We are now ten games into this NBA season, and rookie Ja Morant has already started to demand some attention around the NBA. Even as the second overall pick in last year’s draft, he did not have the name recognition and notoriety as some of the higher profile selections. Morant has quickly gained respect in this early season by showing off electric offensive skills making the Memphis Grizzlies a great viewing experience when they take the court.
This article may actually have come at a poor time, because the last three games for the Grizzlies Morant has scored the lowest two totals of the season and sat out a back-to-back against the Dallas Mavericks. However, at the ten game mark on the season, it is a good even number to take a step back and look at his early performance in this league as a whole.
Morant is averaging 18.9 points, 5.5 assists, and 3.5 rebounds per game. He is shooting 49.2% from the field and a crazy impressive 46.2% from three-point range. These shooting numbers may not be sustainable and are even inflated a bit with Morant only taking 1.6 three-pointers a game. Although the sustained success will have a great chance of continuing over time because of how Morant positions himself on the court for the easiest shot possible. In his 30-point game against Brooklyn, he was able to score these 30 points with only one made three-pointer and by making 12 two-point field goals.
This first clip shows off Morant’s basketball IQ and discipline on the court to get himself the best look at scoring. He goes around the screen and college instincts would have him crashing the paint and trying to score with pure athleticism. However, now in the NBA, he has DeAndre Jordan in his path between him and the basket. Morant makes the right call and goes to the eight foot floater over Jordan for an easy two. It looks simple in real time, but not all rookies would make this smart call.
One aspect of Morant’s game that has not been fully tapped into yet is his three-point shot. As mentioned, he is only attempting 1.6 threes a game. He understands, which again shows off his NBA maturity already, that he is much better at driving towards the rim and attacking the paint than settling for a three point shot. With that being said, it is not like he does not possess the ability to take and make this shot. In his two seasons at Murray State, Morant took 3.8 three-pointers per game and shot 34.3%. It is not something he relies on, but it also shows he is not a one-dimensional player.
This three-point shot will be important for Morant to show flashes of as he progress through his rookie campaign. Defenders will start to sag off and try to cut off his ability to drive by them. In the clip above, Rubio, whether intentional or unintentional, he went underneath the screen as to not get blown by on a drive. Morant read this and just casually pulled up nailing the three. He went two of three from behind the arc in this one. Plays like this will make teams and defenders acknowledge his three point ability.
An article on Ja Morant would not be complete without highlighting his raw athleticism and ability to score around the rim. It is the best quality he possesses on the basketball court. Each and every game, he does something new that blows everyone away. For better or for worse, he attacks the rim with reckless abandon. While his intensity is what you want to see in a young player, hopefully someone has told him to think about the injury risk some of these attempted dunks may cause. Regardless, he finishes with such ease that it is a complete delight to see him take off each game.
This clip epitomizes the player Ja Morant is for the Grizzlies each night. He is an instant breakaway from a jaw dropping finish that just makes you leave speechless. This was in a close back-and-forth game late in the fourth quarter, and none of that fazed Morant. He took the ball at half court and knew he was attacking the basket. An incredible one-two and jump from just inside the free throw line for a scoop and score under Spencer Dinwiddie. It had FedExForum rocking. He then followed it up with a game-tying bucket in the same game off a similar driving layup. Morant knows his strengths and will exploit any defense that stands in his way.
Almost every night, Morant puts on show displaying another part of his game to everyone. If everything stays the course, he will be a major contender for Rookie of the Year. He will of course have quiet nights as any player does in the NBA, but it will be extra fascinating to see how he works through these. The promising sign is that he has the skills discussed to carry him out of whatever slump he might face at any point in his career.
The Memphis Grizzlies have an absolute gem in Ja Morant. He is everything they could have imagined from the second overall pick. The basketball IQ, raw athleticism, and finishing around the rim are already there for Morant. That was his draw all along. But, if these three dominant skills can be combined with a threatening three-point shot, then the sky is the limit for him. He doesn’t need to rush in to anything now, but it sure will be something when he does. It is mind-boggling that we are only ten games into this NBA season, and Morant is already playing like this. He is getting the attention of all the NBA community, and it is rightfully deserved with the numbers he as put up so far this season.