Anthony Morrow is going to be a Blazer on opening night.
To be clear, I don’t have any inside information telling me this. But if you take a look at this roster, it’s evident—whether he plays four or 24 minutes a night—that Morrow is the closest approximation to what this team needs. I would be stunned if he somehow isn’t suited up in Phoenix for the first game of the 2017-18 season for the Trail Blazers.
Despite Morrow’s struggles from outside last season during the Russell Westbrook one-man-band tour—shooting less than 30 percent before he rebounded with the Bulls—he’s an elite outside shooter, connecting on nearly 42 percent of his threes over his career. In fact, before last season, Morrow had never shot below 37 percent from long distance over a full season. This doesn’t seem to be a case of a player falling out due to age or injury, but the case of the “team,” i.e. Westbrook, evolving and leaving Morrow behind.
This isn’t to say that Morrow is a perfect player; there’s a reason he was obtainable on a non-guaranteed deal. Regardless of his turnaround with limited playing time in Chicago, he did struggle from long distance last season in Oklahoma City. Sure, he’s never played a lick of defense in his nine years in the NBA. But, as nice as a true 3-and-D player would be for the Blazers right now, Morrow is the next best thing. Basically, he’s Allen Crabbe—just seven years older and at 10 percent of the price tag.
And that’s just fine for this roster. As much as Crabbe didn’t shoot nearly enough, I’ve been saying ever since he was moved to the Nets that Portland would miss the threat of his long-range shooting. Basically, teams had to account for Crabbe at all times and even if he wasn’t able or willing to pull the trigger, he was still an effective floor-spacer who needed to be accounted for.
Portland has no one else to do this, and that’s why Morrow is going to make the team. The Blazers’ offense is built on opportunity, movement, and spacing. When you have guys like Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum getting to the cup basically at will, not to mention a new post presence in Jusuf Nurkic, you have to have a release valve on the perimeter. Morrow can be that guy on the wing.
As much as we’d love to see Evan Turner connect on 37 percent of his 3-pointers, as much as we’d like to see Al-Farouq Aminu have another 38 percent season from deep, and as much as we’d like to see Maurice Harkless trust his shot enough to not avoid shooting a 3-pointer over the last week of the season, Morrow has no conscience from behind the arc.
If the Blazers don’t have a guy like that on the roster, defenses are going to pack in on Lillard and McCollum. By nature of coach Terry Stotts’ offense, the Blazers will get 3-pointers up, but we saw what happened in last year’s playoffs: the Warriors all but elected not to defend Turner and Aminu from behind the line, an approach that will surely catch on around the league.
Simply put, the Blazers need more perimeter scorers.
Every team in the modern NBA needs that deep threat; just look at the Chicago Bulls, the team Morrow joined at the trade deadline. Chicago had a solid cast with Rajon Rondo, Jimmy Butler, and Dwyane Wade at the helm, but had no spacing to speak of. Defenders simply packed the paint against them and the results were predictable. The Blazers need to avoid the same fate of having guards who are incredibly talented at getting into the lane without having an outside threat to open up the defense.
Morrow’s main competition for a roster spot comes from 23-year-old Archie Goodwin, the 6’5” combo guard most known for his time with the Phoenix Suns. While I like the Goodwin signing for training camp—in that he forces Lillard to guard a player who puts his head down and gets to the rim for hours each day—I’m not sure how well Goodwin actually fits this roster. He’s never shot above 33 percent from beyond the arc for a season and, while fairly explosive, couldn’t stick with some of the worst teams in the NBA.
While I don’t expect Morrow to play the same minutes as Crabbe, barring injury, Morrow is not only going to be a Blazer on opening night, he’s going to be in the regular rotation. Whether that’s 10 or 18 minutes per game depends on how well he recovers his shooting stroke.
For most of his career, Morrow has surprisingly been one of the elite long-distance shooters in the game. If he can replicate his career averages, Neil Olshey and the Blazers may have addressed one of the team’s weakest links at a very affordable price.