- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Markieff Morris’ timeline looks like this: Friday marks six weeks since Morris had sports hernia surgery. He played 5-on-5 in practice Tuesday, which told all involved that Morris is ready to return. There will be a slight stall in that plan because Morris was suspended for a game when he took a few steps from the bench during a fracas between his teammates and the Golden State Warriors on Oct. 27. Once that is out of the way, it means Morris can play Friday against the Cleveland Cavaliers. In his first game back, he presumably will be guarding LeBron James.

The query that stirred Morris’ only raise-voiced response during his session with reporters Tuesday was about James. Most of the discussion was focused on Morris’ pending return and featured his standard hushed-tone comments, then he was asked if he would have preferred to play a game before guarding James his first time on the floor this season.

“I don’t care who it is,” Morris said. “Dealing with LeBron? That’s another man. Doesn’t matter who it is. It’s another game.”

There, in a nutshell, is what the Wizards have missed as a result of Morris’ absence in the first six games. It’s that gruffness that Morris delivers. His size will also be welcomed by center Marcin Gortat, who has spent the first two weeks of the season banging around underneath with much more slender and shorter teammates alongside him.

Morris’ initial timeline for a return was 6-8 weeks. Friday will mark six week since he had surgery. As always, his return was step-by-step. He moved from drills, to 1-on-1, then through every other setup before Tuesday’s full participation.

“He’s been progressing to get to the 5-on-5 level, and [Tuesday] he did,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “Participated in the entire practice; 5-on-5 halfcourt, 5-on-5 full-court scrimmage, a couple of those. So, we’ll see how he feels tonight and Wednesday morning and decide if we’re going to activate him for [Wednesday] night’s game.”

If he is active for Wednesday’s game against the Phoenix Suns — an organization which Morris had an unamicable parting with Feb. 18, 2016 when Washington traded for him — Morris will need to be cleared by an independent NBA doctor so he can serve his one-game suspension Wednesday. That will give him another day to workout, provide another practice Thursday, then have him in line to face James and the wandering Cavaliers (3-4) on Friday night.

It should also reassemble the Wizards’ potent starting five for the first time this season. Washington’s starters were ninth in net rating last season, making them one of the most productive groups in the league. They also played 96 percent of the possible regular season games despite John Wall having two offseason knee surgeries.

Wizards coach Scott Brooks projected that Morris could play 12-16 minutes in his first game back. He said he’s considered whether Morris should start when he first returns, is leaning toward that being the case, but is yet to decide how he will handle Friday. If Morris is ready to play more toward 16 minutes than 12, Brooks said he will start Morris.

“Right now, he’s definitely our starter (in general),” Brooks said. “We don’t have a starting power forward controversy.”

Morris’ return will put Kelly Oubre Jr. back on the bench. This is not Oubre’s fault. He has been a much more effective player in the first six games of the season than he was during his first two full seasons in the league when he shot just 29.6 percent from behind the 3-point line, had trouble dribble-driving and, at times, was lost on the floor.

Oubre has hiked his shooting percentages early this season. He is shooting 44.4 percent from behind the 3-point line. His shot selection has improved. His rebounding, 6.2 per game, has been significant. Sustainability, particularly in a bench role, is now the question. Oubre, 21, has a body of work from his first two years that suggests his current shooting is unlikely to last. But, even a regression to the mean following this hot start will be an improvement for the team’s youngest player.

“Of course I would like to keep starting, but at the end of the day, I want to do what’s best for my team,” Oubre told reporters. “If it’s me coming off the bench, that’s what it has to be.”

Considering how limited Morris will be his first week back, and the production Oubre provided when folded into the starting unit, Oubre’s time on the floor will remain significant going forward. The return of Morris just adds to Brooks‘ options.

Brooks can slide Morris to center, Otto Porter to stretch-four and Oubre to small forward. It’s essentially Washington’s‘ version of a Golden State-like grouping. Brooks will also eventually be able to play Morris with the second unit, providing it with a mid-post presence it currently does not possess.

“Once we get him back, we’re going to be a way better team,” Oubre said.

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