Rose.
Eventually, it was decided that Markieff would receive $8 million per year, while his younger brother would get $5 million. When asked about the split, Markieff simply replied, “It didn’t matter if it was me getting $5 million and Mook getting $8 million. We told them it didn’t matter. If they just put $13 (million) a year for the Morris twins, that would’ve been great. They wouldn’t even have to say our names. We’re $52 million players.”