#TGW: Tony's Thunder

Jan. 25, 2015

By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word

Anthony Morrow couldn’t find his stroke Friday night in Philips Arena, but the former Georgia Tech shooter feels like he has found his footing with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

When he signed a three-year, $10 million contract as a free agent last summer to join his sixth NBA team in seven seasons, he felt better than at any point since he made the Golden State Warriors’ roster as an undrafted free agent in 2008.

And guess who helped recruit him to the Heartland?

That would be Kevin Durant, the same reigning NBA MVP who spent at least 10 minutes speaking with Morrow at their lockers after a 103-93 loss to the Hawks.

“Most of the time we talk about stuff off the court, life. He’s a great teammate on the court and off,” Morrow said after his first scoreless game of the season. “He played a big role in my adjustment here. He was the first person I talked to on the team; he made me feel really wanted.

“For a guy like that to take time out and tell me how much I was wanted during free agency, that was a big part of me coming here. I’m blessed to be here. Great guys, a family-type organization from top to bottom.”

Known best for shooting the long ball – Morrow made 44.3 percent of his 3-pointers as a senior at Tech in 2007-08 and set an NBA rookie record by making 46.7 percent of his treys for the Warriors in 08-09 – the Charlotte native is a good fit on the Thunder, who are less proficient shooting 3-pointers than in years past.

With him on the floor, the Thunder have more room to operate, although he rarely plays alongside Durant. That’s because, for the most part, he backs up one of the world’s top “small” forwards.

He’s averaging 9.5 points and 2.7 rebounds off the bench, yet at 6-feet-5, Morrow is shortish for the position. He’s typically a shooting guard.

Playing out of position has contributed to dropping Morrow’s 3-point shooting percentage to 37.2 percent this season. His career NBA average is 42.2 percent, and he’s averaged 10.3 points and 2.5 rebounds as a pro.

He’s not complaining.

Even after the Thunder’s four-game winning streak was snapped Friday by the NBA’s hottest team (that was the Hawks’ 29th win in 31 games), OKC appears to be back on track after an injury-wracked start to the season.

Morrow missed the first seven games with a sprained left medial collateral knee ligament, Durant missed the first 17 games after coming off foot surgery, and All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook missed 14 games in November with a broken hand.

The Thunder (22-21) have won 19 of 28 games, however, after a 3-12 start. They’re angling for another playoff berth.

All that down time early in the season helped Morrow and Durant bond.

“We’ve had some ups and downs with injuries, but we’re getting it together,” he said. “We had a lot more time around each other when we were both hurt. We kind of helped each other get through that. We really wanted to get back on the court. I couldn’t imagine him coming off an MVP season not being able to play.”

Morrow, who also played for New Jersey (scoring a career-high 42 points for the Nets in Feb., 2012), Atlanta, Dallas, and New Orleans, is not rare to Atlanta.

He still makes Charlotte his offseason home yet visits his adopted hometown. When he does, he often finds himself at the Zelnak Basketball Practice Facility, hoisting shots.

In that way, he’s no different than when he played at Tech from 2004-08, leaving the Flats as Tech’s all-time most accurate free throw shooter (86.7 percent), and third-leading maker of 3-pointers (258, to tie Travis Best for third).

“I keep up with the team as much as I can. I know that we had a tough loss [Thursday] night,” he said. “I like coach [Brian] Gregory. I’ve come quite a few times in the offseason to hang out, work out. I have a lot of family and friends, and my agent is in Atlanta.”

Morrow doesn’t look now like he did while at Tech.

He’s considerably thicker.

“I may be 20 pounds bigger in muscle now,” he said with a chuckle. “When I was in college, I was like 170 soaking wet [as a freshman]. Now, I’m like 214, 215.”

After bouncing around the NBA, including a split of 2012-13 season between Atlanta and Dallas, Morrow is pleased with the feeling of security even though he knows there are no guarantees that he’ll stay put.

Atlanta will forever hold a special place in his heart.

He’s loyal to Tech, and sympathetic to the Yellow Jackets’ struggles. He believes, however, that his alma mater can overcome.

“The academic requirements are an issue [in recruiting], but many guys have come through and had success. That can’t be an excuse,” Morrow said. “If you want to challenge yourself academically and athletically, it’s a great school.”

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