Ja Morant: Role

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Strengths

  • Elite-level passer

  • Use his length well when attacking the rim

  • Very tight handle

  • Good end-to-end speed while dribbling

Weaknesses

  • Average explosiveness

  • Below average outside shooter

  • Turnover-prone

  • Defensive instincts are lacking

Offensive role at Murray St.

Ja Morant has been the battery running the Murray State offense all season long. From no-look passes to highlight reel dunks, the sophomore guard has made more waves than any mid-major player has a right to. His handle is tight and much of his offensive game is predicated on his ability to get anywhere he wants off the bounce. He plays a very high usage role (above 33 percent through mid-February), serving as both Murray State’s leading scorer and leading assist man. He is very dependent on his ability to slash and kick to create for both himself and teammates, but his tight handles allow him to get anywhere he needs to against Ohio Valley Conference competition. He is shooting an impressive 57 percent on two-point field goals (for frame of reference, last year’s No. 7 pick, big man Wendell Carter, shot 58 percent on two-point field goals), most of which come in the lane. He is a maestro when splitting defenders, using his quickness and length to slide by potential shot blockers. He has also significantly raised his three-point volume from his freshman (2.8 attempts) to sophomore seasons (4.9 attempts), though his percentages haven’t shown significant improvement. He is getting to the line an impressive 8.2 times per game and converting on his free throws at an 81 percent rate. And while his ability to score is impressive, his passing cannot be undersold. He is currently leading the nation in assists and routinely makes three to four “how did he even see that?” passes per game.

Offensive role projection -

Initiator

Whoever targets Morant in the draft is likely looking for an offensive dynamo. He has shown a penchant for producing points and has tremendous instincts for finding teammates in advantage situations. While he has drawn quite a few Damian Lillard comparisons, he isn’t nearly the three-point assassin Lillard was during his senior season at Weber State. However, he has solid free throw mechanics and will more than likely be able to stretch his game after working with the top shooting coaches in the world. He will likely never be a high volume, high efficiency player from beyond the arc, but any improvement he can make in that area will open up other avenues for him to be the focal point of an above average offense. His passing vision is phenomenal and he will be the high tide which raises all boats. He has the innate ability to pass teammates open by seeing where the holes in the defense will be and by using his own gravity to draw help defenders. Early in his NBA career he will be heavily reliant on this gravity to create in slash and kick situations, while trying to find his feet as a shooter. His above average athleticism and quickness will give him the tools to get into the lane and his vision will do the rest. He has prodigious upside because of his skills as an on-ball scorer and creator and will likely be the first guard off the board as a result.

Defensive role at Murray St.

In their quest for an OVC title and an NCAA tournament bid, the Murray State Racers don’t depend on Morant to be a lockdown defender, and it’s a good thing. He is guilty of ball watching when he isn’t directly involved in the play and can be impatient when trying to create a turnover. He doesn’t seem particularly engaged or committed to being a great defender, but his workload on the offensive end might have a lot to do with the amount of effort he can commit. One thing he does well is use his length to be disruptive both on the ball and in passing lanes. Though he seeks out those types of opportunities too often and will try to manufacture extra possessions when he would be better served staying home, he has shown a penchant for being able to get a hand on errant passes and making it tough for opponents to see around him once they pick up their dribble.

Defensive role projection -

Hidden defender

Morant isn’t a large player (standing 6’3” tall and sporting a 185 lb frame), making him a one-position defender. He doesn’t have the tenacity of an on-ball bulldog and his slight frame will make him easy to jostle for stronger NBA guards. He is also a target for switches as larger players seek to take advantage of him by establishing deep position. He will likely spend the early part of career hiding out on the off-guard which means he will have to become a more aware team defender and improve on fighting through screens. If he can put on weight, something which will help him significantly if he can do it without sacrificing quickness, he might be able to take on more assignments. Early in his career, though, he will likely be the target of opposing offenses as the probe for an advantage, especially if he lands on a switch-heavy team.

Why Morant will earn minutes as a rookie

Morant is poised to have one of the highest offensive upsides in the 2019 class. While much of the league has figured out their point guard of the future, a few teams who will find themselves in the lottery are still searching. For one of these teams, he will be inserted into the starting lineup early, with the hope he will seize the reins and become a franchise cornerstone. He is quick and long and will likely still be able to get into the lane, but it will be his passing ability which keeps him on the floor. His ability to create something from nothing and to set the table for teammates is important for young teams. By distributing the ball around and getting everyone involved, from screeners to shooters to cutters, Morant can be the engine of a multifaceted offense.

Why Morant’s minutes may be limited as a rookie

While Morant seems to have a concentration of offensive talent to get him on the floor, his defensive shortcomings will see him right off, if he can’t improve. He can be disengaged when off the ball and even when he is locked in will go for risky steals and blocks instead of contesting without fouling. Couple this with his diminutive frame and he will be a target for opposing offenses for much of the fourth quarter during close games. Adding strength is a must, but early on he will have to rely on improving his technique, learning to stay home and play defense without fouling. On offense, he is turnover-prone (averaging over five per game this season), a subject that many have noted as a weighty slight against a primary ball handler with such high usage. However, offenses run by rookie point guards tend to be around the top of the league in turnovers and giving him the keys and confidence to attack the game with his full array of talent and the confidence to know he won’t be pulled for giving the ball away (provided he improves over time).