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Why Monte Morris Will Win Big 12 Player of the Year

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By taking a higher percentage of the team's shots, Morris will finally have the stats to back-up his value.

Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images

It would be fair to say that Monte Morris has been underrated by people outside of the Iowa State community his first three years on campus. He won’t have that luxury this year. When Morris announced he was returning for his senior season, he instantly solidified Iowa State as a top tier Big 12 team and became a favorite to win Big 12 Player of the Year.

It is easy to say that the best returning player in the league is the favorite to earn the top individual honor in the conference, but that doesn’t really explain why. Morris has been absolutely outstanding his first three seasons and has yet to even earn 1st Team Big 12 honors. Why? Mainly because he hasn’t scored as much as other point guards in the conference.

I know... His value extends far beyond the points that he scores. Believe me Iowa State fans, you are preaching to the choir. The problem is assist-to-turnover ratio and playing almost 40 minutes a game in conference play isn’t sexy.

Morris will shoulder more of the scoring load after Niang’s departure to the NBA.
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

It would be erroneous to say that Iowa State’s floor general isn’t capable of shouldering a bigger scoring load. When he has had to, he has certainly been up to the task. He didn’t have to very often though with Georges Niang playing along side him for the last three season. Niang is now an Indiana Pacer, leaving Morris with an opportunity for a higher volume of shots.

The Numbers

Morris has seen his production go up every year and as a junior averaged more points than he ever had. If Morris duplicates his junior season statistically, he isn’t winning Big 12 Player of the Year. Points really do matter when it comes to earning this honor.

Player Shot % Minute % Total Shot % PPG
Morris '16 19% 94% 17.9% 13.8
Morris '15 18% 85% 15.5% 11.9
Morris '14 12% 69% 8.0% 6.8

So if 13.8 points per game isn’t going to cut it, what will? Here are recent players to earn the honor, including our beloved Melvin Ejim. When you look at the data, it's really quite remarkable that Ejim earned the honor. Don’t get me wrong, he absolutely deserved it (although one could have made a case for his teammate DeAndre Kane as well). The remarkable part is how low Ejim’s shot percentage was compared the other winners.

Player Shot % Minute % Total Shot % PPG
Hield '16 31% 88% 27.1% 25
Hield '15 30% 81% 24.5% 17.4
Ejim '14 26% 75% 19.5% 17.8
Smart '13 25% 82% 20.1% 15.4
Robinson '12 30% 79% 23.8% 17.7

Morris is nowhere close to the shot percentage numbers that these others were putting up. What makes us think he will see such an uptick in usage? First, Steve Prohm.

The Prohm Effect

When Steve Prohm got the job at ISU, the first thing many of us learned through a quick Google search was his ability to put point guards into the NBA. Isaiah Canaan and Cameron Payne both earned the top individual honor in the conference and made it to the NBA largely due in part to Steve Prohm’s coaching.

Prohm isn’t a point guard whisperer. Not that I know of anyway. He just uses them.....a lot. At Murray State these two players were used early and often.

Player Shot % Minute % Total Shot % PPG
Payne '15 34% 82% 27.40% 20.2
Payne '14 31% 82% 25.40% 16.8
Canaan '13 32% 90% 29.10% 21.8
Canaan '12 28% 84% 23.10% 19

When Payne was on the court his last season at Murray State he accounted for over 13 of the shots! That is absolutely incredible. As a contrast, Georges Niang was never used above 30% of the time at Iowa State.

Player Shot % Minute % Total Shot % PPG
Niang '16 29% 82% 24.0% 20.5
Niang '15 27% 77% 20.6% 15.3
Niang '14 30% 70% 20.9% 16.7
Niang '13 22% 62% 13.5% 12.1

Devil’s advocate would say that Georges (and Monte) have better players around them than Canaan and Payne had at Murray State. That may be fair, but I think it ignores every sound bite we’ve heard from Prohm since he arrived in Ames.

The numbers tell one side of the story, but what did this look like at Murray State? What will it look like at Iowa State now that Niang is gone?

First, point guards will attack from the opening tip....literally.

Prohm made a necessary adjustment last season to slow down the offense at times and pick and choose spots to run. There were no Big 12 caliber players on the roster to back up Monte Morris at point guard, and Georges Niang was so darn efficient in the half-court. With Donovan Jackson arriving on campus and a healthy (hopefully) Naz Long back in the fold, we will see Prohm using Morris in "attack mode" more often, sometimes going coast to coast.

One thing Steve Prohm mentioned in a recent interview is how he wants Monte to find some spots to seek out his shot. He mentioned the transition 3-point shot several times. We saw this last year at times from Monte, but we will see it even more this season. Think Payne was playing with confidence at Murray State?

Yes, but Monte can do that too. Yes, he can and yes he will, but we didn’t see it last year as much as we will this year. There were opportunities that Morris just didn’t pursue because of the limitations that we discussed above.

I don’t blame him for slowing it down that possession. Texas A&M "got back" ok in transition, but the basket was still left unprotected and a drive could have left Niang open for a top of the key three point shot. I included this possession because I think it's a time that Monte might pick to "get his." Casual fans will say he is forcing it more this year and they might be right at times, but we will have to live with that.

We’ve also heard from Prohm about using Monte in isolation situations. We never think of this as being a strong point of his game, but he has actually been quite good at it. There were several examples from the Oklahoma game in 2015 where the floor general just picked them apart in isolation situations.

Departures

We all know Niang was the straw that stirred the drink last year on offense. Morris will absorb some of Niang's shots, but the real opportunity for growth comes from Abdel Nader and Jameel McKay leaving.

Player Shot % Minute % Total Shot % PPG
Nader '16 20% 77% 15.6% 12.9
McKay '16 16% 69% 11.2% 11.1
Niang '16 29% 82% 24.0% 20.5

Nader was the definition of "volume shooter."  At times, he was a Carmelo Anthony in regards to his high volume that could be rewarding and frustrating all at the same time.

In short, over half of the shots taken last year came from players that are no longer on the roster. Monte won’t take them all, but he will get his fair share.

If Monte's stiffest competition for Player of the Year honors comes from the incoming freshmen, we should feel comfortable with his chances. Since 1996-97 season, only three freshmen have won this individual honor (Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, Marcus Smart). Kansas has some freshmen that are talented, but I am not ready to call them player of the year candidates until we've seen them play.

Extrapolation

It might seem like we're taking a stretch in saying that Morris could increase his scoring by over 50%. In most other cases I would agree. There is just too much evidence suggesting that Morris will take a significant higher percentage of the shots and thus lead to more points. Here are some possible outcomes we could see. The projected points per game is assuming he will score points at the same clip he did last season.

Player Shot % Minute % Total Shot % PPG
Morris '17 0.3 0.9 27% 20.8
Morris '17 0.27 0.926 25% 19.2

Morris' minutes may be down a bit this year, but not by much. I think the second row is probably more realistic than the top row considering Morris will still be doing his fair share of assisting baskets and not just making them. I don't think a total shot percentage of 25% is completely out of the picture. If he can reach either of these projections, he will have a tremendous case for Big 12 Player of the Year.

Conclusion

Georges Niang is quite possibly the best player to ever play at Iowa State, but he never won conference player of the year in the Big 12. While we were all focused on soaking up the Georges Niang years while they lasted, Morris was out there putting together a career that could easily rival Niang’s when it is all said and done.

Morris’ #11 might one day hang in the rafters next to Niang’s #31.
Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

In a conference with a surplus of basketball talent, it's quite the treat that we have another player in the Big 12 Player of the Year discussion. This won’t always be the case going forward.

Enjoy the season #11 is about to give us, as it isn't guaranteed another point guard as good as he is will ever play for Iowa State again.