Before the 2019 NBA Draft arrives, Peachtree Hoops will break down more than 75 available prospects with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks may look to do in late June.
This installment breaks down Murray State point guard Ja Morant.
Ja Morant was one of the most exciting players in the nation during his tenure at Murray State. The consensus No. 2 player in the 2019 class (trailing only Zion Williamson) separated himself from the rest of the pack by carrying the Racers to the NCAA Tournament. Morant is an extremely athletic and savvy point guard prospect who was capable of taking over games at the collegiate level with his speed, vision, and explosiveness both in transition as well as at the rim. Despite the fact that Morant is obviously out of the picture on draft day for the Atlanta Hawks due to the presence of Trae Young, we will take a look at him anyway.
Morant declined to do basketball activities at the combine with his stock already off the charts after averaging 24.5 points, 10 assists and 5.7 rebounds per game this season, so we don’t have exact measurements or times for him. He’s listed at 6’3 and plays longer than that due to his speed, athleticism and most of all his lanky frame. For a guy who didn’t even make the 247Sports Composite or get a single offer from anyone besides Murray State, it appears he has proven some folks wrong.
The biggest strength of Morant is getting the rebound/outlet and pushing the ball in transition. The soon-to-be lottery pick excels at both finishing for himself and finding teammates for dunks and layups on the break. A best case comparison is probably John Wall, though Russell Westbrook is a name that has been floated around from a length and explosiveness standpoint. While there are obviously similarities with Westbrook and Morant, it feels at this stage that he’s more of a true point like Wall than the ball dominant scorer Westbrook becomes at times.
While Morant was No. 21 in the class in points per possession in isolation situations, he ranked even higher when passing out of those situations. Regardless, he is a point guard with solid combination of size, athleticism, finishing ability and court vision. Morant may be a better player off the ball (if his jump shot translates) than either of the previously mentioned superstars, as he ranked 15th in the class in points per possession on cuts to the basket, an impressive mark for a college point guard. Morant stands to improve as a pick-and-roll ball handler, but it’s possible he’ll become more efficient in these situations simply by having a professional partner in the screen game.
Shooting is a part of Morant’s game that could definitely use improvement. He’s not an awful shooter, but he’ll need to become more of a threat from range in order to fully develop into the star that some project he will be. He’s competent from deep, shooting over 34% from three-point-range. There isn’t a single area of the court he’ll struggles mightily from, but he will need to up his efficiency across the board as he makes the jump to the next level.
Morant did post a true shooting percentage above 60 as a sophomore, but it can be hard to trust such a number given the level of play he faced in the majority of his games. It seems likely Morant will develop into a solid-to-good shooter over time, as he has a soft shot from the free throw line and already made tremendous strides over the past two seasons with the fluidity of his jumper.
The biggest weakness at this stage for Morant is definitely his defense. He’s decent at times on the ball, but his overall focus level and attentiveness to what the opponent is trying to creative needs to improve. Morant often ball watches, losing his man on cuts, and at times his on-ball defense left little to be desired as well. If he’s truly going to grow into the comparisons some are making for him, he will need to make a substantial jump on that end of the floor. Despite his size, he’s actually a decent defensive rebounder on the whole, and an outstanding one for his position. Morant averaged 4.5 defensive rebounds per game in 2018-19. He does have active hands, averaging 1.8 steals and 0.8 blocks per game this season, doubling his production from the previous season in both areas.
It had long been speculated that Atlanta would have moved away from the No. 2 overall selection if they got it in the lottery, simply because of the value proposition with a point guard-needy team jumping up to land Morant. Obviously, though, we have those results now and the Hawks don’t have to worry about that, The fit issues are obviously, as they just selected Trae Young last year, a player with a similar profile as far as position/size/college production are concerned. By all indications, the Memphis Grizzlies are expected to select Morant at No. 2 overall and subsequently move on from longtime franchise staple Mike Conley.