With free agency kicking off and teams rapidly improving, the Memphis Grizzlies will most likely be in a two-man race with the Phoenix Suns for the 15th seed in the Western Conference.
But they’re content with that. The Grizzlies are not looking to win a championship in the near future, but rather build up their young players into NBA stars, and it starts with the Murray State 19 year-old Ja Morant.
The 2019 All-American, Morant has been passed the torch from former Memphis point guard Mike Conley, who got traded to the Utah Jazz for Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver, and two first round picks. This move made way for Morant to step into the team’s starting point guard role.
He was nothing short of spectacular in college. The dynamic athlete and playmaker averaged 24.5 points, 10 assists, 5.7 rebounds, and 1.8 steals per game on 49.9 percent shooting from the field in his sophomore season at Murray State. Morant shows up on the biggest stage in his first NCAA March Madness game, as his number 12th seeded team knocked out the 5th seeded Marquette, with Morant putting up 17 points, 16 rebounds, and 11 assists.
The biggest question is whether his game will translate to the NBA. College ball is different. The three-point line is shorter, the shot clock is longer, and the defense is tougher. Not to mention, the immense talent gap between the two leagues. Morant will go through the standard struggles all rookies face trying to adjust to the new style of play the NBA presents, and he will have to stick to his strengths to prosper in his first season.
From an offensive standpoint, Morant should prosper as the primary point guard on the team. He will command the ball a ton, so it shouldn’t be a surprise if he plays 35+ minutes per game this season. The All-American is a natural scorer, with his explosiveness allowing him to get to the rim and finish. He’s quick and can throw down some highlight reel dunks in the open court. He can quickly change speed and direction with his advanced ball handling skills.
His most advanced skill is his ability to get open looks for teammates. It was not a fluke that he averaged 10 assists per game in his sophomore season. Morant can see the court like a floor general and has a great feel for the game. There is no doubt this will carry over to the NBA, as his vision is uncanny for such a young player. He did, however, lead the NCAA in turnovers at 5.2 per game, a staggering amount. He must keep his turnovers down by not trying to force creative passes into small spaces.
The biggest question mark for Morant’s game is his jumper. When he gets away from his defender with his quickness, can he rise up and knock down that jumpshot, whether it be a 12-foot shot or a three-pointer?
He has great form on his jumper and shot 36.6% from beyond the arc last season with Murray State. He has shown the ability to hit deep threes, but not with consistency. While his jumper has potential, it will take years of development before he has a knockdown shot. Morant will need to spend a lot of time in the gym getting up shots.
While working on his shot, Morant also needs to put on some weight. Listed at a mere 175 pounds, he will get pushed around by stronger opponents. Defensively, he has the frame, standing at 6’3 with a 6’7 wingspan, but he needs to get in the weight room to prevent him from being bullied on the defensive end. The 19-year old is a good and smart defender however, averaging 1.8 steals per game last season. He doesn’t gamble or unnecessarily foul, which is crucial for a young player.
Morant will not put up 24 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 rebounds per game in his rookie season like he did in college. A more realistic statline would be around 15-17 points, 6-8 assists, and 3-4 rebounds per game for the Murray State alum.
Regardless, it will be a years before Morant can really show up on the biggest stage, as Memphis will hang around the lottery teams for the distant future. Until then, Morant needs adjust to the NBA game and perfect his craft.
Their record might not show it in the upcoming season, but the Memphis Grizzles drafted a star in Ja Morant.