It’s rather fitting that Anthony Morrow was named North Carolina’s “Mr. Basketball” as a high school senior in 2004. The term suits Morrow, because he represents everything good about the game of basketball. Morrow – also known by the nickname “A-Mo” – is notoriously kind, all about team and happens to shoot the ball exceptionally well. Currently ranked fourth among active NBA players in three-point field goal percentage (42.4 percent), along with career averages of 47.2 percent on two-point field goals and 87.6 percent on free throws, it’s hard to believe the four-year Georgia Tech product went undrafted in 2008.*
Even with his “elite shooter” status, it’s been quite the challenging NBA journey for 31-year-old Morrow, who has played for six different teams since the 2008-09 season. His start with the Golden State Warriors was promising, as he was the first rookie to ever lead the league in three-point shooting at 46.7 percent. He was pretty solid with the Warriors for two years (averaging 11.6 points, 1.7 in three-pointers) and with the New Jersey Nets for the next two years (averaging 12.6 points, 1.8 in threes), but the reality became clear: Morrow, 6’5, is an effective knockdown shooter with a crazy-quick release, but it doesn’t seem to quite make up for what he lacks in playing defense. And while his all-around shooting percentages have remained relatively consistent with each team he joined, his playing time plummeted after his stint with the Nets.
Now in his third season with the Thunder, Morrow has experienced many ups and downs during his tenure. In his first year under the coaching helm of Scott Brooks, he put up numbers close to those in his early playing years (10.7 points, 1.9 in threes) and was ranked fourth in the NBA in Offensive Rating. When Billy Donovan took over as head coach for the Thunder last year, Morrow’s minutes were nearly cut in half (13.6 per game) during the 2015-16 season. This season started out even worse, with six DNP-CDs and an average of 6.6 minutes on the court over the first 15 games. Despite what has to be a frustrating career direction, Morrow never shows it. He is typically the first one to greet his teammates coming off the floor with high-fives and pats on the back when timeouts are called. Morrow is the Thunder player marking time on the bench (frequently standing) wearing the biggest smile and literally cheering the loudest.
However, things now appear to be turning around for the shooting specialist on the court. During the past three games, Donovan has given him 22.3 minutes per contest. Morrow is making the most of it, demonstrating he has plenty of game left. Over those three games, he averaged 15 points and 2.7 three-pointers. His first signature game of the season occurred last Saturday night, November 26, versus the Detroit Pistons – he posted 21 points, hitting 8-of-12 two-point field goals and 3-of-6 three-pointers in just over 26 minutes. What’s more, Morrow utilized a variety of shot selections from his arsenal, including those from long-range, floaters and at the basket.
Afterward, the locker room was abuzz about Morrow’s performance, especially out of the post. His superstar teammate seemingly waved it off.
“He can score,” Russell Westbrook said. “I’m not worried about A-Mo. This is not a surprise to me. Maybe it surprised some other people, but to me, I’ve seen him do this since I’ve been here. He’s able to post-up and score down there. That’s what he does. We play one-on-one in practice a lot, and A-Mo can score with the best of them on the block.”
“I love that… coming into the game and getting a layup or a free throw or a floater,” Morrow said. “It’s something I want to do before I have to take a 28-foot three-pointer. Russ said he was going to use me on some post-ups, so I was just ready for it mentally before the game. Anytime we have a mismatch or they try to hide a smaller guard on me, hopefully I’ll be able to put some pressure on the other team.”
Perhaps even better, Morrow is also showing much stronger defensive skills during the past few games.
“We wanted to give him a chance and a look the last couple games and try to see if we could get him into a rhythm,” Donovan said. “I have been really impressed and pleased with how hard he’s been competing on the defensive side of the floor.
“Certainly Morrow has helped us [on offense]. He’s shot the ball well and had kind of gotten into a rhythm and into a groove offensively.”
Morrow explained how he is able to find all those different shots on the floor.
“The opportunity is there,” Morrow said. “You never know what’s going to happen, so you’ve got to be ready at all times. I’m blessed to be in that situation. My teammates finding me, setting great screens; [I’m] just basically going into the game saying ‘I’m going to lose myself in the game and just work off my teammates.’”
As for his attention to defense, he had a plaintive response.
“On the defensive end, just make sure I did what it took to stay on the floor. That’s all it is.”
That is easier said than done when one isn’t necessarily born with the athletic skills and foot quickness needed to shine on the defensive end.
Along with established on-court and off-court leader Westbrook and veteran voice Nick Collison, Morrow has stepped into a veteran leadership role for his teammates as well.
“When I’m playing [or] when I’m not playing, it’s the same thing… just leadership,” Morrow said. “Vocal, physically getting up, being one of the first guys in the gym, just to lead by example and also lead vocally. That’s something I wanted to work on this year and since I’ve been here actually, and it’s been going great. It’s something I want to continue to do.”
Morrow has now scored in double digits in each of the Thunder’s past three games. His devoted fan base in Oklahoma is thrilled to see Donovan finally inserting Morrow into the rotation. Many think he has been under-used and to put it bluntly, simply wasted, since Donovan came on board. On a team with limited long-distance shooters, it makes sense for Morrow to play increased minutes to provide instant scoring and to help spread the floor for Westbrook and shooting guard Victor Oladipo to work their magic.
“A-Mo’s doing what A-Mo does,” said Westbrook after the Thunder’s most recent victory against the New York Knicks.
Morrow, who declared the Thunder as “the best organization I’ve ever been in” at the end of last season, has prepared himself for Donovan’s call. His ever-present positive attitude and strong likability has endeared him to the team and fans, and now he must keep proving he deserves regular minutes.
*On a related note, please make sure to read Morrow’s “An Open Letter to the Undrafted” that he penned last June for The Player’s Tribune. This insightful article reveals a man of great character and grace, with his words serving as a message of sincere encouragement for players seeking success.
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