Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 12/19/11
PHOENIX -- It's been quite some time since a rookie made much of an impact for the Phoenix Suns. Not since Amare Stoudemire in 2002 has a lottery draft pick stuck with the Suns and played significant minutes right away. But the Suns' first-round pick in the 2011 draft, power forward Markieff Morris, believes he can be different and isn't interested in waiting around for his opportunity in the NBA. "I'm not coming in here to just take a back seat," Morris said. "I'm coming in to contribute to the team." The Suns this year made Morris, 22, their first lottery pick (13th overall) since Earl Clark in 2009. Clark never averaged more than 11.9 minutes per game before the Suns traded him a year ago. Before that it was Luol Deng at No. 7 overall, but he was traded to Chicago immediately. Fourth-year center Robin Lopez was drafted in 2008 just outside the lottery but didn't really start contributing until his sophomore season. So Morris could very well be the first rookie since Stoudemire to make his presence felt right away in Phoenix, but it's not going to be easy. "We're going to give him every opportunity to help our team, but I also don't want people to think he's a guy that's just going to step in and play," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said Monday. "He's got a lot of learning that he still has to do to get there before we start consistently counting on him to do certain things." Morris certainly doesn't lack for confidence, as he's declared multiple times recently that he's more than ready for the NBA. After playing college ball at Kansas, Morris is no stranger to competition for minutes. If he didn't play his hardest, someone else hungry for time on the floor could slide right in. With that kind of work ethic in place, Morris knows his best shot at playing significant minutes this season will come from going all out all the time. "It's just about playing hard and stealing minutes," Morris said. "Some guys base their game on working hard, and I'm one of those guys." Morris' actions support that claim, as he was the last man on the practice court Monday, working with assistant coach Elston Turner in preparation for the Suns' first preseason game Tuesday in Denver. Turner was brought to Phoenix to improve the Suns' defensive presence, and Morris could be a part of that mission. In fact, his defensive skills might just be the thing to differentiate him from other Suns rookies in recent history, the thing that gets him into games. "First of all, I'm defensive-minded basketball player," Morris said. "That's my first attribute I'm defensive and I'm a rebounder." Morris knows his strengths but also knows where he needs to improve if he's going to contribute this season. He knows he needs to hit jump shots more consistently. He also knows he needs to get stronger, even if he does feel ready for the increased physicality of the NBA. "You're going against guys 30, 31 years old every night (in the NBA)," Morris said. "In college, you're going against 18-year-old freshmen sometimes. You just have to be prepared." If Morris is indeed prepared enough to contribute regularly, it will go a long way toward keeping the Suns fresh through a schedule condensed by the lockout. With stretches like six games in eight nights and three games in three nights, the 6-foot-10 Morris could prove key in spelling big men Lopez, Channing Frye and Marcin Gortat. Gentry said he'd like to see Morris progress enough that the Suns can count on him for roughly 20 minutes a night so the big men don't get overextended. But just how much Morris does play will ultimately be up to him based on how he performs. "We'll play the guys that can help us win games," Gentry said. "He's a competitor, he shoots the ball well from the perimeter and he works hard defensively. All of those things are good, but you still have to play in an actual NBA game to get that experience. There's nothing that takes the place of NBA experience." There's certainly no guarantee Morris will get significant minutes this season, but it's clear that the opportunity to do so will be there. And if Morris' eagerness -- which could even be called impatience -- to contribute immediately translates to performance, he could very well become a fixture in the Suns' rotation. Morris was asked last week how his knee felt following a collision with a teammate in training camp a few days earlier. He answered in terms of his health, but his words might also apply to his career trajectory. "I'm only 22, man," Morris said. "You can't hold me down for too long."
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