Where He Started
Anthony Morrow agreed to a one year minimum contract with a player option for a second year on July 9th after the Pelicans had made big moves for Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans. They had agreed to terms with Al-Farouq Aminu at SF after missing out on Martell Webster and Morrow gave them a cheaper version of the shooter they were looking for in Webster. The difference was that Morrow wasn’t guaranteed anything but a spot on the roster. He was slated to compete with Darius Miller for the backup SF position, with Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans slated to play the shooting guard position.
Morrow was available at such a discount because he had his worst season as a pro the year before. After two very promising seasons in Golden State, Morrow signed a three-year, 12 million dollar deal with the Nets. After a solid first season in New Jersey, the Nets started acquiring high price talent in an effort to win now, and Morrow got lost in the shuffle. He was traded to the Hawks in the Joe Johnson deal, and was looked at as redundant because of the presence of Kyle Korver. From there, he was moved to Dallas but quickly got injured.
Morrow never lost his one elite skill; He just fell through the cracks on a couple of rosters. He still had the talent that earned him that multi-year contract, but he needed the opportunity. Due to an injury to Ryan Anderson right before the first game of the season, Anthony Morrow played a key part in the rotation early on in the season. Once Anderson came back, he struggled a bit to get minutes and shots. But then, Anderson went down again and Morrow became the premier outside threat on the Pelicans once again. In short, this season was a resurgence for Morrow, after he started off as an afterthought to an exciting Pelicans offseason.
What Went Right
Taking and Making Big Shots
82games.com defines “clutch” as – 4th quarter or overtime, less than 5 minutes left with neither team ahead by more than 5 points. In those situations, the Pelicans were dominant with Anthony Morrow on the court, in large part because of Morrow himself. Their offensive rating in “clutch” situations was 124.3 while their defensive rating was 100.4. Dominant.
And Morrow wasn’t just some decoy in this situations, nor was he a guy who just happened to be on the court. Morrow wanted the ball in his hands and drained his shots for this Pelicans team. He had an eFG% of .533 and only missed one free throw in that situation. Nearly 60% of his shots came from behind the arc, and he drained 44.4% of those threes. It is no coincidence that the Pelicans were 5-0 in overtime and 15-11 in games decided by 5 points or less. In addition to Anthony Davis for most of the season, they had a guy in Morrow who was willing to take the big shots and able to knock them down.
Playing With Rivers
Perhaps no player looked for Morrow more than Austin Rivers, and it benefitted both players. Check out the PER 36 stats for Morrow with Austin on the court vs. off:
w/Rivers: 14.1 FGA, 46.6% FG, 45.6% 3-pt, 17.1 pts
w/o Rivers: 11.9 FGA, 44.5% FG, 44.6% 3-pt, 14.7 pts
Morrow also had a 32% uptick in rebounding, and a 40% uptick in steals. The really weird part was his assists went way up too, as did his assist to trunover ratio. He had a ration of 0.6 to 1 with Austin off the court, but a 1.6 to 1 ratio with Austin on the court. And it should come as no surprise that Austin assisted on such a high percentage of his points when they were on the floor together. Only Tyreke Evans assisted on more Morrow buckets, but those two played together more and the Pelicans as a team didn’t do nearly as well with those two as they did with the Rivers/Morrow duo. As our own James Grayson pointed out here, the Rivers/Morrow duo was terrific.
With the stockpile of guards that the Pelicans have, they must decide who stays, and maybe more importantly, who plays with whom. I have already shown in the past that the Holiday/Evans duo is the best one to start, and the numbers seem to say that the Rivers/Morrow duo might be the best duo to back them up.
We have looked at some specifics, but lets look at Morrow’s overall shot chart
It’s rare to see a guy so effective from every spot behind the line. Normally, guys become specialists from the corner or one of the wings, but Morrow is over 42% from all five spots. Specifically, Morrow was very good coming off screens (40%) and in spot up opportunities (43.4%) from deep, but where he really thrived was in transition, where he shot 47.4% from three. Morrow headed straight for those wing spots and killed teams when they didn’t find him in transition. And when they did, it opened up the lane for a guard or AD streaking to the basket. In addition to his personal productivity, Morrow makes others better just by occupying a defender in all situations. Point blank, he is just a guy you can’t leave.
What Went Wrong
Playing With Anderson
Naturally, you would think – the more shooters the better. But for Morrow, it just didn’t work when he was on the court with Ryan Anderson. His field goal attempts per minute dropped by about 15% and his shooting percentages plummeted as well. With Anderson on the floor, Morrow shot just 41.9% from the field this year and 37% from three. Compare that to the minutes he played w/o Anderson, where he shot 46.3% from the field and 46.4% from three. Granted, it was a small sample size – just 206 minutes with Ryno – but watching the sets where they were together on the floor, and you see that the Pelicans really can’t take advantage of what Morrow offers. The kick out passes just find their way to Anderson instead.
The Pelicans had much better luck when they staggered Anderson and Morrow, as Morrow’s had some good games when either he or Anderson was inserted into the starting lineup and the other came in off the bench. And again, this was early in the season, so maybe the coaches hadn’t figured out how to utilize them together yet. But whatever the reason, Morrow really struggled to find his role and his shot when Ryan Anderson was on the court. And that’s a shame, because the offense could be fantastic if they can utilize both of those guys to their full capabilities.
Coming into this season, Anthony Morrow was a guy who shot 45% on deep two’s, but this year he shot a career-low 39%, taking 21% of his shots from that distance. What was incredibly frustrating is how and why a lot of these shots were taken. Often times a defender would run out on on Morrow or fall for his pump fake and Morrow would take a dribble inside the arc and launch a long two. The numbers say that this is a terrible decision. On 10 possessions where he takes the long two, he scores 7.8 points; On 10 possessions where he takes the three, he scores 13.5 points.
But what frustrated me personally even more was that he never went into the defender and got three free throws when they overcommited. You see guys like Jamal Crawford get to the line by pump faking the defender, leaning into him and getting free points as a result. Anthony Morrow is a career 88% free throw shooter, so on those same 10 possessions where he goes into the defender and gets three free throws, he scores 26 points. And in that situation, he has an opportunity to make the shot as well, resulting in a four point play. In addition, he adds a foul to the oppositions count, helping you get into the bonus faster and gets a foul on the individual player as well.
I would tell Morrow to forget about trying to get yourself an open look from 20 feet. Instead, do what is best for the team and for your personal efficiency – get into the defender and get to the line. And that also keeps the defender fro running out so hard or challenging on Morrow’s next three-point attempt. It is a small thing that can pay big dividends in multiple ways for Morrow.
Not many things are certain this offseason, but the one thing that we can all count on is Anthony Morrow declining his player option and becoming an unrestricted free agent. The Pelicans are in an interesting situation with Morrow since he has only been on the team for one season, an thus the CBA doesn’t give the Pelicans a lot of options when it comes to re-signing him. With somebody like Jason Smith, the Pelicans have Bird Rights, so they can offer him whatever they want without worrying about salary cap implication. With Morrow, it is not that easy.
Here are the Pelicans options:
1. Use cap room to sign Morrow
Pro: They can easily outbid any other team for his services
Con: They lose the ability to use their MLE
2. Use part of the MLE to sign Morrow
Pro: Again, they can outbid other teams
Con: Lose part of their best asset this summer
3. Use biannual exception to sign Morrow
Pro: Get to keep their MLE
Con: Might not be enough (max of 2 yrs/$4.2 million)
4. Use Room Exception to sign Morrow
Pro: Should be enough to bring back Morrow (max of 2 years/$5.6 million)
Con: Will have meant that team did not have MLE or biaanual
I guess the first thing we have to do is figure out what kind of contract offers Morrow might get on the open market before we can determine the best route to take for the guy who should be considered the Pelicans #1 priority amongst their own free agents. Below are some guys who had similar seasons to Morrow over the past two seasons and what they got on the free agent market.
Dorrell Wright (2 years/$6 million)
Wright was less efficient than Morrow heading into free agency last summer, but he was a year younger, played a more valuable position, and was a better defender. Both are volume three point shooters who have trouble creating for themsleves and are best off the bench, though they can start in a pinch if needed.
Mike Dunleavy (2 years/$6.5 million)
Dunleavy was coming off a season in which he shot 43% from three, coming off the bench for the Bucks. But Dunleavy posted far better rebounding and assist numbers. Dunleavy, however was 4 years older when he signed his contract and many said he took a discounted deal to join a contender.
CJ Watson (2 years/$4.1 million)
Watson was the same age as Morrow when he signed his new contract and was coming off a prolific three-point shooting season in which he contributed in other areas as well. Again, a different position than Morrow, but similar roles and skill sets.
Jodie Meeks (2 years/$3.05 million)
Meeks was thought of as a similar player as Morrow – a volume three-point shooter who is average to below average in nearly every other area. Meeks was 3 years younger when he signed with the Lakers, and will actually be a FA this summer, likely competing with Morrow for similar jobs.
Brandon Rush (2 years/$8 million)
Coming off a career season at the age of 26, the Golden State Warriors rewarded Rush with a just below MLE contract. Rush’s numbers from that season are probably most similar to Morrow’s, but he was younger, more athletic, and considered a much better defender.
Randy Foye (3 years/$9 million)
Another volume three-point shooter, Foye was a year older than Morrow but was coming off his best season from deep. Foye had bigger roles throughout his career, playing more minutes and creating for himself and others more often, and still Foye only got $3 million per year just last offseason.
Expected Contract Range: 2 Years, $4.5 – $5.5 million
Morrow has earned a significant raise – probably just big enough to knock him out of the biannual range, but not so much that the Pelicans can’t find a way to keep him this summer. The question is whether Morrow will be seduced by a contender this summer for a similar number, or perhaps even slightly less. Morrow stated that he loves it here and he would like to come back, but would he be able to turn down a team like the Heat if they came calling? Or imagine the Thunder lose Sefolosha and offer him the chance to battle Jeremy Lamb for the starting two-guard position.
There will be a battle for Morrow’s services this summer, but the Pelicans have the ability to win that battle if they so choose. The question is how far are they willing to go to hold on to another guard on a team that is full of them? Ideally, the Pelicans can move Gordon this summer for a big man or a small forward, clearing the way for Morrow to assume the backup shooting guard position next to Austin Rivers. But if that can’t happen, and Dell is forced to choose between matching a competitve offer for Morrow or filling a more significant need, he will likely choose the latter.
But let’s hope it does not come to that.
For a look at all the Season in Review pieces, click here.