Philadelphia 76ers: Marcus Morris can be Joel Embiid’s tough guy

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia 76ers need a tough guy.

That was one of the many takeaways from Joel Embiid‘s post-game/season press conference following a heartbreaking 99-90 loss to the Miami Heat, in what could only be described as a much better team beating down on a lesser foe.

On paper, Embiid’s evaluation was pretty much spot on. The Sixers were routinely bullied on the boards, especially after they parted ways with Andre Drummond, and they just didn’t have a guy who was willing to do the dirty work under the basket, in the screen game, in transition, when his team needed quelch a lead, or to drum up some momentum. Georges Niang tried his best to fill that role, but when his production at both ends of the court dried up in the postseason, his impact on the games followed suit.

But who fits that profile, especially for a team that doesn’t have very many ways to upgrade their team? Is there a player available in free agency, the trade market, or the draft who could fill that role? Yes, there is, and I’ll give you a hint, he’s a big fan of his hometown Philadelphia Eagles.

The Philadelphia 76ers need a hard-nosed forward like Marcus Morris.

“The Los Angeles Clippers are widely expected to trade Marcus Morris this offseason.”

This headline and its corresponding story written by Timothy Rapp for Bleacher Report on April 20th should sound like music to the ears of Philadelphia 76ers fans, as it signifies a potential desire by LA’s other team to move on from their big trade acquisition from two years back in favor of alleviating their logjam on the wings.

Could Rapp’s reporting be proven wrong either by poor intel or by a change in plans by the Clippers’ brass? You bet; the number of player personnel moves discussed versus executed has to be 100-to-one, maybe even bigger, but if it does hold true, maybe, just maybe, Daryl Morey can use his magic to secure the perfect 3-and-D wing to bolster his frontcourt and make life just a little bit easier for “The Process” in the painted area.

Measuring in at 6-foot-8, 218 pounds, Morris is a modern-day NBA power forward. While he’s eight pounds lighter than Tobias Harris and stands an identical height, his game is much more in line with the “MoreyBall” ethos than the marquee signing of Elton Brand’s run at GM and would, in turn, fit very well in place of, or sharing, a frontcourt with the proud owner of the second-richest contract in franchise history.

Over the past three seasons, which began with the New York Knicks before he was traded to Los Angeles in February of 2020, Morris averaged 15.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.4 personal fouls while hitting 41.7 percent of his shots from beyond the arc on 5.3 attempts per game. He ranked second in 3 point shooting percentage last season, 16th the year before, and even in 2021-22, his first season with a sub-40 shooting percentage from deep since 2018-19, Morris’ 36.7 shooting percentage still would have ranked fifth on the Sixers behind only Tyrese Maxey, Georges Niang, Danny Green, and Joel Embiid.

Sidebar: Do you know who else made 36.7 percent of their 3s in 2021-22? That’d be Harris. The only difference? Morris averaged 1.3 more attempts per game.

Over the past three seasons, 44.1 percent of Morris’ shots came from beyond the arc, including 77.47 percent without taking a dribble, and his willingness to space the floor proved incredibly impactful whether playing alongside Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, or Reggie Jackson. That, when coupled with his cumulative defensive win shares of 4.4 and his Defensive RAPTOR rating of -3.6 – which is heavily skewed by a -3.9 in 2021-22 – spells an offensive-focused 3-and-D combo forward who should be well worth the $16.74 million AAV he’s owed over the next two seasons.

Considering Morey’s history of prioritizing the acquisition of players like Morris’ current teammate, Robert Covington, bringing the pride of Prep Charter back to the City of Brotherly Love could be a fantastic allocation of the limited resources Philly have at their disposal, especially if Danny Green is unable to go moving forward.

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Assuming the Philadelphia 76ers don’t make a massive swing and trade away Tobias Harris for Bradley Beal, the team only has so many outlets to get better in the short-term. They have a Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception of $6.339 million, a trade exception worth $1.669 million, and nine guaranteed contracts should James Harden either opt-in to his player option or sign an extension moving forward. With a hole in their starting frontcourt and a desperate need for at least one more professional shooter, surrendering draft assets, plus the contracts of Danny Green and Furkan Korkmaz for cap-matching purposes, could be the perfect mid-level move to give Joel Embiid and his teammates the certified tough guy they desperately lacked in 2021-22 and really, since Jimmy Butler opted to take his services to South Beach in the summer of 2019.