Both theoretically and in reality, the Atlanta Hawks and Memphis Grizzlies have been frequently intertwined over the past few years. During the 2018 draft, both teams were linked to the same two or three players for their first round picks. Both teams have heavily invested in the last two draft classes to build the foundations for their futures. Both front offices have made good decisions through trades and draft selections, and in the process have formed two of the more enviable young cores in the league. Furthermore, both Atlanta and Memphis have entrusted young point guards with superstar potential to take them into the next decade in the forms of Trae Young and Ja Morant.
Despite all their similarities over the past few years, the Hawks and Grizzlies 2019-2020 seasons have ironically gone the direction many felt the other franchise would go. Before the season, the Hawks were a poplar dark horse candidate for the Eastern Conference playoffs, while the Grizzlies were supposed to struggle yet be a growing must-watch product due to their style of play. However, it currently is the Grizzlies who are right in the middle of playoff push, while the Hawks are a fun find to watch for many despite likely being destined for another high lottery pick. Though their positions may be different in the present in terms of playoff contention, both franchises are still clearly focused on making moves with the future in mind.
Though the Grizzlies may be in a more enviable position from a team perspective, the evolution of Trae Young is the ideal development track that the Grizzlies and their fans should hope for Ja Morant. Young has arguably become one of the most dynamic and dominant offensive forces in the game, as he is one of the best shooters and passers in the league. His efforts earned him a nod as an All-Star Game starter in just his second season. Though Morant is not on that level currently, his popularity and impact on the game is steadily growing just as Young’s did last year as a rookie.
Comparing Morant and Young does not stem from the fact that their scoring styles of are mirror images of each other. In fact, they are significantly different. This is mainly due to Morant and Young having different physical makeups, and developing their games in a way that will maximize their abilities. While books could be written about the offensive approaches that Young and Morant put on display, a simple yet satisfying summary reads as this:
Trae Young can shoot his shot with swagger from anywhere, while Ja Morant has found a variety of ways to finish at the rim with a flourish.
This statement is supported by simple statistics regarding the shot selection preferences of each player. Per Cleaning the Glass, 41% of Young’s total shot attempts are non-corner threes, which is in the 85th percentile of NBA guards. Morant takes 53% of his shots within four feet of the rim, which is in the 98th percentile of NBA guards. Neither Young nor Morant convert their attempts at elite levels currently; however, that ability should naturally improve with time. Simply put, both young stars are committed and consistent with their offensive mentalities.
Though the core characteristic in the offensive approaches of Morant and Young may contrast, they actually share several similarities in their supporting arsenals. For instance , as the aforementioned links show, both players have the same preference when it comes to a Plan B to score. Morant and Young currently take 26% and 27% of their total shots between four and fourteen feet of the basket, placing them in the 75th percentile of NBA guards. These similarities become even more obvious when looking at how both players impact the game beyond scoring, especially when comparing their rookie seasons.
In fact, beyond their shot selection, the poplar “Twin Pointing SpiderMan” gif may be the perfect way to describe the rookie performances of Morant and Young. Here are the per 36 minute lines for Morant and Young from their rookie years:
Across the the board, both Morant and Young prove to be nearly identical. The significant difference in FG% is a direct result of the difference in their shot selections, yet they provide nearly the same scoring output due the frequency of attempts by Young from beyond the arc. In terms of quantity, it is quite clear that Morant and Young possess a high level of confidence in their abilities to add value offensively.
If the perspective shifts to the quality of their production, the parallelism between Morant and Young remains just as strong. Here is the breakdown of their rookies seasons via several advanced metrics from basketball-reference.com:
Once again, it is clear that Morant and Young added significant positive value in similar fashion offensively, especially with their passing ability. As is expected with most young guards, both players show struggles with turnovers and defensively during their debut seasons. However, the immediate impact of both players is clear and undeniable. From day one, both Morant and Young undoubtedly elevated the offensive potential for their franchises, both in the present and the future.
The statistical comparability of Morant and Young is not the only eye-opening truth about their rookie seasons. The historical significance of both players’ production also jumps off the page. Morant and Young are two of only seven players in NBA history to produce a 35% or better assist percentage with a PER rating of 17 or better (minimum 1600 minutes played). Both are currently two of only six players in NBA history to average 17.5 points or more and seven assists or more per game as rookies, joining a group that includes Oscar Robinson, Magic Johnson, and Allen Iverson. If Morant has three more games in which he produces 20 or more points and 10 or more assists, he will join young as one of eight players to accomplish that goal at least 10 times during their rookie season. Like Young last year, Morant is truly in the midst of a special and historic debut season in the NBA.
As can be seen, both Morant and Young are truly embarking on two of the best starts to a career by a point guard in NBA history. Whether Morant takes as significant of a second year step as Young has remains to be seen. Like Young, his career seems to be on a clear path to stardom. Both players will continue to be frequent and fantastic sources of highlights and headlines throughout their careers, and though the content of those clips may differ, they will be equally amazing and entertaining.
With their first of many future match-ups tonight, the careers of Young and Morant will be a fun source of debate and deliberation for years to come. However, as we have unfortunately been reminded through the passing of Kobe Bryant, one should never let the desire to debate limit their ability to appreciate the value of witnessing something wonderful. The future of the NBA is very bright, and thankfully for both Hawks and Grizzlies fans, they get to enjoy two of the most significant reasons why on a nightly basis.
Stats provided via Basketball-reference.com and CleaningTheGlass.com