Anthony Morrow Fills Thunder’s Critical Need

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After the Oklahoma City Thunder came up short again last season in their bid for a repeat NBA Finals appearance, there was no shortage of voices proclaiming what moves had to be made during the offseason. The glaring deficiencies were clear. To get past the elite teams (read: the San Antonio Spurs), the Thunder had to address their lack of bench depth, low-post offense and reliable outside shooting. The rumors started circulating rather quickly. With center Steven Adams developing at an unexpected rapid pace and big man Mitch McGary drafted, it appeared the Thunder were wisely concentrating on filling the gap in knockdown shooting. Players such as C.J. Miles, Arron Afflalo and Mike Miller were tossed around as possible offseason signings. Those names were put aside when suddenly the talented Pau Gasol emerged as a serious contender. The Thunder contingent collectively held their breath as Gasol weighed his options.

In mid-July, Gasol announced he was joining the Chicago Bulls; on the same day, free agent Anthony Morrow agreed to a three-year, $10 million deal with the Thunder. The Morrow signing didn’t generate much excitement; certainly, it wasn’t the big-name acquisition OKC followers were expecting in light of the Gasol rumors. However, this under-the-radar signing has the potential to turn into a critical piece the Thunder have been missing.

The Thunder will not roll with its usual starting line-up featuring perimeter defender Thabo Sefolosha at the shooting guard position, as the Atlanta Hawks acquired him in a sign-and-trade deal. Whether head coach Scott Brooks elects to start Reggie Jackson in a backcourt duo situation with Russell Westbrook, or rising Jeremy Lamb, or even defensive-minded-but offensively-limited Andre Roberson, Morrow is set to impact this team either off the bench or in a starting role. The reason is simple: Morrow is the most efficient and consistent pure shooter to ever don a Thunder jersey.

The sharpshooter’s statistics back it up. Following four years at Georgia Tech, Morrow, 6’5 with a 6’11 wingspan, went undrafted in the 2008 NBA Draft. He proceeded to make a huge impression in summer league appearances (setting a record with 47 points in a single game), which led to the Golden State Warriors signing him as free agent. During his first two years in the league with the Warriors, he averaged 11.6 points per game at 47.3 percent in two-point field goal shooting, 1.7 three-pointers at 46.2 percent and 87.8 percent in free-throw shooting in 25.9 minutes. In fact, Morrow became the first rookie to lead the league in three-point shooting percentage (46.7 percent).

The Brooklyn Nets acquired him in 2010, and during his two years there, he averaged 12.6 points and 1.8 in threes in 29.2 minutes. Morrow logged time with the Atlanta Hawks and the Dallas Mavericks in 2012-13, averaging just 3.8 points in 8.7 minutes of playing time. However, he seemed to rebound with the New Orleans Pelicans last season, averaging 8.4 points (45.8 percent) and 1.2 threes (at a league-wide third-ranked 45.1 percent) in nearly 19 minutes. Those numbers rise to 16.1 points and 2.2 three-pointers in a Per 36 Minutes format.

We’ll cap off all of these stats by pointing out Morrow’s career averages: 10.4 points, 2.5 rebounds, 46.8 percent in two-point field goals, 1.5 three-pointers at 42.8 percent and 88.6 percent at the foul line in 23.7 minutes. His career three-point shooting percentages top career averages of celebrated shooters Kyle Korver (42.5 percent), Ray Allen (40.0 percent), Mike Miller (42.5 percent) and even ex-Thunder scorers Kevin Martin (38.5 percent) and James Harden (36.9 percent). Of the active players in the NBA, Morrow trails only Stephen Curry (44.0 percent) and Steve Novak (43.2 percent).

Why so many teams in a six-year career for Morrow? Keep in mind the names of the five teams he played for – all were having decided down years at the time. Some nagging injuries and his way-less-than-desirable effort on the defensive end surely played a part. Morrow will have to improve in the latter area – and he has the potential to climb to an “average” status – to fit into the Thunder’s well-documented devotion to defense.

With 373 regular season games under his belt (129 as a starter), Morrow has never appeared in a single playoff game. He’s also never been on a team as good as Oklahoma City. He will assuredly space the floor by drawing the attention of opposing defenses, which is precisely what the Thunder need at the wing position.

Another benefit of adding Morrow, now 28, to the team is what we’ll call the “Jeremy Lamb Effect.” The Thunder believe in Lamb, and they are committed to his development, despite logging a woeful four-of-23 in three-point shooting at the Orlando Summer League in July. Lamb was on a nice run last year until the mid-season Caron Butler acquisition essentially sent him to the end of the bench. When he did see playing time, he showed signs of regressing. With Butler signing with the Detroit Pistons in the offseason and Sefolosha gone, it figures Lamb will again get a chance for significant minutes. While Lamb can shoot the ball, he excels at other things as well, namely handling the ball, creating his own shot and penetrating. Morrow is more of a specialist, i.e., a deadeye spot-up shooter. However, Lamb is sure to understand he’s competing with Morrow for minutes. The Morrow signing should make Lamb better as a player and aid in building confidence of the oft-nervous shooting guard.

Morrow has proven to be a high-character, mature and humble player throughout his career. Thunder general manager and executive vice-president Sam Presti provided a glimpse into the reasons why they felt Morrow was such a good fit.

“Anthony Morrow has demonstrated that he is amongst the most consistent and efficient three point shooters in the NBA over his career,” he said. “With his body of work, we feel Anthony is a unique addition to a diverse roster, while also possessing the toughness and selflessness that we are consistently seeking in Thunder players.”

Presti knows the Thunder ranked 15th in the league last year in total three-pointers made and ranked 14th in three-point efficiency (36.1 percent). In three-pointers from the corner, the Thunder were, as a team, ranked 28th at 35.3 percent. Morrow’s corner shooting last year in New Orleans was 46.0 percent. With the departure of Derek Fisher and Butler, whose long-distance shooting came more by opportunity, Morrow will slide in well. The Thunder’s up-tempo offensive style suits Morrow’s quick and fearless nature.

The line-up options now available to Brooks are considerably more diverse. Whether he starts (not likely) or not, Morrow adds a new dimension, especially when lights-out shooting is needed to close out a game or spacing the floor so Durant and Westbrook can do their thing.