NBA

NBA Draft Bust Week: Adam Morrison was a baller

If you remember one thing about Adam Morrison, it’s probably that he cried. If you remember two things about him, remember that he was a baller.

Do you remember Adam Morrison crying after Gonzaga lost to UCLA in the 2006 NCAA Tournament? Of course you do. How else could you get those jokes off at his expense if you didn’t have that background context?

Do you remember why he was crying (besides the fact that his team had just been eliminated)? Do you remember that UCLA’s lineup had featured six future NBA players — Darren Collison, Jordan Farmar, Arron Afflalo, Luc Mbah A Moute, Cedric Bozeman and Ryan Hollins — and that Morrison’s best teammate was, I don’t know, Derek Raivio? Do you remember that Morrison had led Gonzaga to a 13-point lead at halftime and still led by nine with three minutes to go? Do you remember that Morrison finished the game with 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting and that even in that heartbreaking second-half he still put up 12 points?

Do you remember that with just over 20 seconds left, a questionable (at best) foul call against Morrison’s teammate, J.P. Batista, gave UCLA the chance to hit two free throws to pull within one? Do you remember that Gonzaga’s last two possessions ended with turnovers (not by Morrison) and that he never had the chance to attempt a game-winner?

You probably don’t. Because it’s easier to just remember him crying and then washing out of the NBA. That way you don’t have to be burdened with sympathy or wrestling with the inherently cruel randomness of the universe or the way all of our hard work can be washed away in an instant or that desire and grit are just circumstance dressed up to trick you into paying for neon-blue electrolytes suspended in sugar water.

It’s worth watching that game again, or really any video from Morrison’s final season at Gonzaga. Not because you need to change the way you remember him but because he was a spectacularly talented basketball who was spectacularly fun to watch.

Morrison didn’t really last long enough in the NBA to develop an on-court identity. So he’s sort of just remembered as a willowy shooter with a willowy mustache. In that last year at Gonzaga, as he was battling J.J. Redick for the scoring title, he did hit 42.8 percent of his 5.2 3-point attempts per game. But those were less than a third of his shot attempts. Morrison feasted inside the arc as well — making his way to the line nearly 10 times a game as well and shooting better than 52.3 percent on 2-pointers.

He was deadly in the mid-range, off-the-dribble or backing his man down in the post and shooting over the top. He was prolific running off screens and curls around the elbows, finishing over bigger, stronger players or dropping in an array of floaters and runners. In retrospect, it may have been something of a red flag that so much of his prodigious scoring totals were built on making tough shots. He only shot 39.1 percent on 2-pointers during his rookie season with the Charlotte Bobcats, but playing with Matt Carroll and a rapidly expanding Raymond Felton as the other primary perimeter scoring threats meant he didn’t have many opportunities to be more selective or explore the magical world of “open shots created by a teammate.”

Morrison played 2,326 minutes that rookie season, which turned out to be just over 70 percent of the NBA minutes he’d ever play. He missed his entire second season with an ACL tear and never really regained his footing. It’s true that he was never able to take advantage of any opportunities after that, to earn his way back into an NBA rotation. But I refuse to accept that a lack of talent was more significant than circumstance or that brutally random universe again having its way with him.

That’s what Adam Morrison was. If you want to indulge your imagination and make some room in your memory for what he could have been, trying watching him on a night when the shots were falling in the NBA and he dropped a career-high 30 on the Indiana Pacers. Or highlights from his 22-game run in 2011-12 with Red Star Belgrade, more than a year after his final NBA game, where he averaged 17.6 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists per 36 minutes, shooting 51.9 percent on 2-pointers and 37.7 percent from beyond the arc.

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Or just imagine him landing as a rookie a few years in the future, where his shooting and length would have been bigger assets in spread-and-switch schemes, and on a team where Michael Jordan was not a primary investor, where Bernie Bickerstaff was not his head coach, where Sean May wasn’t a key young asset, and where Felton, Brevin Knight, Gerald Wallace and Emeka Okafor didn’t round out the starting lineup.

I guess the bottom line is, you don’t have to remember Adam Morrison at all. Grey matter is limited and there are certainly more important things to take up mental real estate. But if you do save some space for him, don’t forget that he was a freaking baller.

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