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Thunder Find A Perfect Fit With Sharpshooter Anthony Morrow

Mar 28, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Anthony Morrow pulls up through the rim prior to the game against the Utah Jazz at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Oklahoma City Thunder owned the league’s seventh-best offense this past season. Unlike the Houston Rockets or Miami Heat, however, the Thunder’s offense was fuelled not by hyper-efficient shot selection, but an above-average ability to connect on a fairly average distribution of shots.

While they haven’t moved the needle much this offseason, their key acquisition should terrify Western Conference defenses. In adding Anthony Morrow on a three-year, $10 million contract, the Thunder may have just plugged the only area you could call a hole in their offense.

As mentioned, the Thunder had a very average shot distribution this past season, ranking anywhere from 13th to 21st in the league in the percentage of shots that come from each of the five main areas on the floor.

shotdist
In four of those areas, the Thunder ranked among the league’s top-10 most effective teams. The team’s offensive profile, however, had one glaring weakness – the generally hyper-efficient corner three.

shotperf
The Thunder proved excellent all around the court but were the league’s third-worst team when it came to hitting on corner three-point attempts at just 35.1%.

This makes some sense given the way the roster was built around their reliance on Kevin Durant. Durant used 33.0% of the team’s possessions, and while he’s a strong passer, the Thunder were thin on good shooters in the corners. Durant is probably their best bet there — he was a 39.1% 3-point shooter overall, second only to Caron Butler on the team — but because he’s always so involved in the offense, he is rarely spotting up in the corner (and unassisted corner threes are hard to come by). In other words, their best corner shooter was never in the corners, because he had more important tasks on his plate. Russell Westbrook, a less effective long-range shooter, but still a mild threat, is likewise a high-usage player (34.4%) who doesn’t spend any time in the corner (he went 6-for-16 there this season).

The team was led in corner three-point attempts by Thabo Sefolosha, who had 83 and shot 33.7% on them, and who happens to be the man Morrow will largely be replacing. Caron Butler and Derek Fisher, how also departed from positions in the offense Morrow could conceivably slide into, shot 43 (making 41.9%) and 60 (making 26.7%) corner threes, respectively.

Morrow, meanwhile, was and is lights out from the corner, the Mesut Ozil of the NBA. The 28-year-old Georgia Tech product went 35-of-76 from the corner this season, a 46.1 percent clip, good for 20th among players who took at least 40 attempts. Only 10 players shot more from the corners and hit at a better clip. Once again, round peg, round hole:

Shot Location % of FGA Rank FG% Rank Morrow 13-14 FG%
Restricted 31.3% 15 63.4% 6 55.8%
Paint (Non-RA) 13.9% 21 41.1% 9 50.0%
Mid-Range 27.9% 13 42.5% 2 41.1%
Corner 3 6.6% 15 35.1% 28 46.1%
ATB 3 20.3% 13 36.9% 9 44.5%

This isn’t a one-year blip, either, as Morrow ranks fifth in three-point percentage since entering the league (minimum 500 attempts since 2008-09), hitting on 42.8% of his triples. That’s just a shade behind Steve Novak and Matt Bonner, with only Kyle Korver and Steph Curry owning an appreciable edge on him.

His effectiveness from downtown is striking to visualize:

Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 8.32.08 AM

Now, there are some things we don’t know about the Thunder’s poor shooting from the corners last season. Maybe Durant and Westbrook aren’t effective passers to those spots, or coach Scott Brooks’ offense uses them primarily as a late-clock last resort, or some other factor other than Sefolosha and Fisher eating a lot of those attempts with poor efficacy and the team struggling to 22nd in the league on catch-and-shoot threes (36.5 percent; Morrow hit 44.1 percent).

The strong bet here, though, is that Morrow’s shooting ability is going to have a two-fold effect on the Thunder offense: the corner threes that do materialize will be hit more frequently, and Morrow’s presence will help open up the floor for guys like Durant and Westbrook closer to the rim, since helping off of him is far more dangerous than helping off someone like Sefolosha.

A shooter like Morrow would be a great fit most anywhere. With the Thunder, the fit could prove deadly.

Statistical support for this story from NBA.com/stats

Blake Murphy

Blake Murphy is a news editor at theScore and a contributor to Raptors Republic and Fangraphs. Bruno Caboclo broke his projection system but will never break his heart.