With the news that Kevin Durant is officially out for the season, the Oklahoma City Thunder may have to wave goodbye to any title hopes this season.
Losing last year’s MVP is a devastating blow for Oklahoma City, and the team has to rely on Russell Westbrook continuing to play at an unbelievable level just to make the playoffs.
Yet, the Thunder still have one of the top five players in the league this year and some intriguing role players. It isn’t unreasonable to think this team could make life tough on Golden State in the first round if it plays its cards right.
Unfortunately for Thunder fans, Scott Brooks hasn’t been playing his cards right lately. And if this version of Oklahoma City is going to be the best it can be, he’ll need to revamp his rotations in a hurry. Namely, Anthony Morrow needs to be a key part to any success the Thunder have. Without him getting more time and contributing, Oklahoma City’s immediate future looks very bleak.
When Durant was healthy, the Thunder had a player who had to command the entire defense’s attention, even when the ball was away from him. Spacing never seemed as major an issue when Durant was on the floor, because teams always had to respect his shooting and scoring ability.
Without Durant, Oklahoma City needs players to space the floor for Westbrook. Teams are committing to packing the paint to prevent Westbrook from attacking, and daring a lot of Thunder players to shoot. And this is where Morrow comes in handy.
On the surface, Morrow’s role increasing makes sense, because he gives the team exactly what it’s missing. Oklahoma City is 24th in the league in three-point shooting, per ESPN. Morrow is the best three-point shooter on the team and is making them at a clip of 42.7 percent this season.
Look at all the attention Westbrook receives on this drive to the rim (via YouTube):
Westbrook is one of the best players in the league at whipping a pass to the weak-side corner, and he finds Morrow here for an open three. DeMarre Carroll tries to recover, but Morrow rises up quickly and knocks down the shot.
The numbers back up the Thunder being better with Morrow sharing the court with Westbrook. When Morrow and Westbrook are on the floor together, Oklahoma City is outscoring opponents by 8.9 points per 100 possessions, per Basketball-Reference. The only player who has been better with Westbrook this year Kevin Durant.
It seems obvious that Morrow should play more, but Brooks still is reluctant to give him huge minutes. Dion Waiters, despite being Dion Waiters, has gotten significantly more time on the court than Morrow. In March, Morrow shot 51.2 percent on threes and from the field, and Waiters shot 41 percent from the field and 29.2 percent on threes. Yet, Waiters played more minutes in 12 of the 15 games. It’s not as if Waiters is a much better defender or a great playmaker. Morrow is a much better player and fit, and needs to be on the floor more often.
Westbrook turns the corner, and Mack is afraid to help off a good shooter on the strong side. This allows Westbrook an easy look to Nick Collison for a layup. If Waiters or another wing who couldn’t shoot is in that corner, a smart team like Atlanta would have Mack help on Collison or step in front of Westbrook to prevent the pass. With Morrow, the floor is opened up for Westbrook to attack and distribute.
Put simply, Brooks needs to trust Morrow to play more often, because his skills aren’t replaceable by anyone else on the Thunder. If he does up Morrow’s minutes, Oklahoma City will finally be putting the best team around Westbrook that it can.