With four of the starting positions seemingly locked down, the only real point of roster contention seems to be at the shooting guard position between free agent signing Anthony Morrow and second-year Nets player Terrence Williams. Today, Dennis and Devin look at the case for both players.
Before we mention anything else, let’s just look at the position they’re going to play: shooting guard. As in, a player who can, hopefully, shoot. Between Anthony Morrow and Terrence Williams, there’s no doubt who the choice is there. Last year, Morrow shot 45.6% from beyond the arc (T-Will shot 31%), 43% from 16-23 feet (22%), and 48.2% from 10-15 feet (31.6%). His ability to space the floor with his shooting would be huge next to a slasher-scorer like Devin Harris, who gets most of his points at the basket and the line. Harris can create spot-up opportunities by drawing in defenses, and Morrow was 4th in the entire NBA in spot-up shooting with 1.41 PPP (points per possession). T-Will’s PPP in spot-up situations was an awful 0.7 – less than half of Morrow’s number and one of the worst of all qualified players in the NBA (334th). The Nets will need a guy who can shoot at the 2-guard, and Anthony Morrow is that guy.
To add to that point, Morrow is the league leader in three-point percentage over the last two years among qualified players – and it isn’t close. Morrow has shot a blistering .460 from beyond the arc in the past two years, and the second-best shooter – teammate Stephen Curry – shot .437. To compare, the difference between #1 (Morrow) and #2 is the same difference between #2 and #14. He’s head and shoulders above the pack. The raw amount of threes he made can be attributed to the structure of Golden State’s offense, but the percentage can’t, and Morrow over the past two years has shown that he is perhaps the best dead-eye long-range shooter in the NBA. They can’t just stash such a valuable asset like that on the bench.
Another point to be made for Morrow is fit in the starting lineup. T-Will is a jack-of-all-trades player – he can get to the basket, he’s a decent passer with good court vision, but he often plays too fast for his own good and commits bad turnovers while forcing the offense. In a sense, he brings a lot of what Harris does to the table – they’re both wings that find their game predicated on their slashing ability and awareness. There are obvious differences – T-Will is much bigger, stronger, and more athletic, while Harris is a much more developed player at this stage – but putting T-Will at the 2 spot would mean the Nets would have two poor outside shooters with similar skillsets in our starting backcourt. The Nets would be negating his ability by taking the ball out of his hands, and no team wants to say that. However, if the Nets slot Morrow at the starting 2 spot, the Nets have suddenly got three players (Morrow, Travis Outlaw, and Troy Murphy) who can space the floor on offense around our two stars (Harris and Brook Lopez). That’s huge.
T-Will advocates will assuredly point to his defensive ability as a difference from Morrow, but a look at the numbers seems to indicate differently. While T-Will had a better overall defensive PPP (0.91 to 0.94, remember because it’s defense that lower is better), in most situations a two-guard would find himself in Morrow actually had the edge – in isolation (0.96 to 0.99), defending a pick-and-roll (0.74 to 0.77 – both are in the top 70), and defending off screens (0.85 to 1.06). T-Will’s overall number is better because he’s better at defending in the post (0.88 to 0.92) and on spot-ups (0.94 to 1.04) – but neither, frankly, is very good at that. Looking beyond the numbers, though, I think it’s important to note that both players should be much better defenders in this system under Avery Johnson – a coach who preaches defense through and through – as opposed to Don Nelson (who never has his teams play defense) or Kiki Vandeweghe (who isn’t a real coach).
Honestly, I think that T-Will’s game is built for the sixth man role. If he’s leading the second units, it allows him to play with more flexibility – next to Harris & Outlaw he’ll always be playing the 2, but if he’s only playing 10-15 minutes a game with those guys he can play the 1 and 3 spots more often as well while being the primary option in the second unit. This means there’s more chances to exploit matchups (especially against backups), and he’d be the clear-cut leader of the second unit – a position he’d thrive in. This would give him an opportunity to not play to his biggest weakness as an offensive player – his perimeter game – and allow him to work as a facilitator in multiple capacities. Anthony Morrow, on the other hand, is built to start for this team – he’s arguably the best perimeter shooter in the entire league and has never had the opportunity to work with a coach like Avery Johnson. If he’s in the starting role, the Nets will prosper. I guarantee it.