Anthony Morrow Is Great Fit for OKC Thunder and Vice Versa

Luke Petkac@@LukePetkacFeatured ColumnistJuly 21, 2014

Anthony Morrow is set to give Oklahoma City a big boost.
Anthony Morrow is set to give Oklahoma City a big boost.Rocky Widner/Getty Images

One-dimensional players don't often move the needle on title contenders, but that looks to be exactly the case with Anthony Morrow and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

When the Thunder inked Morrow to a three-year, $10 million deal, the signing was met with relatively little fanfare (perhaps because the club had just missed out on snagging Pau Gasol). But don't let that sway you on the potential impact Morrow could have. He's a terrific fit in OKC.

The Thunder entered the offseason needing shooting badly. OKC hit a middle-of-the-pack 36 percent from three last year, but that number was skewed by Kevin Durant's flamethrowing from deep. Remove Durant from the equation, and the squad's three-point shooting plummets to 33.4 percent—a bottom-five mark.

Durant and Russell Westbrook are brilliant players, but even they need some room to operate in the half court.

Enter Morrow, one of the best pure shooters on the planet.

For his career, Morrow is hitting nearly 43 percent from deep and shot 45 percent on five attempts per 36 minutes with the New Orleans Pelicans last season. He's dynamite from the corners—particularly important as that's an area the Thunder really struggled from—and perhaps even better above the break, where he takes the bulk of his threes.

OKC generates a lot of open shots from deep, so having someone who can actually knock them down might be a smidge helpful.

And even if he's not jacking up threes at an insane rate, Morrow's presence on the court alone is important. Defenses naturally gravitate toward elite shooters, and the spacing he provides could be invaluable, especially when offensive zeros such as Kendrick Perkins or Andre Roberson are on the floor.

The Thunder prefer to start a wing stopper at the 2, so it's more than likely that Roberson starts and Morrow comes off the bench (though he'd still see heavy minutes alongside Westbrook and Durant).

According to Daily Thunder's Royce Young, OKC sees Jeremy Lamb as someone who can spend a good chunk of time on the ball. If true, Morrow could slide right into a lot of the off-ball sets that Nick Collison and Lamb ran together last year.

Morrow is very comfortable curling off screens for runners and floaters in the paint, and the Thunder's fun little above-the-break handoff play looks a whole lot deadlier when Morrow is the one pulling the trigger.

Courtesy of Instagiffer

Courtesy of Instagiffer

Stuff like that—along with the small off-the-bounce punch that Morrow provides—could be huge for OKC, especially if Lamb doesn't pan out as hoped.

Reggie Jackson was quite literally the only source of consistent shot creation off the bench toward the end of last season. Once opponents locked in on him, the Thunder offense basically devolved into Derek Fisher launching pick-and-roll 30-footers and Caron Butler bricking long twos. Punting the ball out of bounds on each possession would have been more productive.

Morrow will at the very least give OKC more offensive variety and could help spearhead a dangerous bench unit if any of Lamb, Perry Jones or Steven Adams improves.

Again, he will still get plenty of time with Durant and Westbrook, especially when Scott Brooks chooses to go small. The Thunder steamrolled teams when they slotted Serge Ibaka at the 5 and Durant at the 4, and a Westbrook-Jackson-Morrow-Durant-Ibaka lineup will likely be an OKC staple next year.

Those smaller units are able to really push the pace, and Morrow will be a huge benefit in that sense. He's an assassin in transition—he shot over 47 percent (!!) on transition threes last season, per Synergy Sports Technology (subscription required)—and is among the league's best at floating into empty space on the break.

Courtesy of Instagiffer

The only thing that prevents Morrow from being an ideal signing is his defense. He's a poor defender, but more than that, the Thunder's defensive scheme doesn't fit him well.

OKC puts a premium on long, athletic defenders because of its defensive strategy. It overloads the strong side and asks players to stand a few steps closer to the paint than usual. This allows the Thunder to wall off the rim and, thanks to their length and athleticism, still contest outside shots.

At their absolute best, the Thunder are suffocating. They fly from sideline to sideline, are unafraid to switch on anything and run every shooter off the three-point line. Just take a look at this video, courtesy of SB Nation's Mike Prada:

Morrow simply isn't quick enough to handle some of those closeouts, and unless the Thunder dial it down a bit, a lot of leaks are bound to sprout up when he's out there.

The good news is that the Thunder have more than enough athletes to hide Morrow on the perimeter, and poor defense is a lot more easily forgiven when Ibaka is lurking around the rim. Still, Morrow is bound to get burned a fair bit, and OKC is already unsettled on that end with Thabo Sefolosha, its top perimeter defender for years, now in Atlanta.

It wouldn't be at all surprising to see the team take a hit defensively, especially if Morrow gets more than 15 to 20 minutes a game.

As for why the Thunder are a great fit for Morrow, the answer is simple: They're really freaking good.

Morrow has played on nothing but middling to terrible teams for his entire career. He's never been to the playoffs. Heck, he's been a member of just one team that finished a season over .500—the 2012-13 Atlanta Hawks—and he was traded away from that team midseason!

He recently talked to The Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry about joining the Thunder, saying:

I needed them. Everybody's been telling me that the team needs me. I'm like, 'I need them more than they need me.' I've never been in the playoffs, so it's just a situation where I'm glad to be able to step in.

The Thunder can maximize Morrow's strengths while (for the most part) negating his weaknesses. And in return, he can provide them with the one thing they were missing last year—a knockdown shooter who can generate some offense in a pinch.

That's about as close to a perfect fit as exists.


All statistics accurate as of 7/20/2014 and courtesy of unless specifically stated otherwise.