2019 NBA Draft projected number two pick Ja Morant came on to the scene in a big way. In just two seasons at Murray State University, Morant became a back-to-back Ohio Valley Conference Champion, OVC Tournament Champion, NCAA Tournament appearances, and a 54-11 record overall. Individually Morant was a consensus All-American and brought in numerous awards including the Bob Cousy Award for the NCAA’s best point guard for the 2018-2019 season. The young guard was a ZERO star recruit coming out of high school and is now looking at being a top-3 pick overall in the 2019 NBA Draft. Morant will join Racer greats Popeye Jones, Isaiah Canaan, and Cameron Payne as the latest NBA talent from Murray State.
JA MORANT CLEARED THE DEFENDER ON THE DUNK ??? pic.twitter.com/mEtkcIr8es
— Def Pen Sports (@DefPenSports) January 11, 2019
Ja Morant has HOPS! Standing at 6’3″ and weighing a very slender 175 pounds, Morant has unreal leaping ability. He uses that athleticism to block shots, rebound the ball, and jump over guys listed 6’8″ like in the video above. It will be interesting to see what kind of vertical he has if it ever officially gets measured, but it is somewhere in the 42-46″ range depending on who you ask. Over the season, Morant gained notoriety for his gravity-defying dunks, much like former AAU teammate Zion Williamson. His athleticism also allowed him to overcome not having a super long wingspan and still average 1.8 steals a game this past season.
Even if Morant didn’t have the athleticism he does have, he would probably be a lottery pick regardless. However, with this added facet of his game, he proved himself to be the cream of the crop in the NCAA and has scouts drooling ahead of the 2019 NBA Draft.
Ja Morant messed around and recorded the first NCAA Tournament triple-double since Draymond Green in 2012
— Def Pen Sports (@DefPenSports) March 21, 2019
My last semester at Murray State happened to be the Fall 2018 semester, and being witness to Morant’s abilities in his breakout season was a blessing. There were games where many believed he would have the ability to throw down a triple-double; he first achieved this feat as a freshman! In his sophomore year, there was no telling what he may do.
Ja ended up having three in his sophomore year against Missouri State, Morehead State, and Marquette respectively. That last triple-double just so happened to occur in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the last time a player put up a stat line like that was Draymond Green in 2012.
Although triple-doubles were not always guaranteed, a double-double almost always was. In the 2018-2019 season, Morant averaged 24.5 points, 10 assists, and 5.7 rebounds. The first player to average 20 points and 10 assists in a single season at the NCAA level since assists became a recorded stat in the 1983-1984 season. He can score the ball from anywhere, inside or out, and boasted a solid 36.3% average from deep this season, an increase of 5.6% from his freshman year.
His court vision and basketball IQ are off the charts, allowing him to make ridiculous cross-court, one-handed passes. If Morant isn’t able to score points for himself, he just might dish out 18 assists, his career high, and get others involved in the offense instead.
While Ja is a truly electrifying player, there are some things he still needs to work on. The main issue he had this past season happened to be turnovers. He averaged 5.2 a game. Now, before anyone hits the panic button, let’s look at the context. Morant was the lone star on his mid-major team, there was some talent around him, but his usage rate was ridiculously high, and many times he had to take over games in order for his team to win. When you are handling the ball as much as he did this last season, you are going to have some mistakes. Also, some of those cross-court, one-handed passes didn’t always find their targets.
When you look at his freshman season, he was still playing a lot of minutes, 34 a game, but with senior Jonathan Stark on the team, Morant was not always the primary ball-handler. Not only that, but two of his teammates, Stark and Terrell Miller, are both playing some form of professional basketball now, so there was a higher level of talent. In that first season, Morant only averaged 2.5 turnovers a game.
Ja is going to have to put more muscle on his body and get stronger. At 175lb, he isn’t going to be able to absorb contact quite the same in the NBA as he did in the OVC. Getting his body NBA ready is going to be a challenge after the 2019 NBA Draft, but he did put on a considerable amount of muscle and size from high school to college, so not all hope is lost.
2019 NBA Draft Comparison: John Wall
As someone who remembers being wowed and amazed at John Wall’s abilities in college, and someone who saw up close and in person Ja Morant’s game well over twenty times, I have no issue with saying that there has not been a point guard as exciting in the NCAA since John Wall. Morant’s explosive athleticism, speed, and court vision are hard to compare to a lot of guards. Many have thrown out Russell Westbrook, but Morant is more of a passing guard naturally.
The showmanship, IQ, and wow factor is all there when comparing Morant to Wall. While their body types are slightly different, their ability on the court is a lot alike. Morant probably shoots the ball better than John Wall did in college, but Morant may not transition to the physicality of the league as fast as Wall did.
The main similarity they both have, they are just fun to watch. When you watched John Wall at Kentucky you knew something special was happening, and the same can be said of Morant.