While the basketball world was buying into the hype of Duke Freshman phenom Zion Williamson, Murray State's Ja Morant was creating a serious hype train of his own. After being considered a potential late first-round pick in preseason mock drafts, Morant exploded in his sophomore campaign and set box scores on fire. When you watch Morant, it's tough not to become an immediate fan. He doesn't just play with a chip on his shoulder, more like a boulder. Morant has the swagger and unselfish basketball ability that makes up a dream floor general for NBA franchises. His thin framed will be worrisome at the next level, but Morant makes up for it with pogo stick like athleticism and attacks the basket without fear. Morant would go on to become the first Division I player in College Basketball history to average at least 20 points per game and 10 assists per game in a single season since 1983.
Morant checks all of the boxes with ease in what you look for with measurements for a prototypical ball handler at the next level. His frame is the only thing to worry about here, as he will need to add some muscle and bulk to be able to take the punishment of playing a full NBA season, especially with his playing style.
BY THE NUMBERS
The thing that jumps out with Ja Morant is how remarkable his spike in production was in his sophomore season at Murray State. You usually don't see this much of a jump in all categories. It's common to see a spike in one major category but not often do you see it both the PPG and APG. Most commonly, players will return and be asked by their coaches to carry a bigger load offensively, which can lead to a spike in scoring but might hurt the FG%. Morant, on the other hand, Ja took the load offensively and saw a +3.7 increase in his assists per game. The only part of his game that didn't notice a jump was his rebounding. Remember, Morant was averaging 34.0 MPG in his freshman year, so the massive jump in production after only an increase of 2.6 minutes per game is incredible.
OFF THE DRIBBLE
Ja Morant is a serious weapon when getting downhill and attacking the rim. Here we see Morant taking advantage of a switch and he shows us his impressive ability off the dribble. Although he's going to have to improve on his thin frame, Morant is incredibly slithery when navigating through traffic. Does a great job of finishing with both hands as well.
One of the special attributes that Morant has is his ability in the open floor. Morant has elite speed and changes gears like a sportscar. Here's a great example of that. Morant gets in and out of his moves quickly. Great job of setting the defense up here and finishing.
SHOWTIME / COMPETE
While everyone will love these two clips above because of it's "highlight tape" appeal, it's a favorite of mine for other reasons. Yes, the poster dunk is a "holy crap" moment, but I love how Morant is just playing through the whistle. The second clip just shows the type of competitor that Morant is. Game is all but over with Murray State throwing up a desperation three with time running out, but Morant is still competing with an emphatic tip slam.
What I really love about Ja Morant's game is his ability to pass with both hands. He's surgical with his vision and hits players with pinpoint accuracy. Some might argue that this pass should have been a little more in front of the target, but Morant hits his teammate right in his shooting hand. You'll see a number of cases in which Morant throws his teammates open...as if he's an NFL quarterback. It's a unique ability that you often don't see with so many collegiate point guards. It's not a fluke that he went on to average 10 assists per game.
Want a point guard that's a lob threat? Ja Morant is your guy. Here's an impressive display of Morant running the floor and finishing an emphatic oop with ease.
SEEING THE FLOOR
These next two clips are important because it shows Ja's ability to read the defense in different looks. The clip above shows Morant attacking off the pick and roll and reading the collapsing teammate. Look how many Morehead State players are drawn to him. Morant makes the right read and his teammate on the wing for a wide open three. Pass right on the money in the shooting pocket.
THROWING TEAMMATES OPEN
Again, a very similar look with Morant using a pick and roll and reading the defense for a drive and kick. I love the pass here. It doesn't look like much, but Morant is leading his teammate with this pass. The elbow defender does a good job of digging and then tries to recover to prevent his man from shooting a three, but Morant leads his teammate away for a wide open look. That separation cannot be understated.
VISION IN THE OPEN FLOOR
Like we said before, a special talent in the open floor that should only thrive with additional spacing at the next level. Great job by Morant here to make the defender commit before delivering a dump off pass to the running big. He puts teammates in position to succeed, and his next teammates will love playing with him.
LOVE this clip and it's going to look boring but this is a great decision from a young point guard. You'll find situations with young guards in which they try to force something that simply isn't there. Morant does a great job of allowing the defense to create this look. Morant sees that the transition defense is out of sort and shows good patience to allow this pass to develop with good timing.
READING THE DEFENSE
Another great example of Morant seeing the floor. Notice how he is always surveying. He goes through multiple looks here and then notices the defender overcommits here and sees the hole in the defense. Great vision and another pass right on the money for the easy three.
SEEING THE FLOOR PART II
Ja literally attracts the entire Marquette defense with one drive here and is able to make a bullet corner kick while in the mid-air and surrounded by three white jerseys. Again, pass location here. Yes, teammate needs to move a bit, but let's not get ridiculous here...this is a great pass. Even the Marquette bench was in awe.
ONE ON ONE / SHOOTING RANGE
Yes, we will admit it, it's tough not to want to post every single Morant highlight pass. So let's show some of his other offensive game. Morant is going to have to increase his consistency with his outside shooting, that's not going to be a secret in draft talks. Still, he shows the ability to become a threat from outside.
PRINT YOUR POSTERS
Morant is going to have plenty of fans because he is a rim HUNTER. Ja doesn't care how many people are trying to stop him, he's going to give everything he has to make you look silly at the rim. Morant has ideal size for a point guard at 6'3" but he also has a fantastic amount of explosiveness that allows him to play above the rim.
This is just a play that you can watch on repeat for hours. I like that Morant does a good job of handling the double team right here and he doesn't get flustered. Then once Morant gets some separation he immediately gets his head up and reads the defense before delivering a beautiful bullet pass for an open bucket.
As of now, it would be a colossal shock to see Ja Morant not come off the board at number 2 overall to the Memphis Grizzlies. The pairing looks to be perfect, as Morant can slowly adapt to the NBA game on a team on the complete rebuild. Pairing Morant with the promising young big man of Jaren Jackson Jr will have Grizzlies fans foaming at the mouth. There's going to be a serious argument that Morant could even become more dominant as a passer at the NBA level with the additional spacing but remember...young point guards take time to hit their stride. No point guard has the same "jump" in their young NBA careers, as they all start to see the game slow down at different times.