Can Ja Morant end up being a better version of Russell Westbrook?

NBA Draft Ja Morant (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
NBA Draft Ja Morant (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) /

Ja Morant has taken the league by storm. Is it possible he can carve out a better career than Russell Westbrook?

Comparing a rookie to an NBA MVP who has averaged three consecutive triple-double seasons might seem crazy at first, but after a little less than a season’s worth Ja Morant has exploded onto the scene in a very Westbrook-esque way.

I believe, assuming he continues to develop at a ripe pace, Ja Morant could eventually become a better player than Russell Westbrook.

While Morant has played in only 32 games; he missed six games earlier in the season due to back spasms and rest (!), he has already become must-watch TV.

That is Morant fooling two players with a smooth fake, that only a handful of ball handlers can pull off.

Morant casually dunking over a 6-foot-10 guy in crunch time. The fact he would even attempt to put someone on a poster at that moment is one thing, the concentration to finish is another.
But it’s not only the highlight plays that make Morant such a pleasure to watch, but it is also the poise and efficiency he plays with. Most NBA guards come into the league and struggle to find a rhythm. Most of that comes with the game being significantly faster and players much bigger, at the professional level.

Westbrook spent one season at UCLA playing against future NBA talent each night. Morant spent two seasons at Murray State, a little school in Kentucky. Surely Westbrook was better prepared to excel at the NBA level right? Nope. It might surprise most people that Morant’s shooting splits; 48.5/39.7/79.7 are as good as they are. Westbrook’s splits during his rookie season were a very inefficient 39.8/27.1/81.5.

The bigger the guy, the bigger the challenge as Morant sees it. According to, he is shooting 56.6 percent in the restricted area and 40.6 percent in the paint. During Westbrook’s rookie season he shot 47 percent and 33.8 percent respectively.

Morant has shown the ability to play off the ball, by shooting 3’s at a 38 percent clip when he catch-and-shoots. Westbrook shot just over 27 percent in his sixth season (the NBA didn’t start tracking player’s catch-and-shoot shots until the 13-14 season) on the same shots, per Westbrook has only shot over 38 percent on catch-and-shoot threes once in his career and has never shot better than 33 percent over a whole season.

Much has been made about Westbrook’s historically bad shooting numbers, so the Hall-of-Famer doesn’t need one more person talking about.

Ironically, Morant has averaged over one more assist than Westbrook did his rookie season, and that was playing with Kevin Durant as a teammate. Morant’s potential assists are at 11.8. assists are left on the board for every player, but once the Grizzlies start to add to their up-and-coming team, that number will skyrocket.

The moment is never too big for Ja, even in his rookie season. He currently ranks 14th in the NBA with 3.3 clutch time points (measures points within the last five minutes of games within five points.), according to That is better than the likes of guys like Paul George and Luka Doncic. His teams are 9-7 in those games. Westbrook was scoring 2.1 points during his rookie season.

The fact that Durant was on that team may have skewed those numbers a bit. Taking Westbrook’s shooting splits, subtracting Durant and the attention he attracted, I am led to believe his scoring wouldn’t have been as high.

Nothing has slowed Morant, who only knows one speed, and that’s very fast. The Memphis Grizzlies currently play at the third-fastest pace in the league. The Grizzles were in the bottom five over the course of the past five seasons according to That pace has continued to increase each month, as the team finds its identity with its lightning-fast leader. The rookie has taken a franchise that was known for its Grit-and-Grind mentality and turned it into a high-efficiency race-car.

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The Grizzlies will go as far as Morant can take them. The Thunder’s success was always predicated on Durant being the alpha and Westbrook playing a secondary role. Morant becoming a better player than a future Hall-of-Famer who has rewritten history books (for better and worse) is a bold prediction and a tall hill to climb, but Morant likes a challenge.