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Sounds of Thunder: The Oklahoma City Thunder Shooting Guard Debate Coming Down to the Wire

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....and on, and on, and on.

© Mark D. Smith

The Oklahoma City Thunder have 4 players on their current roster that are listed at Basketball-Reference.com as shooting guards; Andre Roberson, Randy Foye, Dion Waiters, and Anthony Morrow. Each player has his strengths as well as his weakness and it has fueled a non-ending debate all season about who should play, or not, when they should play, or not, and how much they should play..... or not.

Andre Roberson, despite the wailings of the misinformed, has established himself as the best option with the starting rotation and rightfully so. His defensive prowess is undeniable and his shooting, while clearly a work in progress, is improving slowly. Contrary to what some may think, Billy Donovan appreciates what Robes brings to the party and Andre has logged more minutes in just 60 games played this season than he did in 67 games last season. Taking advantage of Roberson's athleticism with back door cuts and spectacular lob dunks rather than forcing him to collect dust in the corner of the offense have not only reduced Andre's offensive liability but been a lot of fun to watch:

Clearly there is a way to make a defense pay for ignoring an opponent on defense.

I don't care if it was against the Lottery Lakers, that was a nice game.

How many times did Thunder fans see this last season?

Roberson in the corner, his defender playing so far off of him that his foot is actually in the paint, totally ignoring Roberson. This was "absolute proof" that Roberson should not start, but that was last year.

The defense is totally focused on Russell Westbrook with the ball and (smh) Kevin Durant standing at the scorer's table. Nick Collison is getting token attention because he is in the paint and yet his defender's eyes, and thus his focus, are centered on Westbrook. Of the two other options, Serge Ibaka is seen as the outside threat and just the act of putting his hands up draws Robes defender, who has never even so much as looked at Robes, to move toward Serge and opens a lane you could drive a full-sized Chevy pick-up through to that basket.

Last season that lane would have remained open, but this season Donovan is making defenses pay for their mistake and getting....

.... easy attempts at the highest percentage shot in the game.

(side note: is it just me, or does anyone else find it hilarious that there are still only two defenders that realize they are royally screwed at this point?)

Yeh Steph, keep ignoring Robes... pretty please... with sugar on top.

Robes starts, end of story, but that leaves Foye, Waiters, and Morrow. What to do, what to do?

Just like Roberson, none of the remaining three are the "complete package" and all of them have their warts. For better or worse, depending on your point of view, Dion has been pretty much entrenched as Roberson's back-up all season and even started in his place after Robes sustained  a knee injury against the Brooklyn Nets. The pluses and minuses on that spot in the rotation have been hashed to death and the debate will undoubtedly continue on that score, but it is what it is and for now I want to focus on the Morrow/Foye discussion.... with a little Kyle Singler sprinkled in later for good measure.

I am on record for not being a big stats hound, especially advanced stats. My beef with advanced stats is that there is as much, or more, debate about which advanced stat is the best measure of a player's worth as there is about the player himself so I am left with no other option than to use them all like a pseudo taste test, so here goes: (all stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com)

PER - Player Efficiency Rating
A measure of per-minute production standardized such that the league average is 15.

Neither Morrow or Foye are at league average, but at least Morrow is in double digits.

TS% - True Shooting Percentage
A measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account 2-point field goals, 3-point field goals, and free throws.

Morrow on top again, but did anyone notice that both Morrow and Foye are below the Andre Roberson line in this stat? Of course Robes TS% rose from last season's .513 and Morrow's dropped from .550. A reason to both praise Donovan for finding the simple solution for getting Roberson more involved in the offense and point fingers for letting Morrow get stale sitting on the bench. Sorry Billy.

WS/48 - Win Shares Per 48 Minutes
An estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player per 48 minutes (league average is approximately .100)

Again Morrow, and this stat talks about wins, the ONLY stat that matters.

DRtg - Defensive Rating
An estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions

FINALLY, a win for Foye? Until you factor in....

ORtg - Offensive Rating
An estimate of points produced (players) or scored (teams) per 100 possessions

The little stat just to the left of DRtg. Morrow 114, Foye 105. Simple math tell us that 114 - 110 = 4 and 105 - 109 = -4, and 4 is better than -4 in this case. Sorry Randy, and let's be honest, 109 is NOT a big jump above 110 in the first place.

Here is where Morrow is wiping the floor with Foye:

3P% - % on 3 Point Attempts from the corner.

The easiest 3 point shot in the game to make and Foye is the worst regular 3-point shooter on the team from that location. Now for some simple in-your-face old school numbers:

No definition necessary

Morrow is the best regular long range sharp shooter on the current roster. That is why Morrow averages 14.3 pts/gm to Foye's 9.1 when you look at the per 36 minute adjusted numbers and why NBA.com/Stats puts Morrow's net rating at 5.7 to Foye's 0.2, his EFG% at 52.7 to Foye's 43.2, and Morrow's PIE (Player Impact Estimate, NBA.com/Stats answer to PER) at 5.7 to Foye's 5.3

I concede the fact that there was some stat cherry picking at work here and Foye does redeem himself somewhat in the rebounding categories and opposition shooting percentage numbers on defense, but overall, Morrow is a better option. That is when you aren't in dire need of additional ball handling on the floor such as during the "no PG" turnover jamborees we have so enjoyed watching of late and then Foye's skill-set clearly gets the nod, so believe it or not, I didn't come to bury Randy Foye, but to offer a solution to the Morrow/Foye dilemma.

Revisit the stat charts above and follow the bouncing red star next to Kyle Singler's name. There are two words that describe what you see... but I won't say them... you know what they are. Sadly he is the only player listed at small forward on the roster other than Kevin Durant and he is a stats bottom feeder pretty much across the board. Singler may have been sweet in Detroit but he is stinking up the joint in OKC and the only thing uglier than his haircut are the layups he clanks off the side of the rim.

...or that.

But look-ie look-ie at what Morrow did when Durant played hookie on January 4th:

The Thunder needs more offensive punch when Durant takes a rest, namely "clutch" offensive punch. Enjoy this next video, and pay particular attention to the first 60 seconds:

Basketball-Reference.com says Morrows nickname is "Chocolate Reign", Brian Davis from Fox Sports calls Morrow the "Fastest Gun in the West". I just call him "Money In the Bank". Give Singler's minutes to Morrow., let him re-establish that beautiful shooting rhythm, and I can almost guarantee it will pay offensive dividends.

Can I get an "A-MEN!!" from the choir?