Many people anticipated Ja Morant to make an impact immediately as an electrifying passer. Who knew that he would actually be an electrifying scorer as well? Not many people — including myself — expected Morant to become a 20-point-per-game scorer this quickly. It’s not even much of a slight at him at all. Sure, the critics questioned his finishing ability at the rim given his frame, and they also had concerns about his jumper. In addition, it’s hard to find many young guards — yet alone, rookie guards less than 10 games into their careers — score at this rate on this kind of efficiency.
Like he has his entire career, Ja Morant is proving the naysayers wrong once again, as he’s putting on a scoring clinic and establishing himself as a potent three-level scorer. He has a nice, quick twitch attacking the basket, while possessing the craftiness and the aggressiveness to finish with high efficiency. He hasn’t hit many mid-range pull-up’s, ala a guard like CJ McCollum, but he’s used a deft floater to catch defenders off guard. Morant’s also erasing concerns about his three-point jumper to this point, shooting 50% on 3-pointer’s — and 75% (3-4) on pull-up 3’s.
Granted, it’s a small sample size, but he’s already placing himself in good company. He’s the first player since Michael Jordan to average 20+ points and 5+ assists while shooting 50+% from the field through his first 7 games.
Yes, small sample size, but Morant’s flashing massive upside as a potent go-to scorer in this league with room to grow as an elite one at that.
One of the biggest critiques on Morant’s game was his 3-point shot. At Murray State, he shot 34.3 percent from three for his collegiate career.
So far, he’s shot 6-12 from three, and though it’s an extremely small sample it’s an encouraging sign for the Grizzlies. A few pass-first guards like him have struggled with their shots, and it’s hindered their games. Guys like Ricky Rubio, Rajon Rondo, Lonzo Ball, and even Russell Westbrook haven’t made defenders pay when they go under screens, which reduces spacing necessary to either get to the rim or find open teammates off the drive.
However, Morant has been comfortable shooting 3’s, especially off the dribble — a huge staple for many elite point guards:
The biggest thing for Morant is his efficiency when his volume goes up. Right now, he’s only shooting less than 2 triples a game, and against Minnesota, he didn’t have a single attempt from downtown. It hasn’t really hindered his game, as he doesn’t really need a 3-point shot to punish defenders yet. His ability to get to and score in the paint offsets the low volume of 3-point shots.
However, it’ll be interesting to see how Morant’s 3-point game evolves. If he could even become a 37% 3-point shooter over the next few seasons on 4 or 5 attempts a game, it’ll generate tons of gravity for him to either attack the basket when defenders go over on screens, or for him to use his gaudy passing instincts to find open teammates.
The biggest area of Morant’s offensive game that has room for improvement is his in-between game. Per Cleaning the Glass, he’s shooting 41 percent on mid-range shots — and 30 percent on long mid-range shots (shots in the arc longer than 14 feet).
It’s certainly not ideal, but this area isn’t as big of a priority in today’s NBA, since the analytics encourage 3-pointers and layups. However, it’s going to be an area to monitor for Morant, as it could elevate him from a damn good scorer to an elite one.
Morant has also added a sneaky floater to his game, making him more potent in the mid-range game. It’s a weapon that guards like Tony Parker and Mike Conley had in their arsenal to make them more dangerous when creating inside the arc.
Though the mid-range numbers aren’t necessarily great, Morant’s floater game flashes major promise for him to evolve into a phenomenal in-between scorer.
I think that’s what the kids call it these days. In case you’re an old-head boomer that doesn’t know today’s slang, jelly is a term used whenever a player finishes around the rim with flair and finesse.
Ja Morant has some jelly in his bag, and the sauce he uses when finishing the rim is reminiscent of Kyrie Irving:
Ja’s got all the sauce, and it’s drawn many ooo’s and ahh’s throughout the crowd. It’s impressive for a rookie this year in his career to not only pull this out in a game, but to finish these with high efficiency.
In addition, despite his slender flame, he uses aggressiveness to position himself well enough to finish over bigger defenders:
Ja Morant is already a great finisher in the paint for his position. He’s shooting 61% at the rim, which is already better than De’Aaron Fox, Jamal Murray, Trae Young, and Kemba Walker.
This is the most promising aspect of his game, as his efficiency and finishing abilities — which includes the ability to baptize defenders — will only improve as he matures. However, he’s already shown to be one of the league’s most elite at finishing around the rim.
Ja Morant is just built different.
No rookie guard is supposed to score efficiently this early in his career. For context, Russell Westbrook, Trae Young, and De’Aaron Fox all shot in the high-30’s, low-40’s to start their career.
He’s already to this point a fearless crunch time scorer, sitting at 4th in the entire league in 4th quarter scoring.
He’s averaging 20 points per game right now, and he still has room to grow as a scorer.
Given his skill set, fearlessness, and pure aggression, Morant could evolve into an elite scorer. For someone who’s already highly regarded for his elite playmaking ability, what if he does become a top-flight scorer as well? All of the sudden, we’re talking about a talent Memphis hasn’t seen before — a perennial All-NBA player that could enter MVP conversations down the road.
Granted, it’s a small sample size, and it’s easy to overreact from early season observations.
One thing that’s not an overreaction: Ja Morant is a bonafide bucket.
Additional stats and videos found on nba.com/stats.