The Oklahoma City Thunder have their first free agent signing since the July Moratorium, and his last name rhymes with Zorro. Unlike Don Diego de la Vega, however, Anthony Morrow is more sniper than swordsman. (You know you love this lede.)
A member of the New Orleans Pelicans last season, Morrow is known for being able to shoot the deep ball at historic levels of great. He's a career 42.8% shooter from three, which ranks him 8th in all-time three-point shooting percentage with the only active players ahead of him being Stephen Curry and Steve Novak. After the Thunder saw the likes of Thabo Sefolosha, Caron Butler, Jeremy Lamb, and Derek Fisher fail to cut it as three-point shooters that defenses would respect, Morrow represents a much more fail-safe option.
Morrow's three-point jumper should be both consistent and accurate at an elite level, which is exactly what the Thunder need alongside their ball-dominant stars. Durant and Westbrook will receive the floor spacing they need to operate in one-on-one or pick-and-roll situations, something that wasn't consistently there last season. Where a defender might have previously ignored Thabo Sefolosha standing in the corner, (31.6% from three in the 2013-14 regular season) and leave him to help, Morrow will make them pay for it.
That's the idea in theory, anyway. Actually putting Morrow on the court is much easier said than done. You've got your historically great shooter on one end of the equation, but on the other side of it, you have a terribly inept defender. While it isn't exactly for a lack of effort, Morrow is a substandard athlete whose fundamentals as an off-ball defender are far from up to snuff. Numerous NBA coaches have already failed in getting Morrow and his shot-making ability on the floor consistently. Now that task falls on to coach Scott Brooks' shoulders.
The buzzword with the Thunder defense is "wingspan," and with a 6'10.5" wingspan at 6'5", Morrow doesn't shape up too poorly in that regard. Still, this signing is without question an offense-for-defense trade after the Thunder let Sefolosha go and replaced him with Morrow (if that's the way you like to think of things). Maybe Scott Brooks could leverage Morrow's acceptable effort and length into being an average defender instead of a poor one, but that's only a hope.
Of course, the Thunder have a greater talent base than any team Morrow has ever played on before. Superstar players and the considerable amount of skills they carry can make it a touch easier to get the imperfect specialist on the floor and hide his deficiencies. Even on defense, the damage caused by Morrow's slip-ups can be mitigated by Serge Ibaka's ability to protect the rim and erase mistakes that often happen when the Thunder get overaggressive in jumping the passing lanes.
It might be a stretch to say Morrow should start, but a stable role likely exists for him on this roster. There's no clear starter yet, and it probably comes down to training camp and preseason. Morrow, Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, Andre Roberson and maybe even Perry Jones III could be in play as potential starters at shooting guard with Sefolosha gone.
Jackson wants to start and he's far and away the best player from the list of available options. However, putting him in the starting lineup would leave Sebastian Telfair and maybe second-round pick Semaj Christon (if he earns a contract) as the only point guard options on the bench. It's not impossible to handle, but it'd require some tricky minute-management from Brooks that'd likely involve giving Jackson a quick hook on most nights and re-inserting him whenever Westbrook checks out. Without a single reliable playmaker on the bench, the Thunder may prefer to keep Jackson there and run the 2nd unit like he did last year.
Lamb, Roberson and PJ3 all flashed upside last season, and based on how they perform in training camp, they could realistically end up anywhere from the starting lineup to the end of the bench. Roberson is the defensive specialist that Brooks generally likes to have in his starting lineup, but the Thunder do need shooting as the Morrow signing indicated and that's why Morrow will get a look even as a notoriously unreliable defender. If Lamb or PJ3 can give Brooks a reason to trust them as two-way players, that could nudge them ahead of Morrow in the competition for the starter's role.
Don't rule out another roster move either, whether it's for a backup point guard that allows Jackson to start or for another veteran wing shooter. Morrow signed a team-friendly contract, being paid $10 million over three seasons with a team option for the third year. Getting the team option may have required some extra money being put into the contract, but given the Thunder's cap flexibility, there were few options that had proved themselves with anything close to Morrow's three-point shooting prowess. In this market where Mike Miller's market price was rumored to be $4-4.5 million per year and Jodie Meeks got more than $6 million per year from the Detroit Pistons, getting Morrow for just over $3 million per year and under team control for their choice of two or three seasons should leave the Thunder perfectly satisfied.
This signing leaves the Thunder about half a million dollars under the luxury tax, and they still have the non-guaranteed contracts of Hasheem Thabeet and Sebastian Telfair to waive if necessary. Those two contracts combine for $2,165,243, and even after signing Josh Huestis, there could be room for one more player if the Thunder need it. Of note: after the Morrow signing, the Thunder are up to 14 players signed to their roster with Huestis, Christon, and restricted free agent Grant Jerrett still unsigned. If Huestis gets signed and the Thunder want to add Christon, Jerrett or another player to their roster, then they'll have to waive Thabeet or Telfair to make room.
The bottom line today is that the Thunder got their proven three-point shooter, the one they'll need in the postseason, and the one that they'll be grateful they signed if all the other options collapse again. Though he's just a role player in the grand scheme of things, Morrow's value to the Thunder is exponentially greater than his skillset because of how much they needed what he can bring. For that alone, the Thunder's first signing of the free agency period is a great one.