Coming into the league, Ja Morant’s most talked-about skill was his passing. In his last season at Murray State University, Morant become the only player in college basketball history to average 20 points and 10 assists.
Most rookie point guards have a learning curve coming into the NBA, as their passing is typically flashy yet raw. However, Morant has shown that his passing is beyond his years.
He displays excellent control, knowing when to have his foot on the gas and when to pump the brakes for the half-court offense. He can make the dazzling, yet risky, dish just as good as the simple pass. With those AND-1 style dimes, he typically draws an oooh and aahhh from the crowd.
With the Orlando Bubble is underway, let’s take a look at some of Ja Morant’s best assists of the season.
10. Ja (almost) completes the assist of the season
I don’t care if it’s technically not an assist. This dish here may go down as an all-time move, similar to Jason Williams’ elusive elbow pass. What’s crazier are the layers behind this dime. He was already about to rise over the top of Larry Nance Jr., one of the league’s prominent leapers. When he saw the chance wasn’t there, he improvised to find Jaren Jackson Jr. ready for the easy bucket. If only Tristan Thompson would’ve just let him have it...
9) The assist to his 1st career win
This assist isn’t the flashiest of Morant’s, as I probably had at least 5-6 more in drafts that had a little more pizzazz. However, the significance here is it led to this first win. In only his 3rd game, Ja already demonstrated excellent poise in crunchtime. In regulation, he finished in the paint over shot-blocking extraordinaire Jarrett Allen, then blocking superstar shot-creator Kyrie Irving, to send the game to overtime.
Most rookies would’ve taken the opportunity to be a hero, as that shot would’ve wildly fired after Morant’s behind-the-back dribble. Instead, he find Crowder inside for the more open, straight-away 3 in stride.
8) Ja puts on his Ja-noculars in the pick-and-roll
Granted, Shabazz Napier and Davis Bertans are not the two most potent defenders in the league. But this pass demonstrates Ja’s patience in the pick-and-roll and his ability to thread the needle for an easy bucket. He waits until Bertans and Napier try to switch back to their original assignments, and Morant uses it as a window to zip it to Kyle Anderson for the easy bucket.
This game was also Ja Morant’s first career triple-double. While this pass didn’t seal the accomplishment, it was still the most impressive assist of that milestone night.
7) Ja gets fancy before the corner 3
After a deflection, Morant leaked out in transition to receive an outlet pass. His behind-the-back into an off-balanced, cross-court dart to Crowder for a quick 3 was crazy. That sequence reminded me of the person he made that play over: (prime) Rajon Rondo.
6) Ja and Jaren put house in a cycle
Ja Morant pulled off a similar sequence here against the Houston Rockets. After a Jaren Jackson Jr. block, Morant starts the fast break and ignites another play that sent the Grindhouse into a frenzy. He uses the behind-the-back to fake the dish to Solomon Hill, before finding Jackson for the slam.
This assist was just one of many tricks Morant pulled off in a staple win against James Harden and the Houston Rockets.
5) Ja goes off hand in transition
I’ve highlighted Ja’s ability to throw lasers with his left hand.
Been looking at a lot of Ja Morant's assists from this season, and his ability to fire one-hand darts with his off-hand is incredible. This play against 2 rangy defenders to go baseline and find Brooks open from 3 caught my eye. It's Steve Nash like pic.twitter.com/xqzHXrIfG6— Parker Fleming (@PAKA_FLOCKA) July 12, 2020
This pass to De’Anthony Melton was mightily impressive. Not only does he fire off a left-handed bounce pass, he manages to catch it, control his momentum, and make the smooth pass for the easy finish.
This assist also illustrates the importance of finding complementary players that can run the floor with Morant, who’s a walking highlight-reel in transition. As they keep adding those pieces, and the game slows down for Morant even more, they can become one of the most deadly transition teams in basketball.
4) Ja ditches the alley-oop for the assist
In this Cleveland game, Morant already showed the ability to adjust in mid-air to make the better read. He displayed that again with this alley-oop(?) sequence.
When he noticed that he wasn’t going to finish the oop, he found a trailing Jaren for the easier jam. Morant’s mid-air adjustments indicate the amount of control and vision he possesses. Not many rookies, yet along NBA point guards, possess the ability to alter their actions in the air.
3) Ja works magic in the Garden
Ok, how the hell did he pull this off?
Again, Ja’s body control is fantastic, and his ability to make the correct read — whether he’s grounded or not — is truly mesmerizing. I’m still in awe of how he completed the pass to Guduric right before the defender could close out on him.
I can go on and on here about this play. His vision and creativity are just unbelievable.
2 and 1) A glimpse of the future
I’m lumping these two dimes in here, because they both exhibit the future of Grizzlies basketball.
Brandon Clarke has already become one of the best finishers in the league. His verticality and ability to create space for above-the-rim finishes are fantastic and truly ahead of most big men at this stage. Those skills make him the perfect lob buddy for Ja Morant.
Ja already dazzles the crowd here with a smooth behind-the-back against James Harden, then dishes a no-look lob to Clarke for the easy finish. It’s almost reminiscent of Chris Paul when he was with the Clippers.
When the Grizzlies drafted Clarke, The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks wrote, “The beauty of the team Memphis is building is that it could combine the best elements of Grit and Grind with Lob City.”
This sentiment holds extremely true with Morant and Clarke, as the franchise point guard has the perfect lob partner for this up-tempo Grizzlies team.
I don’t know how you don’t salivate watching this pick-and-roll.
When looking at Morant’s assists, you notice a lot of them coming from a roll or fade from Jaren. This sequence illustrates Morant’s creativity in the pick-and-roll, while giving everyone a glimpse of the Grizzlies’ bright days ahead.
This was the vision for the Memphis Grizzlies when they selected Ja Morant. After moving on from Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies found its newest pick-and-roll tandem. With Morant’s unique vision and flair, and Jackson’s ability to finish inside and beyond the arc, this duo’s potential is limitless.
Ja Morant has the makings of a generational passer, and it’s not just the local media or fanbase saying this stuff.
"To me he's a combination of Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook, with dimes like Rajon Rondo. And we've never seen a guy like this."@KendrickPerkins and @stephenasmith describe Ja Morant as a "generational talent." pic.twitter.com/S9isubEVoy— First Take (@FirstTake) July 3, 2020
With the passing display he’s put on this season, there seems to be little doubt he can become one of the league’s most gifted playmakers. His ball fakes are similar to Rondo’s, his ability to whip baseline passes reminds me of Steve Nash (who he did a film session with All-Star weekend), his patience and poise in the pick-and-roll is like Chris Paul, and his gear shift in transition is of Russell Westbrook.
And that doesn’t include his scoring potential as well!
With the trajectory Ja Morant is on, he’ll become one of the NBA’s elite passers in no time... if he isn’t already there.
Clips from nba.com/stats