Ja Morant (Rank 3, Tier 2)
6’3/6’6 wingspan/175 pounds/19.8 years/SO
I’m not as sold on Ja Morant as everyone else seems to be. Memphis has already announced they are selecting Morant well in advance of the actual draft and he ranks number two on most big boards I’ve seen. The hype for Morant is for real. Now you may be asking the question, “Hey OldMan? If you’re not high on Morant then why rank him number three?” Fair question random reader. The number one reason why he ranks so high on my big board is his shot creation ability; whether that be creating for himself or his teammates. He has one of, if not the best first step in the entire 2019 draft class. He uses a variety of quick twitch hesitations for his primary dribble drive move that creates separation. Combine that with an assortment of crossovers with either hand and he breaks down the defense like a pro.
Morant is quick to process on offense, has a good feel for play maturation and solid passing instincts. If the defense loses a player baseline get ready for an on time lob pass by Morant. He’ll look off defenders for no look passes, draw defenders in the paint for dump off passes and find cutters with ease. Morant doesn’t just sit back and take what the defense gives him but rather manipulates defenders into getting the play he wants. His ability to read the game in layers and play make off it will always be a coveted skill in the NBA.
He’s pretty ambidextrous with his handle and finishing ability. He can leap off either foot, two foot leap for power and slam dunk off one foot in transition. He doesn’t quite have great touch but rather good touch around the rim sporting a 61% field goal percentage around the basket. His body control can improve on his finishes and I think gaining more strength would help improve his overall touch around the rim. Morant can make tough shots off the dribble but wasn’t really asked to do much off-ball. Improving as a movement shooter will be important since he won’t have the ball in his hands as much as he did sophomore season. He wasn’t that active off-ball on offense but did sport a 1.133 points per possession on all catch-and-shoot situations which ranked 72nd percentile. He did that on only 45 possessions though so the sample size isn’t hefty. He also sported a .778 points per possession on all catch-and-shoot plays his freshman season which ranked 20th percentile. He uses a one motion shooting technique for his follow through on his jump shot. It lowers the release point but quickens the mechanics. He needs to gain more lower body and core strength to help him with his long distance accuracy. Since he shot 81% from the free throw line his two seasons at Murray State, has pretty solid touch around the rim and improved as a shooter from season to season gives me enough indication of potential shooting success in the NBA.
Like I said at the beginning of this report I have my concerns. For starters he was a far better transition player than half court player which is somewhat concerning. He scored 1.197 points per possession on all transition plays which ranked 78th percentile but on half court plays scored a .885 points per possession which ranked 58th percentile. He also took a lot of risky passes through tight seams on the court for a fair amount of turnovers which could make for a messy adjustment period at the next level. His off-ball offense is cause for pause, his small frame could ultimately be a problem, he needs to work on his strength and his shot isn’t a guarantee that it’ll translate to the pros. His top tier play making ability and shot creation prowess are what’s holding me back from ranking him any lower.
The biggest concern I have however is his defense. The amount of times I saw him blatantly let the ball handler he was guarding pass by just to attempt a back tap from behind at the ball was ludicrous. He was more concerned about making a play on the ball instead of being a sound defender. He’s done that as an off-ball defender too by reaching and swiping down instead of playing gap protection. I get that his usage was 33% and he had so much to do on offense. He was pacing himself throughout the game and expended a lot of energy on the offensive side of the ball. I’m just worried he developed bad habits his sophomore season. His defensive stance is either hunched over or straight up. Rarely did I see him sit in his stance and use his butt as an anchor. He floated off-ball with lackadaisical effort at times and needs to be more alert on give-and-go’s plus backdoor passes. He hardly lock-and-trailed his man and shot the gap mostly or avoided screens all together. It’s not all bad though. Morant has shown that he’s capable of hugging the lane line and making rotations on help defense. He also used his quickness and lateral agility to stay in front of ball handlers but only when he felt like it. His athletic ability was a major redeeming quality on defense as that’s how he made up for his mistakes.
Having a consistent long range shot, gaining strength and putting effort in defensively are points of contention that Morant has to improve upon in the NBA. Even with all my concerns I have Morant ranked third. The substantial selling point is obviously his shot creation and play making talent. Those still are in demand skills and very important for playoff basketball. Pairing Morant with Jarren Jackson is a nice way to kick off a rebuild and should help with Morant’s progression.
* All Stats provided by Synergy Sports Tech *