Ja Morant – Draft Profile

Photo credit, Maddie Meyer – Getty Images

Ja Morant is a nineteen year old Point Guard and second year player out of Murray State. Morant is mocked on almost all Draft boards at number two, being selected by the Memphis Grizzlies. He has drawn comparisons to Russell Westbrook and Steve Francis with his speed and athletic play.

Morant has exploded in the last 24 months after only being lightly recruited when he left High School. In his first year at Murray State, Morant averaged 12 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists. In his second year Morant had one of the great point guard years of recent times, averaging 24 points 5 rebounds and 10 assists.

At 6’3 and 190 pounds Morant will be one of the lighter point guards in the NBA. His 6’7 wing span means he has a high ceiling defensively though. NBA conditioning will be important for Morant, he will need to get stronger to match up defensively against bigger players. He may be the most athletic player in this Draft. He is a great leaper and athletically will only get better with NBA coaching and strength training.

Scouting

The first thing you notice when watching video of Morant is his handle. He has the best handle in this Draft class, when he makes the NBA he may be one of the best ball handlers in the league. His repertoire of dribbles moves are elite. With a quick first step and the ability to change speed and direction with his crossover, he is a nightmare to guard in the open court.

Passing

In the open court he pushes with purpose and uses his speed to make opportunities for others or himself. As a passer Morant has strong court vision, he can pass of either hand and has good accuracy on these passes. He can also pass out of double teams, whether hes getting trapped in a pick and roll or attracting extra attention on drives to the rim. While he could become an elite floor general in the NBA, Morant needs to balance the amount of great reads with the bad reads he makes. He sometimes make wild turnovers in the half court, being it an alley-oop pass or throwing over a cutter’s head. With potential NBA teammates having better anticipation and reactions, Morant will have more room for error. But NBA coaches wont put up with wild turnovers in the half court.

Offense

Offensively Morant has a well balanced game. He is an excellent finisher at the rim and uses superior body control to finish around opponents. His elite quickness and change of pace means he can get to the rim at will. This aggression was rewarded with 8.2 trips to the foul line per game this season. His slight body meant he sometimes went for more complex finishes around the rim rather than finishing through contact. If he packs on some extra muscle he has the tools to get multiple and-ones in game situations. He can finish with his right hand but prefers the left, he will need to work on his right to be elite at the next level.

As a shooter he has all the skills to be a great shot creator, he makes a lot of space for himself with speed and dribble moves. Though Morant is a confident shooter, his shooting form may be of concern for potential teams. He releases from his head and with the elbow sticking out. These mechanics mean he struggles to get his shot off when shooting off the dribble. Shooting 36.3% from three this season may be an outlier, but if he were to improve his mechanics he could be an above average shooter in the league.

Defense

Morant is an excellent man defender, with his long arms he can steal or tip the ball away from his opponent. He also blocks some shots with his leaping ability. He can move his feet well in either direction and has good instincts when defending one on one.

On the other hand, his off ball defense needs some work. Defending one on one he has good instincts, but he can get stuck ball watching when playing off the ball. He sometimes forgets to box out, and he often gets caught out of position. His elite quickness meant a lot of his gambles paid off, but at the next level he cant rely just on athleticism. Morant got a lot of rebounds by using his superior leaping ability rather than great technique. As he carried such a massive offensive load he can be forgiven for some of these mistakes. Though NBA coaching may iron a lot of these habits out, if he wants to be the engine of an NBA offense he will need to be a passable team defender.

Summary

Morant is the consensus number two pick in what is considered a weak Draft. Though he had an excellent year at Murray State he didnt come up against many elite teams at NCAA level. He will need to be tested at the highest level to see how much of his game translates well. With elite athleticism and speed he has the potential to be a perennial All-Star. If he works on his shooting and defense he could have a long career as a starter on a playoff team.

If the Grizzlies pick Ja Morant at number two they are getting a key cog to rebuild around. He will be an excellent fit next to Jaren Jackson Jr, these two could provide the core to put the Grizzlies back in playoff contention.

Is Paul George a top 3 player in the NBA

At age 28 Paul George is having a renaissance season. Fit and healthy on a top five team in the league, PG13 is putting together one of the best two-way seasons in NBA history.

Paul George is in his 9th season in the NBA, and second with the Oklahoma City Thunder. In Indiana and even last year in OKC, George had been mentioned as only ever being a second or third option on a championship contender. There had always been flashes of his two-way talent, in 2013 and 2014 the Pacers pushed the champion Heat teams to six and seven games. But George was often the lone soldier on these Pacer teams.

The Pacers runs to the 2013 and 2014 Eastern conference finals were meant to be the building block for bigger and better things. Unfortunately for PG the 2014 playoff run was followed by a horrific injury early in 2015 while working out for Team USA. Breaking his leg badly in preseason, George missed 90% of the season as the Pacers failed to make the playoffs.

Pacers management made trades to try and improve the team but like most small market teams they couldn’t attract a top free agent to pair with their perennial All-Star.

After a first round sweep by Lebron and the Cavaliers in 2016, George had had enough and forced the Pacers to trade him. The Oklahoma City Thunder were happy trade partners and sent back Domantas Sabonis and Victor Oladipo.

PG now had a running mate and All-Star foil in Russell Westbrook. Though the Thunder had struggled since the departure of Kevin Durant, they had budding centre Steven Adams and young forward Jerami Grant who were on the up and up. A first round exit in the 2018 season prompted a rethink for the Thunder. George and Grant both inked new deals in the offseason and Thunder management went all in on their young core.

George took it upon himself this season to crank his defensive effort up. With coach Billy Donovan refreshing the defensive system George was free to lock down the oppositions best player and use his excellent physical tools to grab steals, deflect the ball and recover loose balls from opposition misses. The Thunder defence this year ranks number one in the league in steals and turnovers forced. Having multiple strong defenders in the team who can switch, and guard multiple positions has meant George can often get mismatches where he uses his length and wingspan to overwhelm small guards.

This season George leads the league in steals, is second in deflections, and is first in loose balls in recovered.

A legitimate candidate for Defensive player of the year, George is also having his best season on the offensive end of the court. Having never played with an elite point guard on the Pacers, PG is making up for lost time. It’s no coincidence that Russell Westbrook is averaging a career high in assists per game. Be it with the ball in his hands or catching and shooting off a Westbrook drive, George is scoring the ball at a whole new level.

Second only to James Harden in the scoring title race this year, his efficiency has been what has surprised the most this year. Third in the league in three-pointers made, only Steph Curry and Buddy Hield are shooting a similar volume with a percentage of 40 or higher.

The Thunder go into March with the third best record in the West thanks largely to Paul George’s ascension into the NBA’s elite. James Harden may be scoring more heavily but Georges versatility on offense coupled with his lock down offense means he is a legitimate candidate for the MVP award.

Per Basketball Reference, When George is on the court the Thunder are a whopping 18 points per 100 possessions better off.  As evidenced in the losses in the last few games that George has missed due to injury, The Thunder are a top five team in the league with him on the court. Without him they are a mere playoff team likely to exit in the first round every year.

Not since Lebron James times with the Heat has an MVP calibre player been such a force on both ends of the court. With 21 games still to go this season Paul George may well win Defensive Player of the Year while finishing second or third in MVP voting. If the Thunder finish the season strong then there is a chance he may hoist the MVP trophy also.

Regardless of the silverware he ends up with, Paul George has firmly put himself in the upper echelons of talent in the league.