Palestra Back 2019 NBA Draft Guide – Ja Morant

 


Ja Morant

#2 on the PB Big Board

G – Murray State

Sophomore, 6’3, 175 pounds


What he does well:

Penetration

College defenders had little chance to keep Morant pinned to the perimeter all season long. The Murray State point guard found his way into the paint or all the way to the tin at will. It’s not just a quick first step that allows Morant to maneuver past defenders, it’s an innate ability to change speeds faster than nearly any other basketball player on the planet.

With the ball in his hands, Morant seamlessly changes from a standstill to a blur, both in transition, isolation, or off of a screen.

Defenders across college basketball had little options when covering Morant. Many chose to get physical, making Morant one of college basketball’s best at drawing fouls. The sophomore point guard ranked in the top 20 nationally in fouls drawn per 40 minutes, shooting the most free throws in the Ohio Valley Conference and the 7th most in college hoops.

For a player who is a good, but not elite shooter of the basketball, Morant is able to derive so many scoring chances from his ability to get the ball wherever he wants, whenever he wants. As a marvelous passer, getting defenders on his back hip leads Morant to endless chances to draw a help defender and find an open teammate for a 3-pointer or dunk.  

Court Vision

Morant was the best passer in college basketball this season. He spent so much of his time on the floor with the ball in his hands, with all ten defensive eyes on him. Morant used that to his advantage, finding teammates as they moved, cut, and reacted to his drives.

With the right offensive system in the NBA, Morant should be treated to countless pick-and-roll opportunities, upon which he will feast.

His passing was on display in the halfcourt, in transition, and even in pressure moments. For 40 minutes per night, Morant put on a passing clinic:

Functional athleticism

Even though he has a slight frame at his age, Morant’s body is ready for the NBA due to his flashy athletic prowess.

For a young player, Morant is acutely aware of how to use his springiness and his agility. Offensively, he uses fast feet to jab into the lane and his leaping ability to attack the rim. Morant put on a show with highlight dunks all year long:

Morant didn’t face a ton of defensive tests this year, with just four games against power conference foes on the Murray State schedule. Even in limited chances, it was clear to see that Morant will be able to compete defensively thanks to his athleticism. He has the tools to lockdown on opposing point guards.

Where he struggles:

Pull-up shooting

Morant’s overall shooting is not an issue. He has a strong shooting stroke and sank better than 81 percent from the free throw line. Teams that allow him space or fail to close out when he catches the ball will regret giving him open threes.

When Morant has the ball, however, he has not shown himself to be the level of shooter than can really challenge NBA defenders in the pick-and-roll. He prefers to attack downhill after screens, showing less of an inclination or ability to be a step-back or pull-up jump shooter. NBA teams will slide under screens, allowing him that quick trigger jump shot. If he never develops that skill, Morant is fast enough with the ball and a good enough passer to still effectively work off of screens.

Without that threat though, defenders will at least have an answer for him. That hole could keep him from reaching his possible ceiling.

Finishing in traffic

Most of the players with the athleticism that Morant exhibits have the bodies to handle to wear, tear, and grind of the NBA season. At just 175 pounds, there’s reason to believe that Morant will struggle amongst the trees in the paint trying to finish in traffic.

This season, he had issues at the rim at times. When he wasn’t finishing hammer dunks, big men could thwart his attempts to get all the way to the basket with some physicality.

 

How his game translates to the NBA:

The one question many might have about Morant would stem from his role at Murray State this season. Everything the Racers did this season revolved around Morant, who posted the fourth highest usage rate (36.2) in college basketball. This isn’t going to happen at the next level. If Morant can’t adapt to having the ball less frequently, he could struggle.

That would be the case, if we didn’t see Morant play off the ball during his freshman season. Last season, Morant’s usage rate was 13 points lower than this year, at just 23 percent. That didn’t even crack the top 20 of the Ohio Valley Conference. Murray State relied much more on senior scorer Johnathan Stark (insert Game of Thrones joke), who had the ball in his hand far more than Morant.

In his stints as a secondary creator, Morant still showcased himself as an elite passer and penetrator. His tape from freshman year, when he scored 400 fewer points and had 100 fewer assists than this past season, is at times more impressive and more indicative of why he’s a top prospect.

Comparable to:

  • Better Shooting Russell Westbrook
  • De’Aaron Fox
  • Brandon Knight

Next Up: #3 De’Andre Hunter

*****

Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and senior writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to ESPN.com, Rush The Court, Larry Brown Sports, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. You can find every post from this blog on Twitter by following @PalestraBack.

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