What does Ja Morant have on Steph Curry and Damian Lillard? His NBA stock is considerably higher than the other two when they were coming out of college. All three went to mid-major programs, but Morant has sky-high expectations – of course, in no small part due to the success at the next level that both Dame and Steph have had.
Morant came out of nowhere this year. He nearly doubled his scoring from his freshman year at an impressive 24.5 points per game, while averaging the most assists per game in the NCAA at 10. The sophomore guard averaged 49.9% from the field and shot 36.3% from three, a 5.6 percentage-point increase over the previous year. Morant led the Murray State Racers to the NCAA tournament, where they fell to Florida State in the second round of the West region. Morant put on a show late in the season when the lights shined brightest. He scored the game-winning shot in the semifinals against Jacksonville State in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament.
He also scored 36 points in the conference championship game against #1 seed Belmont, notched a triple-double against Marquette in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and put up nearly 30 points in the loss to Florida State. He appears not to be afraid of the big moments and consistently plays with the kind of swagger that franchise players are expected to have. Morant’s athleticism has been the subject of much amazement this past season. He has put up monster dunks and showcased what appears to be Russell Westbrook-like physical abilities. Morant has ease getting to the rim and finishing on and sometimes through defenders. In the NBA, where the floor is much more spaced for driving and kicking, Morant should have no problem displaying his court vision and insane hops.
His athleticism also translates well on the defensive end. His smooth lateral quickness should allow him to stay in front of most smaller guards, while his length will help him challenge bigger two-guards. Morant has shown that he has a knack for anticipating passing lanes (nearly 2 steals per contest), which often resulted in highlight reel performances on the other end of the court last season. Ja’s biggest flaw, and perhaps his only, is his 3-point shooting, but even that had shown promise in his sophomore year. He is a career 80% free throw shooter, so he has the shooting mechanics to develop into a consistent 3-point shooter.
The Lakers have big plans for this offseason, as they hope to pair LeBron James with Anthony Davis. If that doesn’t happen before or during the draft, then Morant would make a great pick. Lonzo Ball has not been consistent enough to entrust as a championship-level point guard, yet. Father Time is ticking on James and the Lakers have to act fast; drafting Morant would give them a great fit as a backcourt partner that has the ability to space the floor with his elite passing, much like Lonzo. Plus, Morant has shown consistency in scoring. Lonzo Ball? Not so much.
It’s unlikely that the Lakers get the chance to pick Morant as the Grizzlies have already stated that they intend to draft the guard.
Source: Barring the unexpected, Memphis Grizzlies front office and ownership appear to have locked in on selecting Ja Morant with the No. 2 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, and are informing parties in Chicago of such. That clears the way for R.J. Barrett to fall to the Knicks at #3.
— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) May 15, 2019
Mike Conley, along with Marc Gasol (now in Toronto), has been the face of the Grizzlies franchise this decade. It seems that Conley and Memphis are likely to split, but the Grizzlies have a chance to find their next franchise point guard in Morant. However, if he does happen to slip to the Lakers, it would make their choice on draft night much easier.
No matter who drafts Ja Morant, it should be a slam dunk!