Memphis Grizzlies: Projecting Ja Morant’s rookie season

NBA Memphis Grizzlies Ja Morant (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
NBA Memphis Grizzlies Ja Morant (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images) /

As he prepares to make his NBA debut this season after being drafted by the Memphis Grizzlies, we take the liberty in projecting Ja Morant’s rookie season

As the second overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft by the Memphis GrizzliesJa Morant was a late bloomer but has shown he has the potential to be one of the best basketball players of his generation at the point guard position.

After putting up an amazing sophomore season in college at Murray State, all eyes will be on Morant and the Grizzlies as he makes the jump from the college ranks to the NBA.

Morant has seen many big-time comparisons, ranging from Russell Westbrook to the likes of Steve Francis. Just like these two NBA greats, Morant does bring nightly highlights with forays above the rim as well as charging the lead on fast breaks to eye-popping finishes.

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Quesiont is, will Morant have an All-Star career or reach heights of triple-doubles and MVP’s like Westbrook? The Grizzlies hope so, and are betting on it.

In time we will tell how great Morant will be in the NBA but for now, I’m going to dig into Ja Morant’s game and breakdown what we can expect to see from the impressive Murray State sophomore in his first year in the NBA.

Ja Morant

Strengths: Elite playmaker, lethal scorer, extremely athletic, next-level confidence

Ja Morant’s basketball journey is rather unique for a prospect selected second overall in the NBA Draft. Most young men picked in the top 5 of the NBA Draft have usually dominated throughout high school and are well known by most basketball fans by the time they come to the draft.

But for Morant, he was a true late bloomer as he wasn’t even ranked coming out of high school. As for the two picks around him in the draft, both Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett were ranked top 5 in their high school class and were both drafted as freshmen compared to Morant spending one more year playing college basketball.

Despite being overlooked, Morant, in his sophomore season, put up one of the best college seasons in NCAA history. He had a truly special showing in one game this past season, in which he became the first player to record 40 points, 10 assists and five steals in a single game in 20 years.

He also was the first player in NCAA history to average 20 points and 10 assists for a season, en route to being named a consensus first-team All-American in addition to winning the OVC Player of the Year. He also took home the 2019 Lute Olson Award (given to the best non-freshman player) and the 2019 Bob Cousy Award (given to the nation’s best point guard).

While the comps to Westbrook and Francis are great for any up-and-coming point guard, let’s dig further into his skills.

Morant’s most apparent strength is his great handle on all aspects of the offensive side of the court. Morant can lead the fast break with the best and fastest, he can get to the rim and finish with any young player, as well as he can find a teammate with an ingenious and crafty pass like some of the best point guards in basketball. Morant can fill up a stat sheet like few other and can dominate offensively just by his extensive tool-box on that side of the court.

When diving deep in Morant’s playstyle, game mentality, and NBA potential I see a combination of Baron Davis, Russell Westbrook, and Damian Lillard.

Morant is a gifted passer but also an exceptional rebounder just as Westbrook is arguably the best rebounder at his position in the NBA. Morant also plays similarly with a high motor, determination, and aggression around the basketball in the same vein as Westbrook. When it comes to finishing above the rim and driving hard to the basketball, that is something both Westbrook and Lillard share in comparison to Morant.

Morant shares a close profile to Lillard, too. The comps to Lillard start with the fact that they both are high NBA draft picks coming from mid-major collegiate programs and being overlooked coming out of high school. Just like Lillard, Morant plays big in clutch moments and has a way of elevating his performance to match the moment. Lillard is known for his sky-high confidence and willing to take any shot, Morant shares that same basketball edge.

In terms of on the court, Morant also shoots the ball with a low-release point but with infinite range with a strong similarity to Lillard’s shooting style. The last major element both Lillard and Morant share are with posterizing opponents with speculator above the rim finishes.

The player whose overall gameplay compares most favorably to Morant is Baron Davis. Just like Lillard, Davis had his share of highlight-reel dunks over opponents at the rim which we can point to as another similarity. Morant has the mentality of a true floor general style point guard that can also score the ball with the best of them. Whereas many of today’s point guards are score-first, pass-second like Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving, Morant is more of a throwback to yesterday.

I project that Ja Morant will be a several time All-Star and if he stays healthy throughout his career can be a special player to watch for a decade-plus. After comparing over comparable NBA rookie campaigns, here are the numbers we can expect from Ja Morant in his rookie season of 2019-20: plays 75-80 games, 34 minutes per game, 17-19 points per game, 4-5 rebounds per game, 7-8 assists per game, and one steal per game.

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Time will tell how Morant will ultimately tell what type of player Morant will ultimately be in the NBA, but his potential is through the roof. Morant has as much potential as any young prospect in the NBA and can end up surprising many and winning the 2019-20 Rookie of the year over other big favorites.