Prior to the season, Ja Morant said he was a top-5 point guard in the NBA. Even the most die hard Grizzlies fans were willing to pump the brakes a little on throwing him into that conversation. Not only is he currently playing like a top 5 point guard in the NBA, he has operated as a top-5 player in the league at this point.
The question after his scorching start has become, “can he sustain this?” I am here to tell you that he can. Ja has mastered the art of manipulation - he has the ability to get where and what he wants, when he wants it. It’s not simply because he is so athletic or merely a product of the defender playing poor defense.
Ja Morant does what Ja wants to do because he is the Mangiafuoco of basketball, the puppet master making his opponents dance on his whim.
A Guard and His Goggles
Ja hitting people with the goggles as a celebration after a dirty dime has become a fan favorite inside FedExForum. With Morant, it is not always the flashy pass or the alley oop that show off the “Jaggles” its the way he uses his eyes to manipulate a defender in help position to move him where he wants him. These are the hard to catch plays in the moment because they are so quick and so minor, but often lead to a major results.
Check this first play. Ja is rolling right and Reggie Jackson is guarding De’Anthony Melton but in proper help position in the paint. The skip pass to Melton would certainly be a difficult one, but Ja sees Jaren, looks at Melton with a slight ball fake, and Reggie leaves Jaren just long enough for Morant to hit him for an easy bucket.
This next play just simply isn't fair as Ja takes advantage of two rookies. Alperen Sengun is put in a position to help on the PNR between Ja and Brandon Clarke. Early in this play, Morant knows he is getting the lob to BC due to the heavy footed Sengun being no match for the springy Clarke. Jalen Green has struggled mightily defensively this season, but he was in proper help position to at least chip BC as he rolls. Melton rotates properly off ball, giving Ja the chance to look Jalen Green off for a millisecond, leading to an easy lob to BC.
Adding to His Bag
The narrative for Ja Morant’s growth as a player over the offseason was expanding his offensive bag in regards to scoring. It was said most that he needed to shoot the deep ball consistently. He’s done that plus added the mid-range to his overall game. This next sequence exemplifies what consistent shooting from 12 brings to the game.
Morant gets Christian Wood, a somewhat mobile big, to switch on him. So he does what any quick guard would do: He clears his teammates out of the way, backs up to get his running start, leaving the defender just about helpless, relying on his teammates to save him on the backend. Ja takes off on a sprint, Wood retreats, taking away the middle of the floor, but Morant stops on a dime and knocks down a three with plenty of space.
This next play later in the game is why his three point shooting matters. This time Daniel Theis has been switched on to Morant, so you know he is salivating at the mismatch. Theis has seen this movie already in this game when Morant isolated his teammate and dropped a three on his head. So now, Theis makes the decision to not give the same space Wood gave, Morant makes the correct read and gets by him for an easy lay up.
These are just a few of the many, many tricks Morant has up his sleeves as controls the game with his master manipulation. Often times they are subtle, but that is just one of the nuances of an NBA game. The minute details of a play matter and Morant in his third season is beginning to become a maestro.