The Oklahoma City Thunder has never had anyone quite like Anthony Morrow. Last season before the Thunder inked Morrow to a three-year, $10 million contract, they had a ragtag group of three-point specialists. Derek Fisher is known for hitting big shots in clutch moments but had he ever been considered a pure shooter? Not really and he’s no longer in Oklahoma City anyway as he is the head coach of the Phil Jackson-managed New York Knicks. After being picked up by the Thunder mid-season, Caron Butler hit 44.1% from behind the arc while shooting 0.3 more threes than he did earlier that season in Milwaukee. Needless to say Butler was calling from long distance pretty often.
However that was a small sample size and may have been an anomaly since Butler had never consistently shot at that efficiency rate in his career. Butler may have been able to keep up this efficiency due to all the open shots he got from defenses collapsing in on superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Unfortunately, we will never know now that Butler has left for Detroit following an unimpressive postseason. Jeremy Lamb may eventually develop into an above-average shooter but he must show much more consistency with his shot before he gets on the floor enough to prove it. Enter Anthony Morrow.
Morrow is not only the most efficient three-point shooter the Thunder has ever employed but also the most consistent. In his six NBA seasons, Morrow has never shot below 37.1% from deep when playing at least 24 games (the 2012-2013 season in which he was traded and attempted only 5 threes being the outlier). Last season, Morrow shot 45.1% from three and is 42.8% for his career. If you don’t want to wade through the boring but necessary stats, just understand this: the man can flat stroke it from deep.
Now to finally get to the headline of this piece. The Thunder was very middling as a 3-point shooting team. They shot 36.1% as a team and were ranked only 14th in the league. They especially struggled from the corners where they shot only 35.1% on 447 shots. That’s bad. On that many shots with two superstars creating so much space and open shots it’s even worse. But look! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s Anthony Morrow!
Morrow shot an even 46% from the corners last season with an injury ravaged New Orleans Pelicans team. Now remember all that space I talked about the Thunder’s stars creating? Well now instead of Derek Fisher and Caron Butler getting those shots imagine one of the league’s premier shooters taking them. For a Thunder fan, that will be almost as beautiful a sight as Morrow’s 2013-2014 shot chart.
And it’s not as if Morrow is only proficient from the corners. He can pull-up in transition, curl around screens, and spot up from anywhere. The movement using screens is especially important considering how stagnant the Thunder’s half-court offense looked during the playoffs. In fact, the Thunder’s stagnant offense is likely the only thing that kept them from beating the San Antonio Spurs and heading to the NBA Finals. So you’re telling me one of the elite teams in the NBA signed a low-cost free agent who happens to be a specialist in exactly what they need to improve on? All hail GM Sam Presti.
It also matters where and when the scoring is coming from. Morrow is not going to get as many shots if he is in the starting lineup with Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka as they will be taking the majority of the offensive touches. This most likely won’t be a problem as Morrow is projected to be coming off the bench as an instant offense contributor. The Thunder has been criticized as having weak bench scoring ever since they traded away James Harden. The Thunder’s bench only scored 30.9 points per game last season which was a middle-of-the-pack number but significantly low for a championship contender. Having a duo now of Reggie Jackson and Anthony Morrow to lead the bench, alongside the already deep front court, will make this Oklahoma City Thunder bench the most dynamic since Harden left for Clutch City.
This last point is a bit different than my previous stat-based claims. Anthony Morrow’s defense is borderline awful. He is a sieve and a subscriber to the classic Olé defense players such as James Harden and Kyrie Irving employ. Now there are not any 10 minute video montages of Morrow playing horrible defense as there are Harden but that does not mean Morrow is a stopper by any means.
However, up until now Morrow has never played for a true contender. With all the talk of Kyrie Irving potentially stepping up his defensive effort because of his new All-NBA teammate, who’s to say Durant, Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka wont’ have the same effect on Morrow? It has never been about lack of athleticism with Morrow. He is 6’7 with a 6’11 wingspan so he has good size for his position. It is simply his lack of effort on the less glamorous side of the court. If he can be inspired to give ultimate effort on both sides, Morrow could potentially become not just an elite shooter, but one of the most elite 3-and-D players in the league.
Regardless of Morrow’s development as a defender one thing is certain: Morrow’s elite offensive skill-set very well could turn an area of weakness into one of strength. Pure and simple he may be the 3rd best scorer on the Thunder behind Russ and KD. Undoubtedly, he is the only other player on the team who can drop 40 points on any given night as shown in the video below. If Anthony Morrow can continue to do what he does at an elite level and improve a small amount, it may be enough to vault the Thunder over the hump and help them win their first NBA Championship.