Anthony Morrow and Defense

I’m all for positivity about the Nets, and let me be clear that I believe Anthony Morrow was one of the better free agent bargains in all of basketball this past summer (no, I’m not about to now go into why I think Morrow is expendable). With that said, I might have spit out a little of my Buzz Cola on the computer screen when I saw this recent post from HoopsWorld’s Alex Raskin about Morrow’s improving defense – especially when he’s playing SF.

In the article, Raskin cites Morrow’s opponent Player Efficiency Rating of 13.4 (about 1.6 points below average) whenever he’s matched up at the SF slot in the Nets’ rotation this past season. Combine that with Morrow’s own PER of 23.6 at SF and I bet many of you are wondering why in the world Avery Johnson just doesn’t play Morrow at SF more.

What Raskin fails to mention is that Morrow has only played 3 percent of the team’s total minutes this season at SF – way to small of a sample size to determine any improvement. Unfortunately, to be totally fair-minded, one just needs to look back to previous seasons to see how Morrow fared at SF. In 2009-10, in a larger sample 32 percent of his team’s total minutes, opposing SFs had a PER of 15.4 when Morrow lined up there, which is better than the 17.8 PER opposing SGs had against Morrow, but still above NBA average. Meanwhile, jumping back to this season, the one rotation that has logged significant minutes with Morrow playing the three (a whole 38.3 minutes), the team’s defensive efficiency has been about 1.15 points per possession, which would be worst in the league if those numbers held over an entire season.

That’s not to say Morrow isn’t improving, but I guess I can’t take something that seriously where based on those 3 percent of minutes, Raskin writes this:

Morrow is only 6-5 and doesn’t have the best foot speed, but he does have long limbs, which help him close out quickly on the perimeter. And now that he’s defending taller players, he’s starting to resemble another lanky 6-5 swingman—former Lakers star Michael Cooper.

Cooper is a former Defensive Player of the Year, a five-time NBA All-Defensive First Teamer and a guy Larry Bird dubbed “the best defender I ever faced.” I mean, again, Nets positivity in the media for any player =’s great, but to mention a player like Morrow in the same breath as Michael Cooper is a little silly.

Truth told, I would be absolutely thrilled if the Anthony Morrow becomes the Nets version of Steve Kerr over the length of his contract. Get a guy in here next season who’s a more versatile defender and athlete to play the SG and watch how much we’re all going to sing Morrow’s praises when he comes off the bench for 15-20 minutes a game just to shoot threes at a near 50 percent clip. It’s going to be magical. Meanwhile, if Avery Johnson wants to experiment with some small-ball rotations for the last few weeks of the season just so he could better evaluate his player, I’m all for it, but we shouldn’t be pretending that real progress is being made for players with well-documented weaknesses based on these tiny small samples. If we jumped to do that, Terrence Williams would be making his first all-star team next season.