- The Washington Times
Monday, July 11, 2022

The list of reasons why the Washington Wizards have made the playoffs just once in the last four seasons is long. 

But one of the top reasons has to be the lack of consistent point guard play that meshes with the rest of the offense. From an injured John Wall at the end of his tenure to a streaky Russell Westbrook in that lone playoff campaign to an incongruous Spencer Dinwiddie last season, the team hasn’t been able to figure out the position in recent years. 

Up next: Monte Morris. 

Two weeks ago, the Wizards agreed with the Nuggets on a trade that sent Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ish Smith to Denver in return for Morris and wing Will Barton. Morris is now projected to be the starting point guard in the District this season. 

“This is a big opportunity — a big moment — for me,” Morris said during his introductory press conference Monday. 

Morris, a second-round pick from Iowa State in 2017, was a bench player for most of his first four seasons in Denver. But with Jamal Murray injured last season, Morris started 74 games for the Nuggets, averaging 12.6 points on 48.4% shooting. Now, the 27-year-old hopes he can take his career to the next level and bring the Wizards along with him.

“For me, it’s to prove that I can help lead a team and win games at a high level,” Morris said. “Just showing the world every night how much I’ve improved. In this role, I’ll be able to show more [and] do more than what I was able to display sometimes in Denver.”

Morris averaged a career-high 4.4 assists per game last season, mostly due to his increased playing time. Over the last four seasons, Morris ranks top five in the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio. 

The assist total may not seem high, but that’s largely due to the way Denver runs its offense. With superstar Nikola Jokic as one of the best passing bigs in NBA history, the Nuggets heavily ran their offense through the two-time MVP who averaged 7.9 assists per game last season. 

“My assist numbers should definitely go up with the talent we have and me being able to play make more,” Morris said. “I’m looking to up [my assists] and make everybody happy when they’re on the court with me. I’m a guy who definitely likes getting my teammates going on both ends.”

Last season, the Wizards went through a carousel of point guards, including Dinwiddie, Raul Neto, Ish Smith and Tomas Satoransky. Dinwiddie, who was acquired in a sign-and-trade before the season, started strong for the Wizards. But as the campaign progressed, Dinwiddie didn’t mesh well with the rest of the offense, particularly superstar Bradley Beal, whose year ended early due to surgery to repair a torn ligament in his wrist.

Dinwiddie was then shipped to the Mavericks in a deal that brought center Kristaps Porzingis to Washington, and the point guard aired his grievances about his time with the Wizards multiple times in press conferences with the Dallas media. 

The Wizards are likely hoping that the Morris-Beal duo is a better fit than the Dinwiddie-Beal pairing was last season. Beal’s 2021-22 season was his worst since being considered a star player, as his scoring average dipped from a little over 30 points per game to 23.2. 

Despite the disappointing season, Beal, 29, recently signed a contract that made him one of the highest-paid players in NBA history, agreeing to a five-year, $251 million max contract to stay in D.C. 

“I’ve been a big fan of his game since I was even in college,” Morris said about Beal. “I like how he can get out in transition, run a fast break, make plays and knock down big-time shots when you need him to. I think we’re going to be a very scary duo if it goes the way I see it.”

But Beal may not be the Wizard that Morris is most excited to play alongside. That would be forward Kyle Kuzma, Morris’ former AAU teammate and elementary school classmate. 

“We would talk about playing on the same NBA team, like how cool would that be,” Morris said. “Now that’s happening, and it still feels surreal.”

Kuzma won’t be the only reunion, though, as Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. is quite familiar with both Morris and Barton. Unseld was previously an assistant with the Nuggets for six years. 

Morris thinks the transition to Unseld’s system will be easy because the “terminology” is similar to what Denver operated.

“Our relationship has always been really strong,” Morris said. “He knows what I can do and what role I played in Denver. I played that [role] well, but this is different. I’m sure he’s going to anticipate me to step my play up, better than I was in Denver.”

• Jacob Calvin Meyer can be reached at jmeyer@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC.