Ja Morant: Defense
Our scouting grades represent the composite opinion of at least three different scouts. Each category is graded based on how we view a player’s current ability level relative to NBA players at the same position (guard, wing, forward or big). A grade of 1 indicates replacement level, a grade of 5 indicates NBA average, and a grade of 10 indicates historically elite. Our composite scouting notes help provide context for our grades.
Morant is a solid on-ball defender. His length, agility and quick hands enable him to defend at the point of attack reasonably well, even if the technique is poor at times. Defending one-on-one on the perimeter is among his better skills on this end of the floor, however there are legitimate questions about how well he will be able to deal with the relentless ball screens at the next level. His thin frame and less-than-stellar awareness on this end of the court may lead to him dying on screens frequently (something we have already seen at an NCAA level), putting the defense behind him at a significant disadvantage.
Morant is an undisciplined off-ball defender. On nearly every possession he gravitates towards the ball, opening up passing angles to his man. This puts him at a severe disadvantage when his man catches the ball, often leading to an open three or a effortless blow-by when he closes out. Though he possesses excellent awareness with the ball in his hands, on the defensive end his focus seems much more narrow. This may be a symptom of his motor issues, because when he stays engaged defensively he has flash some solid team defensive potential. Still, he likely will have a hard time with point guards that work off-ball frequently.
Although Morant gravitates toward the ball, his help defense has limited impact. His tendency is to drift towards the ball rather than maintaining awareness and helping decisively at the right time. He often positions himself poorly, impeding neither the ball-handler nor the passing angles. When he does find himself in the right position, even if sometimes incidental, his strong physical tools and quick hands do enable him to make an impact, particularly in the passing lanes. He seems to have better instincts and engagement on the strong side of the court.
Although his length does offer him some hope of one day expanding to be a two position defender, right now Morant can only defend small guards. His lack of strength makes him ill-prepared to switch up even one position as a primary assignment, and he likely would offer little resistance to 3s, 4s or 5s even on a short shot clock.
High impact plays
Morant has strong steal and block rates for his position, and has managed this while maintaining a low foul rate. He has quick hands, solid length and good explosiveness both vertically and horizontally. Moreover, his ability in the open court means that typically his steals turn into easy buckets on the other end. However, he rarely makes the type of impact plays that do not show up in the box score.