Ethan Morton’s career arc is somewhat of a head-scratcher. Between flashes of brilliance, including great passing and key defensive stops, his shooting and overall contribution to the offense last season left a lot to be desired. This is the former Pennsylvania player of the year entering his senior season. He’s a great asset on the wing but has the tools to be so much more offensively.
Defensively, he’s been about as effective as one can ask him to be.
After playing a key bench roll in his first two seasons, Morton stepped into the first team lineup as a junior, starting 29 of 35 games. The bigger role, however, did not yield the jump in production many expected.
How can he make that jump? Can he make that jump?
He seems like a prototypical three-and-D guy for Purdue. He can maintain possession, play respectable defense and feed this post but his shooting last season not hot when it needed to be in order to fill that role. There are two new studs available next season, with Heide healthy and coming off a redshirt and Colvin champing at the bit to make an impact as a true freshman, Morton must break out of his shooting slump (or is it a confidence slump?) or he risks a decreased role in-coming season.
Ball Handling and Ball Security
Morton is the exact type of control player on the wing that Purdue needs. A former high school point guard, the now (listed) 6’7” wing remains calm when the offense is stagnant and the guards seem to think the sky is falling if they can’t easily dish the rock to Zach Edey down low. He knows when to reset the offense on the wing and let Zach repost, and his height and exceptional passing skills allow him to find post feed angles that guards like Smith and Lloyer don’t have access to.
I think Morton would be a great fit to run the offense on 20% of possessions; he remains calm and protects the ball. Matt Painter despises turnovers. If Purdue is going to continue to play at a their glacial pace, Morton’s patience and overall savvy could be a good fit for the second unit’s point guard role, even if he’s not the guy bringing the ball up the court. He played some point guard early in his career at Purdue may be the best option on the roster, in terms of basketball understanding (when it comes to Purdue’s offense at least) to back up Smith.
Say what you will about the rest of his offense, but Ethan understands the assignment. His assist-to-turnover ratio has remained relatively steady (with a slight dip) in his two seasons with heavy minutes played; 50:17 as a sophomore and 85:33 as a junior. He, like a lot of Boilers, occasionally panic pass as the shot clock winds down instead of making a play, but overall remains a great protector of the rock.
He’s certainly the best maintainer-of-possession the Boilermakers have on the wing, but that doesn’t pay dividends when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands. His inability to shoot allows the defense to sag off and clog passing lanes. He should be able to run a mean pick and roll, but everyone is going under the screen and cutting off the drive until he can threaten them off the dribble with a pull-up, even if he has to step in an take a mid-range jumper.
As our boy Drew Schneider mentioned in his Heide homework article, Morton’s shooting was spotty and he struggled to finish when driving the lane. He had some missed layups when he sped toward the rim with the intensity of a right-handed Manu Ginobili, but couldn’t finish.
“Teams were happy to sit back and challenge Ethan Morton to beat them.” -Drew
Morton shot just 32% from the field last year. For a guy who played 26 minutes per game, you’ve got to be more of an offensive threat than that even if you are a good facilitator from the perimeter. If the defense doesn’t respect you, the ball is going to find you, especially at the end of the clock when it’s time to score. Right now the game plan with Morton is to let him have the ball as much as he wants, and challenge him to do something other than move it along to a better scoring option.
Specifically from three point land, there was a huge drop that was unexpected of a guy who, as a sophomore, showed an ability to make opponents pay for leaving him open. In 2021-22, he shot 15 of 34, a very impressive 44.1% from beyond the arc. Last year, that turned into 26 of 94. That’s just 27.7% and, uh, a pretty steep drop off. At times, it looked like the last thing in the world he wanted to do was fling the ball in the general direction of the hoop, even when the clock necessitated he do so
Off-Ball defense and Rebounding on the Wing
Morton can be a great off-ball defender and is adept at scooping up long rebounds that bigger Boilermakers can’t corral. He closes out shots well and has great overall spatial awareness in rebounding, nearly doubling his defensive rebound total from 2021-2022 while his court time increased by 38 percent. He is certainly no defensive liability and can be trusted to stick on most guards and forwards, yes including power forwards in a pinch. With his 6’7” 220-pound frame, he’s big enough to absorb contact down low if needed. He’s not a guy teams look to isolate in the post.
When his defense is on point, it’s all about ball denial. He uses his long arms to dissuade passes and smarts to stick with his man through screens. Much like on offense, he understands the assignment. His job last season was to cut off the water to opposing wings when they got hot. Sometimes that meant getting torched because the guy switched onto was already on fire, but such is life for the nominal “stopper” on the team. You end up drawing the toughest assignment and sometimes good offense beats good defense.
I noticed a few instances last year in which he didn’t switch quickly enough, but those were few and far between. His defense and pace up court when the ball returns to the Boilermakers is was allowed him to see so many minutes last year despite his prime offensive role involving passing and possession.
On Ball Defense
He’s not a bad on ball defender, but he’s much better at stopping his man before he gets the ball, as opposed to after. He’s not the most athletic player on the roster, and that can lead to getting smoked off the dribble by quicker guards and wings. I’m not sure there is much more he can do to improve this, other than to get quicker, but that’s basketball.
He’s a solid, if not great overall defender, but may not reach the upper echelon of Purdue lock down defenders because he doesn’t move laterally well enough to keep the best of the best in front of him. To be fair, most players don’t have that ability.
Ask Drew lmao... (note, Garrett’s newish to the Purdue basketball cul....ahem...fan base and doesn’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of all former Boilermaker basketball players starting in the late 80s just yet.)
So, you’ve got a 6’7” wing/point guard suffering through a break down in his shooting stroke, but he also happens to be your best defender?
That sounds familiar. I’m stepping in to draw the heat instead of feeding Nojel Eastern to Garrett and watching the sparks fly in the comment section.
It’s not a perfect 1 for 1 comparison. Nojel is the better overall defender, Morton is a better passer. Eastern is a better finisher at the rim. Morton is the better shooter (despite his struggles last season).
Still, when it comes down to function (or dysfunction?) in the offense, both are/were an outside shot away from truly reaching their basketball potential. If you watched any of the TBT, Eastern appears to have figured out his shot, after switching to his right hand for jumpers. Seriously y’all, his shot was so busted, switching hands was his best option, and it looked functional. I don’t expect Ethan to start firing away with his off hand, but if can find a little confidence in his stroke, like Nojel did this summer (and in Mexico), Morton could take his game, and Purdue’s game to the next level.
What it all boils down to for Morton: he’s a two-way player who can do everything a coach needs of a winger. The big dip in shooting production was hard to watch given the promise he showed as a sophomore. His homework is to get those open shots hitting. Become a threat from the outside. If defenders close him out, when he’s relatively open, I want to see the type of winger who pump fakes, drives toward the lane as one of the taller players at his position, and finishes tough at the rim. He needs to hit some shots before that opens up for him. That will, in turn, draw more fouls for the solid free throw shooter.
But first, Ethan Morton needs to get that shooting confidence back or suffer the playing time consequences. It’s clear he’s a team leader on and off the court, but he’s going to find himself leading from the bench if he doesn’t master this assignment.