Darius Morris not letting possible limited role sour work ethic
Staring at an attentive audience, Lakers guard Darius Morris shared some insights and advice based on his journey.
Morris had just set foot at Lafayette Park over the weekend where the Lakers and Time Warner Cable Sportsnet hosted a basketball clinic for about 75 children from Heart of L.A., which provides after-school programs for disadvantaged youth. So Morris brought up his childhood in Los Angeles dreaming about playing for the hometown Lakers. He stressed how anyone can reach their goal through hard work. And Morris emphasized the need not to let any obstacles obstruct that pursuit.
As he enters his second season with the Lakers, Morris knows all too well how a limited role and a steep learning curve tested his zest for the daily grind. He only averaged 2.4 points in 8.9 minutes through 19 games his rookie season. Though he showed enough potential for the Lakers to provide a $962,000 qualifying offer to play at least one more season, Morris will join a bloated backcourt that features Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Chris Duhon. Even with the Lakers expecting Blake to miss at least three weeks because of a puncture wound in his left foot, it’s unclear to what degree Morris will compete with Duhon for minutes as the team’s backup point guard.
Yet, Morris has vowed not to worry about those variables. Instead, he maintains he’s centering on strictly improving his own play.
“I focus on my game and I’m confident,” Morris said in an interview with The Times. “Whenever it may be, I just have to be ready. During an 82-game season, chances are likely your name will be called at some point during the season. You have to be ready at all times. When it’s called, take advantage of it.”
Morris spoke those words before it became clear Blake would be sidelined after stepping on a spike strip over the weekend at a beach parking lot. But Morris offered plenty of detail on why he believes he’s ready for such circumstances.
Laker assistant coaches have marveled how Morris reported to the team’s practice facility nearly every day for informal offseason workouts. Morris worked endlessly with Lakers strength and conditioning coach Tim DiFrancesco to increase his weight from 195 pounds to 205 in hopes added muscle will make it easier to absorb contact as he drives into the lane. Morris pored over game films, studying elite point guards such as Nash, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo and James Harden, and took detailed notes on how they run pick-and-roll sequences.
Morris led the Lakers’ Summer League team in points (15.2) and assists (4.2). A recent informal workout showed he improved his shooting stroke. And Morris practiced the shooting guard position in hopes that could lead at least to some minutes at that backup spot.
“As of now, I still imagine I’d be playing point guard,” Morris said. “But because of my size, I have an ability to play the off guard. In the new offense, both of the guards have to be able to do the same things. You really just have to make plays in the new offense. They haven’t come and told me anything so I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve always done and play point guard.”
Morris also had high hopes last season for a large role even though the second-round draft pick played behind a veteran unit, including Derek Fisher and Blake. That chance came when Blake suffered a rib injury. But Morris’ seven-game stretch where he averaged 3.6 points on 40% shooting made the coaching staff feel he tried too hard in showcasing his athleticism and quickness instead of just running the offense.
It remains unclear if Morris will have an increased role during Blake’s absence, or if he’ll still have limited playing time. But one thing’s clear: Morris said he learned not to try to treat playing time as a highlight tape.
“That comes with time and maturity in the game,” Morris said. “Knowing a lot of times last year when I got thrown in for two minutes, I felt like I had to show everything that I could. In Summer League, I was able to get in a rhythm and get used to that feeling again. It let me know I don’t have to hit a home run every play. Just let the game come to you. Just playing the game and getting more comfortable.”
For now, though, Morris plans to keep the same mindset that he stressed to the children at the clinic about working hard to reach their goals. By staying a Laker at least for one more season, Morris’ dream stays alive.
“When I re-signed, I knew I had to work as hard as I’ve ever done this next year and be ready for the upcoming season,” Morris said. “It was a definite blessing.”
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