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Armed with a revamped jump shot, Monte Morris is determined to capture the Nuggets' backup point guard job

Harrison Wind Avatar
July 2, 2018

Monte Morris has been prepping for this moment since last season ended. After spending most of his rookie year in the G League, where the 23-year-old averaged a healthy 18 points, 4.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game, Morris has his eyes on the Nuggets’ vacant backup point guard, which he’s hoping to take hold of with a strong showing at Summer League beginning July 6.

“I just want an opportunity and my job is to go out there in Summer League on Friday and show everyone, show the world, I can be a backup in this league and run a unit,” Morris said after the Nuggets’ first Summer League practice Sunday evening. “I’m very high on myself talent wise and skill-set because I’m here with all the coaches putting in all the time with my game. I’m just trying to go out there and make everyone else believers that I can play at this level.”

Devin Harris, who filled in at backup point guard for the Nuggets last season after the team acquired the veteran in a three-team deal at last season’s trade deadline, is a free agent this summer. Denver could still retain Harris, who isn’t expected to garner that much interest on the free agent market. But Morris is hoping the Nuggets won’t have to look far for a backup.

He has one believer in Summer League head coach Jordi Fernandez.

“Of course,” Fernandez said when asked if he believes Morris can be the team’s full-time backup. “I believe in him, and I’ve told him.”

Morris isn’t your typical second-year point guard with minimal NBA experience. He played four seasons at Iowa State where he led the NCAA in assist-to-turnover ration all four years. Last season he logged 37 games (35 starts) with the G League’s Rio Grande Valley Vipers. At that level of competition, Morris averaged roughly 6.5 assists to 2.0 turnovers per game. He only played 25 minutes for the Nuggets across three games last season but showed well.

A year removed from his first go around in the Summer League environment, Morris said the game has slowed down for him. He’s more vocal now. Coaches are counting on him to be a leader throughout Summer League training camp this week in Denver and the showcase next week in Las Vegas. He said he’s embracing that role.

Morris also boasts a refined jump shot. After shooting 33 percent from distance last season in the G League, Nuggets coach Michael Malone and his staff recommended that Morris tweak his form slightly because his guide hand was getting involved in his shooting motion at times. Now, his off hand is positioned more on the side of the ball as opposed to on top of it. As a result, his shot is more fluid.

That process started on May 1. Initially, Morris’ reworked jumper was consistently short. But for the past two weeks, the new form has felt second nature to him except for the occasional jump shot where he reverts back to his old ways.

“Having two months to do it, it took a lot of reps and I was mad at (the coaching staff), yelling at them at times. ‘Look, man, I don’t think I’m going to be able to do this,'” Morris said. “They’re like, ‘Trust the process, Monte and you’ll be thankful for it.’ So I definitely did it and now I appreciate it.”

Morris will team with Malik Beasley, who’s back for his third Las Vegas tour, to form a dangerous Nuggets backcourt at Summer League.

“I think Monte’s a great point guard,” said Beasley. “He’s been working hard all summer. He’s putting in the work. He’s learning, talking to Jamal (Murray), working with Jamal. He is a great fit for us… We have that young chemistry. He’s already a part of it.”

If Morris is in the Nuggets’ rotation next season, Denver’s coaching staff already has a plan in place for how to use him. Morris will be picking up full court on defense at Summer League next week and possibly next year on every possession, something he did for the first time consistently at Sunday’s practice. The Nuggets want Morris, if he plays next year, to be a disruptor and someone who can change the dynamic of the game.

“They want me to come in and change the game like a Fred VanVleet type guy,” Morris said. “Just come in and change the second unit.”

VanVleet, who averaged 8.6 points and 3.2 rebounds off the Raptors bench last season and placed third in the league’s Sixth-Man of the Year voting, enjoyed a breakout year for Toronto. He was routinely featured in closing lineups for the Raptors and changed pace and feel of the games when he was on the floor. This summer, VanVleet was awarded a two-year $18 million contract.

If Morris can pull off anything close to a VanVleet impression at Summer League, the Nuggets may have their guy.

“I can contribute at this level,” Morris said. “I’ve got a very high IQ, I can pass the ball and I feel like there’s a spot for me somewhere in this league.”


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