For the first time in five seasons, the Thunder’s starting shooting guard spot is up for grabs. Thabo Sefolosha’s departure to Atlanta has created a hole that will likely be filled by either Andre Roberson, Jeremy Lamb, Reggie Jackson, or new addition Anthony Morrow.
The Thunder made it official on Wednesday, signing Morrow to a three-year deal worth up to $10 million. The Thunder are his sixth team in seven years, a career that’s made stops with the Warriors, Nets, Hawks, Mavericks and last season with the Pelicans. Morrow has made 128 career starts, the bulk of them with the Warriors and Nets some five years ago. He started nine times for the Pelicans last season, but only because of injuries.
While the Thunder obviously have an opening at shooting guard — the position Morrow plays, of course — it’s unlikely that he’s slotted as the starter come opening night in November. And when Morrow agreed to his deal with the Thunder, he didn’t have the expectation that he would.
“Whatever the staff, whatever the team needs me to do. I’m going on my seventh year. I’ve started, I’ve come off the bench. It really doesn’t matter to me at all. It’s just a situation where I want to help the team,” Morrow told me by phone on Wednesday. “In free agency, I saw a need and a void I could fill in terms of shooting the ball and at the same time, it’s two superstars, actually, in my opinion three superstars with Serge, a guy that can draw a lot of attention and get in the paint and I can stand out there and make it easier on him as well. Whatever coach needs me to do, whatever my role is, I’m ready to embrace it. It doesn’t matter.”
The bulk of the scouting the Thunder did on Morrow was in how he’d fit with their reserves, right down to the fact he shoots especially well at the locations where OKC’s second unit produces a high volume of looks. He’s an extremely productive offensive player, but overplaying him could reduce his efficiency. In terms of getting the best out of him, Morrow seems better suited to come off the bench.
So, what’s the early feeling on who the Thunder start at shooting guard? The Thunder really have a mindset that defense is where they need to be more effective, which runs contrary to how some have felt about their needs of a better offensive structure or more offensive minded players. The numbers, though, back all that up. The Thunder are near unbeatable when allowing 102 points per 100 possessions or less. In the playoffs, they allowed 98.3 per 100 in wins, and 113.5 in losses.
Because of that, Roberson is the most likely candidate to succeed Thabo, not only because he’s essentially Thabo 2.0, but because his defensive ability is already borderline ridiculous. Roberson posted a defensive rating of 99.3 in 40 appearances last season (Thabo’s was 101.0). However, in his 16 starts — in which the Thunder went 12-4 — his defensive rating went up to 102.7, which is a little alarming. Still, the Thunder’s perspective is always more about who gets the bulk of the minutes over who has their names announced first. What the Thunder aim to accomplish with their starting five is to set a strong defensive tone for the first and third quarters.
Another thing Roberson does is allow Kevin Durant to defend the second best perimeter scorer, rather than the first. Thabo provided a similar shield his past few seasons, but Roberson has more length and athleticism.
Morrow’s fit within the second unit should be pretty seamless, with him finding minutes alongside Jackson and Lamb. Some have expressed worry that Morrow will step on Lamb’s toes, but Morrow is more of a specialist, a deadeye spot-up guy, while the Thunder see Lamb with more potential handling the ball. Derek Fisher was the unofficial third point guard last season, but really played far more shooting guard, and until Caron Butler was added, Lamb was firmly in the rotation. From everything I hear, the Thunder plan on handing Lamb a lot more time and responsibility this season.
Morrow’s addition is about adding a new dimension to the Thunder’s offense. He gives them something they’ve never really had, a knockdown sharpshooter that spaces the floor. Daequan Cook was some of that, but he was more of a streak guy that could heat up with a couple 3s in a row. Morrow is more of a consistent player to look for on the wing, someone opposing defenses can’t help off of on Westbrook or Durant drives. He’s probably not going to be a starter, but like he said, that shouldn’t matter.
A few other things from my conversation with Morrow:
On playing with teammates like Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant: “Those guys are great leaders. The team as a whole is a family feel. You kind of get that feel even in my times playing against the Thunder, you could tell it’s really a brotherhood from top to bottom. It’s really just a great opportunity for myself, a great opportunity for the team and it’s a real blessing to be a part of it and I’m just really excited and ready to get the season started.”
On his impressions of the Thunder as an opponent: “As far as Kevin and Russell and Serge, just having those guys on the floor it’s a very dynamic team on both ends. All three of those guys are great defenders as well. When you see your leaders playing as hard as they can, they trickles down to the rest of the team. Just a situation where you can see that even from afar and like I said, I’m just real excited. Obviously it was a tough team to play against so I’m really glad I’m on the other side of it now.”
On playing for a contender for the first time: “Obviously I know I don’t have any playoff experience but being in the league and being in certain situations and really having to fight through situations of being on teams that have struggled, my work ethic has stayed the same. And it’s going to continue to stay the same. So coming in to one of these situations with this type of team, it’s just an opportunity for myself to try and elevate to the next level of my career. Everything happens for a reason so I’m just glad I have the opportunity now.”
On why he picked OKC: “I’m a family guy. And it’s a family organization and it’s a family city. I’m Charlottesville, Carolina. So that really wasn’t something I cared about in terms of the city and anything like that. I feel like it’s a perfect fit for me with my family. It’s something I went over with, prayed about it and I feel like it’s a good fit for me just as much as it is on the court.”