Guard Darius Morris improved through his second season in the NBA.
With Steve Nash and Steve Blake on the roster, Morris was expected to be a spot player the Lakers would develop primarily in practice.
Instead, the 6-foot-4 23-year-old guard was thrust into the rotation when Nash and Blake missed games both early and late with injuries. After starting 17 regular-season games, Morris was matched up against Tony Parker in the starting lineup against the San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs.
In Game 3, Morris scored a career-high 24 points on 9-of-15 shooting with six assists. His defense on Parker was significantly better than that of teammates Andrew Goudelock and Chris Duhon. Of course, none of the three would have seen significant minutes were it not for injuries to Kobe Bryant, Nash and Blake.
On the season, Morris averaged only four points on 38.8% shooting in 14.2 minutes a game. The numbers reflect a young player still learning the pro game. He often played too fast, rushing passes or shots, driving into traffic and creating problems for himself.
"Being more decisive," said Morris of his goals moving forward. "When they give you that jump shot, just go ahead and take it.
"When I first came into the league, they said I couldn't shoot," he said after his exit interview with General Manager Mitch Kupchak and Coach Mike D'Antoni. "I've developed an outside shot, I'm going to keep improving that and also develop my mid-range game. Steve Nash is a great person to learn that from."
Morris will become a restricted free agent this summer if the Lakers make him a $1.2-million qualifying offer. The team can also risk letting him go unrestricted with hopes of retaining him for the league minimum of $884,293.
"I'm a restricted free agent. I definitely want to come back, especially how we ended the season," said Morris. "I'm not where I want to be, but I'm not where I used to be. I think I improved a lot. I'm going to continue to improve."
If Morris returns he would still play behind Nash and Blake, assuming there's no shake-up in the roster.
"If somebody likes my potential and wants to invest in me, I'll definitely have to look elsewhere," Morris said. "I would love to stay in L.A. .... Mitch has invested in me and I like Coach D'Antoni."
The Lakers need youth and athleticism. Morris has length and workable defensive instincts.
If he can learn to play under control, Morris might be a valuable reserve for the Lakers next season.
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