Height: 6’3” Weight: 170 Age: 19 College: Murray State Hometown: Dalzell, South Carolina
Ja Morant has a chance to be an elite NBA guard. He is one of the shiftiest players I’ve ever seen and changes directions as quickly as anybody I’ve ever seen. He can get in the lane anytime he wants and is almost impossible to stay in front of. He also has incredible vision so he makes very good decisions when he gets in the lane. He has elite level confidence and feel for the game. He makes everybody around him better, and has visible confidence in his teammates. Offensively he should be a force right away but there are questions about him taking too many risks because he led the NCAA in turnovers. There are a lot of questions about his defense because of his small frame and casual approach, but I think he’ll focus more on that end in the NBA because he won’t have to do as much for his team offensively.
The very efficient Murray State offense this past year was based on Pick and Rolls and Isos for Ja, and running and gunning. This is all made possible because of how good Ja is with the ball in his hands. He gets in the lane at will and is incredible at selling passes with his eyes. He did turn the ball over too much this past season but is still an incredible passer. A ball dominant player will have some turnovers, James Harden is always among the league leaders in turnovers, but he is still one of the best offensive players of all time. Ja was in the 82nd percentile in isolations including passes, which is insane considering he was always playing with two bigs that can’t shoot. The thought of him driving with NBA spacing should scare opposing coaches. His change of pace and first step is incredible, and I don’t believe I’ve seen a guard since Iverson that can change directions quicker while keeping their balance. He has a wide variety of dribble moves but his hesitation is his go to. He plays at his own pace and is great at reading his defender. Defenders have to respect his first step so a lot of them jump on his hesi, and he has a great hesitation cross as his counter. He also doesn’t quit his drive when he gets cut off, he seems to have a counter for everything, and always finds a way to get in the lane. He is also great at drawing contact on his drives and gets to the line at will. He shoots 81% at the line so that is very solid efficiency. As good as he is driving he does have a big weakness, and that is his right hand, he also wants to get back to his left. He drove left 69% of the time in college, and was much more efficient doing that. Going left his efficiency was 1.051ppp, compared to .667ppp going right. I imagine many defenses will force him right in the NBA.
Ja’s primary play type last season was the pick and roll. He was only in the 59th%tile in pick and rolls including passes, but I believe he is a much better pick and roll player than those numbers suggest. He had a ridiculously high volume, and the higher your volume is, the harder it is to remain efficient. He also only played with two shooters at a time that the defense has to respect, which gives him a lot less space to work with. He will likely play for the Grizzlies, who although not a great shooting team will typically pair at least three players with Ja that the defense has to respect from behind the line. He never gets sped up in the pick and roll and is great at getting downhill. He could struggle vs drop coverage in the NBA because he has no mid range game, and doesn’t have a reliable floater. If teams want to switch bigs on him in the Pick and Roll he will embarrass them.
Ja isn’t a great shooter yet, but he is definitely improving. Last year he was in the 72nd%tile on catch and shoots, and 67th percentile off the dribble. He has a low release which could hurt him a little in the NBA, but I don’t think will hurt him a ton because of how good he is at creating space. He also has incredibly efficient shot selection. He shys away from long twos (the worst shot in basketball), and he only took 9 of them the entire year last year. Even though analytically it is very smart that he doesn’t take many long twos I think he’ll need to develop a better short runner like Harden has or else teams will be able to expose by forcing him in the mid range area, knowing he will have no impact there. He didn’t spot up often last year because of how ball dominant he is, but he was in the 77th percentile in efficiency while spotting up. How ball dominant he is worries me a little bit, but he may adjust this in the NBA. Him being ball incredibly ball dominant was the best way for his team to win games in college, and in the NBA it will probably be best for his team if he is a little less ball dominant. He seems to be unselfish and care about winning so I think he will adjust this a little, while still coming off plenty pick and rolls, and having a lot of isos in space like he should.
The best part of Ja’s game is probably how good he is in transition. He was only in the 78th percentile in transition but that’s because that number doesn’t include passes. He had 99 assists in transition this year which is just insane. He loves to push the ball which is good because transition is one of the most efficient play types in basketball. He’s great at hitting ahead and has incredible timing on his passes. Whatever team drafts Ja needs to adjust and let him play fast, because he will excel in that role and make everyone around him better. Anybody that plays with Ja should sprint down the floor the second he gets the ball because he will reward them. He can also make passes with either hand. Ja was only in the 51st percentile as a finisher but I still think he has a lot of potential as a finisher. Obviously he’s an incredible leaper which will obviously help finishing against length. He also has stronger stability than you would anticipate given his thin frame, and he stays pretty balanced going through contact. Part of the reason his efficiency was just average is because he is working with a crowded lane, he would have way more room to finish if his bigs could shoot. He’s willing to use both hands and use creative finishes off 1 or two feet. Although he misses some of the creative finishes now with continued work in the gym I would bet he will make them later in his career, he has proven he has the confidence to take them. Point guards need to be creative finishers if they want to finish well in the NBA.
I’m sure no team has any worries about Ja’s offense in the NBA, but he definitely has some holes he will want to clean up on defense. However, I still think he will be a solid defender in a few years. He rested off ball on defense a lot this year, but given his role offensively it’s hard and near impossible not too. When he’s locked in he is an excellent on ball defender because of his quickness and length, and his super quick hands. He averaged 1.8 steals per game last year. Despite this, I would still definitely like to see him locked in on the ball a little more, and unlock his potential on the defensive end. Once again though it was hard to do that while carrying his offense on his back. The type of matchups I worry about for Ja are versus stronger guards like Westbrook or Eric Bledsoe. He is going to need to work very hard in the weight room if he wants to reach his full potential. Because of his lack of strength he also really can only guard two positions, and I could imagine strong guards or wings will love attacking him.
Ja Morant will be one of the best playmakers in the NBA from day 1, and has an elite level of confidence you want in a star. I believe he has MVP potential and the player he reminds me most of is Iverson even though he passes a little more and Iverson scores a little more. Their really isn’t much Iverson could do that Ja can’t talent wise, so if he can get close to as mentally tough as Iverson I don’t see why he can’t get to that level or better because of how much taller he is than Iverson. Ja definitely has very good mental toughness at this stage but obviously Iverson was one of the toughest players ever so he’ll need to step it up. I still believe Zion is a better prospect than Ja, but I think Ja is closer to #1 than #3.