Written by: Diego Solares
College: Murray State
Current College Stats: 23.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 10.2 apg, 50.3% FG, 32.7% 3PFG, 80% FT, 31.5 PER
Each and every year, college basketball operates in mysterious ways. With high-end recruits coming in from the high school realms and a plethora of young talent leaving for the NBA draft every year, college basketball loses and gains star players every year.
In some cases, basketball analysts know incoming high school players will be superstars at the next level. Players like Anthony Davis and Zion Williamson were worthy of the number one selection in their respective drafts before they even played a single game at the college level.
There is a reason that college basketball is arguably the most electric sport out there, however. Every single season we see players come out of nowhere and transform into national stars right in front of our eyes. Stephen Curry, one of the best players in all of basketball, was a three-star recruit coming out of high school and had zero major Division I basketball offers. We see these type of players every year, and in some cases, they turn into stars at the next level.
Ja Morant, a sophomore point guard at Murray State, is that player for this college basketball season.
Morant was so underrated coming out of high school that most scouting websites don’t even have a rating for him. Murray State appears to have been his only offer and many people did not even know who he was. He’s transformed himself from an absolute nobody in the eyes of basketball scouts to a bonafide top three pick in the 2019 NBA draft.
The biggest strength in Ja Morant’s game is his ability to do it all on the offensive side of the ball. As a true freshman, Morant averaged 12.7/6.5/6.3 on 46% from the field in 34 minutes of play. While the scoring numbers were not very high for someone playing 34 minutes a game, Morant showed that he can be a true playmaker and get others around him involved.
This year, however, he has taken his playmaking abilities to an entirely new level. Morant is currently averaging 23.9/5.4/10.2 on 50.3% from the field in 36 minutes of play. He currently leads all of Division I basketball in assists and has no problem giving up a good shot for him to create a great shot for someone else. His passing skills are at an NBA level already and might end up being the best part of his game.
Part of being a playmaker is creating your own shot and offense for yourself, which is something that Morant excels at. Morant is quick off the dribble and can blow by most defenders with no problem. He is relentless at getting to the basket and excels at finishing his shots once he gets there. If he doesn’t finish at the basket and gets fouled, Morant makes opponents pay from the free throw line where he shoots 80.3%. His jump shot needs some refining, but it is not a liability and adds another weapon to his offensive arsenal. His success at the free throw line shows some promise that Morant could one day have an above-average jump shot, which would just make him a truly elite offensive player.
Outside of Zion Williamson, Ja Morant is the best athlete in this 2019 NBA draft class. All you have to do is watch five minutes of his tape and you will realize how good of an athlete he really is. He can jump out of the gym on any given day and is extremely quick laterally, as well as with the ball in his hands. His effort will never be put into question, as Morant gives 100% every second he is on the court. Morant stands at around 6’3″ and has long arms, which is an ideal frame for a point guard in today’s NBA. His athleticism is an important part of his game, as it allows him to finish at the basket and blow past defenders, but it is not the defining factor in his game. Morant would be a serviceable NBA player if he was not a great athlete, which could potentially translate into a long NBA career.
Morant is no slouch on the defensive side of the ball either. He’s very solid when guarding the ball and his athleticism makes it easy for him to stay in front of opponents. Morant is good at poking the ball loose and reading passing lanes as he is currently averaging 2 steals per game. Will his calling card ever be his defensive abilities? No, but with his athleticism, there is certainly potential for Morant to be a very good defender at the next level.
For a guy that is one of the more well-rounded players in college basketball, there are not many weaknesses in his game.
Morant’s jumper is a question mark. Inside the three-point line, his jump shot has looked good and shown signs of consistency. He is also an above-average free throw shooter and has a soft touch on his shot, which would ultimately suggest that the potential is there for him to be a good shooter one day. The fact that Morant is shooting 30% from behind the arc on five attempts per game, however, does have to raise some concern. If he can consistently knock down three-point shots, Morant is going to be an elite offensive player. The potential is certainly there, but it will take some time and development for this to truly unfold.
His second major concern is how he doesn’t have an ideal frame for an NBA player. The NBA season is a marathon and the effects that an 82 game season can have on a player’s body if they are not properly conditioned can be devastating. Morant is an excellent athlete, don’t get me wrong, but his frame does concern me a little. The average NBA player weighs in at about 190 pounds and Ja Morant is currently sitting at somewhere around 175 pounds. He needs to put on 10-15 pounds of muscle to get stronger so that his body can deal with the physical nature of the NBA. This is a concern right now, but it shouldn’t be a long term one. Once he gets on a professional weight lifting program and is working with professional nutritionists he should gain some muscle with no problem.
While Morant might be the best playmaker in this draft, he does have some trouble when it comes to taking care of the basketball. Morant averaged 2.5 turnovers per game in his freshman season and is currently averaging an astronomical 5.1 turnovers per game. Obviously, that number is way too high and it is a part of his game that must improve, but this statistic should be taken with a grain of salt. Morant is undoubtedly the best player on his team and the majority of his team’s success falls on his shoulders. There are times in the game where Morant tries to do too much and this is probably in part that he has to carry such a big load on his shoulders in order for his team to succeed. His high turnover rate is certainly concerning, but with how talented of a passer he is and some development at the professional level, the turnovers should decrease.
Player comparisons are always the hardest thing to do because so many things can happen that can alter a certain players comparison to another. When doing these player comparisons it is typically a good idea to give both a ceiling and a floor. A player’s ceiling is what they will be when they reach their absolute best and their floor is what they will be at their worst.
Morant’s elite athleticism and his all-around game have drawn comparisons to some of the best guards in the entire NBA. For me, his floor is a serviceable version of Emmanuel Mudiay. The 6’5″ guard is only a few inches taller than Morant and is also an electric athlete. He is not a very good shooter from behind the arc but does have a fairly solid all-around game. Mudiay might not ever become an everyday starter like Morant projects to be, but he is still a quality professional basketball player.
If he can reach his true potential Morant has John Wall written all over him. John Wall is an excellent passer and has led the NBA in assists before, which is something that Morant will likely do in his career. Both Wall and Morant are very quick guards and while Morant might be a better athlete, Wall is no slouch from an athletic standpoint either. Wall is not a lock-down defender by any means, but he is not a liability either and has the tools necessary to be a good defender. Wall’s jump shot has improved over the years and is the only reason why I think that he is a better comparison for Morant than Russell Westbrook is. Westbrook has regressed tremendously from both behind the arc and from the charity stripe while Wall has steadily improved this aspect of his game throughout his career. When he is healthy, Wall is one of the best point guards in the entire NBA and I strongly believe that Ja Morant has the potential to be just that one day.