So about the Morris/Harris combo at forward.

Some people have asked/made various comments regarding why I think the Morris/Harris combo could be so effective so I decided to just make a post to try and explain it. So essentially, I'm just going to run through the things I see that make me excited for this pairing to point out exactly what the "potential" is.

The mismatches: This is fairly simple, and is one that is already paying dividends. Most teams have one guy who is ~6'8 and a good defender. Almost no teams have 2 of them. (Unless you're the Warriors and have like 4) This means that most teams are going to have to put a pretty poor defender on one of Morris/Harris. This happened against the Sixers, (and I touched on it in my recap so this might be a repeat if you read that) who are committed to trying to have Jahlil Okafor play PF. Oddly they had him guard Tobias Harris instead of Morris, but that is what they went with. And Harris absolutely roasted him, because it is literally unfair to ask Okafor to guard Tobias freaking Harris. Now Harris will get the credit for an awesome game, but Marcus Morris gets a assist on it. Because Morris got the Sixers better wing defender for most of the night, which allowed Harris to attack mismatches to a comically easy 22 points. I would imagine most nights this will be the other way and teams will put the better defender on Harris. At which point a big question will be, can Morris improve his efficiency. Morris has not been terribly efficient, but it can be forgiven because he has been asked to create offense in isolation against the opponents best defender almost every night. Now that the best defender will be taking Harris more often, can he take advantage of it so as he has the nights where he scores 22 points on hyper efficiency? I think he can, but it will be seen. Regardless, as long as these two are on the floor together, one should have a mismatch every single time down the floor.


The defense: People have talked quite a bit about the switch-ability thing so I'm not going to harp on that a lot. Just know that it is super helpful to have your forwards be capable of just passing dudes back and forth without any issues. BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE. Marcus Morris is a good defender, somehow, and Tobias Harris may not be all that good, but he is not a bad one. (FWIW, his defense so far has been better than I have ever seen him play) But what they both are, is long, strong, and quick with their hands. And Harris is a excellent athlete. Whichever is the nominal PF figures to be a better athlete than the typical PF. This gives the front line duo some of that Bucks defense (which is starting to come back btw.) where it is just a sea of long armed dudes with their heads on a swivel intercepting passes. But the biggest thing is what the defense becomes, with Tobias and Morris, the Pistons can get out in transition, like a lot. Tobias Harris is like a forward version of KCP who loves to get out in transition where he can use his superior athleticism to its full extent. And his transition game is yet another thing that just does not make total sense for Marcus Morris, because he is not the type of athlete that makes you think "Wow he would be awesome in transition" and yet, he is an absolute killer on the break. (Although given that he has played the rest of his career in Houston and Phoenix does explain some of his prowess on the break.) He makes good decisions, and I can't think of a single fast break led by him that did not end in a bucket or FTs. Combine this with KCP who is an absolute terror on the break, and Andre who is one of the most athletic Cs ever, and you've got a group of dudes that can push the ball after every single opponent possession if they want too. And they can do it really well. Essentially, with Harris and Morris manning the forward spots, the Pistons would figure to be a team with long arms and active hands that can create a lot of turnovers, and a prime group to turn those turnovers into easy points in transition. And there is always the chance that Harris fulfills his potential on defense and becomes a really solid defensive player. (Which once again, he has looked really good since coming to the Pistons)


The "Lowe Principle":

So I am calling this the Lowe principle in honor of Zach Lowe who wrote about it once. (a while back, mainly talking about Marcin Gortat after the Wizards re-signed him) Essentially the point is that, while over the course of the regular season, it might make sense to use a guy like Ersan all the time. Better shooter, does not need the ball etc. He might be a bit worse but it is not a ton. But when the playoffs come around, it is all about matchups and teams are looking for any sort of edge they can find. With a guy like Ersan at the starting 4, even if he is a decent player (I am not at all trying to crap on Ersan) there are some pretty glaring holes in his game. He can't really defend anyone, and he can't score all that effectively beyond shooting open jumpers. In the regular season where teams don't really change their schemes much on a team by team basis, that might not be a huge issue. But in the playoffs, every single time there is a screen, the other team is going to just switch a little guy onto Ersan because they know Ersan will not do much to hurt them. And on the other end, they would likely run Ersan through constant pick and rolls and make him defend every possession. (You think Kevin Love gets slaughtered on defense sometimes, just imagine Ersan) But with Harris and Morris, neither of them really have that glaring weakness in their games. There are some holes, and they both have different games obviously, but they can with at least some competence, shoot, defend, pass, and score 1 on 1. While in the regular season Ersan vs. one of them might not be a huge difference, once the playoffs come around, the lack of big holes makes a big difference.


Roster Build:

So here is a quick roster breakdown of where the Pistons stand. They are capped out for this season, but due to the cap boom + Andre waiting to sign his extension, this off season will be the time for the Pistons to try and complete the roster for the long run. Next season they have 10 guys on the payroll. (Current starting 5, + Stanley Johnson, Bullock, Dinwiddie, Meeks, Baynes) They will probably start with about 15 mill in cap space this Summer. (That could fluctuate some based on a lot of different things) An NBA team is allowed to have up to 14 guys on their roster at once. So once you throw in that 2 more spots will probably be taken up by draft picks, the Pistons have about 15 mill to spend on 2 spots. (and possibly more, it would be easy to move one of the youngins if they had too) So the basic scoop is this. IF this combo does not work, (for whatever reason) then the Pistons basically have to go out and at least try and get a starting caliber PF. Even if they do not get one of the bigger names, they would need a starting PF. And that would likely take up most of the remaining cap space. HOWEVA, if the Morris/Harris combo works, the the Pistons have their (theoretical) starting 5 of the future of Reggie/KCP/Harris/Morris/Drummond. This would mean the Pistons could use that cap space on 2 or maybe even 3, quality bench cogs. (Just as an example, Mario Chalmers/Evan Turner/Jon Leuer could probably fit into that space. Literally pulled those dudes from the list of free agents. Nothing more than an example) Which would in theory give the Pistons some really crazy depth. And would (depending on how Bullock/Hilliard/Dinwiddie end up) they could well literally end up being able to have 12 dudes on the roster fully capable of being in the rotation. One hard question though will be, if the combo does work well, is it worth it to try and upgrade at PF still? If the Pistons spent their space on one dude they would still easily have a real solid 10 man deep rotation.


So wait a minute, if this combo works out, where does that leave Stanley Johnson?

This is where it gets interesting, and also where SVG faces the first truly really hard decision in his team building with Detroit. KCP will be entering the last year of his rookie contract next season, and if Harris and Morris are entrenched as a deadly combo at forward, then SG becomes Johnson's best bet to enter the starting lineup. I have touched on this before, but the Pistons will have to decide what KCP is really worth to them. Because he will get interest from a lot of teams, and he will likely be right in the range that someone is willing to try and overpay him to poach him. And if Stanley Johnson progresses like he should, and if KCP continues to stagnate as a mediocre offensive player, then the Pistons will have to think long and hard about letting KCP walk. If they re-sign KCP, then Johnson would likely end up confined to the bench (as a high usage bench guy obviously, but still a bench guy.) And that could well end up spelling doom for Johnson in Detroit. Obviously that is a long ways off, but teams have to think about these things. There is a chance, that starting around the trading deadline next season, the Pistons will have to start considering making a choice between KCP and Stanley Johnson. Either way would be painful.


Why couldn't Johnson just take a forward spot and do the same stuff? He's skilled and all the other things Morris/Harris are.

He could in theory, and he may well end up being so much better than either of them that he starts regardless. But here is the issue. Morris is the best bet to survive defensively as a PF, not Harris. And having one of the combo forwards survive defending PFs is the biggest question about it. And the simple reality is, that Harris is not likely to come off the bench making the money he makes. So Johnson would be inserted for Morris. It could possibly end up making just enough difference that it no longer becomes viable on the defensive end, because with Harris and Morris they will already be on the edge. Obviously this is all a long ways off and a lot can change, but just something to think about. (Also, I AM NOT SAYING I WANT THE PISTONS TO GET RID OF KCP. I LIKE HIM A LOT. IT'S JUST A POSSIBILITY)


What do you think? Will the combo work? Let me know! We all get smarter!

Joseph Sinke