Temetrius Jamel Morant was the number two pick of the 2019 NBA draft. He first hit the national spotlight leading the Murray State Racers past the fifth seeded Marquette Golden Eagles in the NCAA National Tourney. He amassed 17 points, 11 rebounds and 16 assists, becoming only the eighth player in Tourney history to record a triple double.
The whispers in the background typically saved for notable players from conferences like the Ohio Valley were now in the forefront of mainstream America. After being drafted by the Memphis Grizzlies, stories of his college accomplishments and less than stellar high school recruiting process became noteworthy news but it did not define him. He was only getting started.
Ja Morant may come from a humble background but this 6’ 3” lithe rookie point guard possesses more than just the average physical attributes required of a high draft pick. He plays with the maturity of a seasoned veteran, with all the enthusiasm that his 21 year old heart can contain. Rarely do you see the combination of aggressive, assertive and fearless play from a first year player that has been thrust into a leadership role at the highest level of the sport.
From a skill set point of view, the Grizzlies’ rookie owns a versatile offensive attack coming by way of superior dribbling and passing with the ability to utilize either hand. He has an ambidextrous arsenal of inside out dribbles, crossovers, as well as behind the back moves. Passes from him seem to come from every angle at any moment as he utilizes anything from two handed pass fakes and look aways to spin dribble feints and passes off of bogus shot attempts. Creativity, thy name is Ja.
As elite as his skill base is, it’s his capacity to observe and process situations with lightning quick speed that is most impressive. To visually probe the court while watching the action unfold in order to find his moment to strike and to have the assertive wherewithal to execute speaks to his above average maturity. Not only does he have the skills, he has the aptitude to know when and how to use them.
On the ball, Morant is a fearless scorer geared towards playmaking. Off the ball, he exhibits the understanding of how to create scoring opportunities by virtue of maneuvering amidst the weak side of the floor, putting his 44” vertical leap to work by virtue of backdoor lobs and well timed tip jam putbacks. In transition, when he is not pushing break, he finds the area behind the defense. This typically indicates his instinctive awareness of the entire court, showing that he is not myopically ball dominant.
In only the third game of his professional career, Ja Morant found himself in a point guard duel with former Rookie of the Year and six time All Star Kyrie Irving. The brash rookie countered Irving’s 37 point and seven assist performance with his own 30 and nine on 59% shooting. Morant also outscored Irving in the fourth 17 to 7, while also having the presence of mind to deny Irving the entry pass while not biting on any of his shot fakes in order to block his game winning shot attempt and then pulling out the victory in OT.
On November 13th, 2019, Memphis beat the Charlotte Hornets 119 to 117 on a go ahead left handed lay up through three rotating players created with a lethal change of speed move by Morant. He scored 23 points, eight in the fourth quarter, on 67% shooting, while also handing out 11 assists. As an assertive scorer, he recognizes the importance of showing up when it counts.
On January 4th, 2020 The Grizzlies kicked off a seven game winning streak with a 26 point drubbing of the Los Angeles Clippers that ended with a victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers putting Memphis at 20 – 22, sparking playoff hopes. Morant averaged 19.3 points and nine assists on 59% shooting, establishing his importance to the team’s success.
In front of his hometown crowd at the FedEx Forum, the Grizzlies’ rookie overcame a 41 point performance from the two time league scoring champ and former MVP James Harden by scoring 26 points on 90% shooting while also out producing him in fourth quarter, 11 points to 3, to secure the win 120 to 110. Rookie of the Year becomes a common theme in what was supposed to be the number one pick’s unanimous campaign.
On February 9th, 2020, with a 27 point, 10 assist, and 10 rebound performance, Morant posts his first NBA career triple double in a 106 – 99 victory over the Washington Wizards. 10 of his points and seven of his rebounds come in the fourth as he once again outperforms his opposing point guard down the stretch. Winning time is becoming the staple of his game.
On August 15th, 2020, in a playoff play in game versus the Portland Trailblazers, Morant goes off for 35 points and eight assists in a last ditch effort to hold on to a first round appearance against the Los Angeles Lakers. Although Morant scored 14 points in the fourth, Portland guard CJ McCollum matched his output while Trailblazer power forward Carmelo Anthony scored a three point dagger with 21 seconds left in the contest, securing the victory as well as the playoff spot.
There is a bright future on the horizon for Ja Morant. Aside from some turnover issues (the rookie averaged 3.3 turnovers per game including the eight he had versus Portland) the six foot three inch explosively athletic ambidextrous hard working guard should grow into an elite level player by virtue of many games and even more minutes on the floor. He is definitely my pick for Rookie of the Year. It shouldn’t even be a question.