Grizz Lead

From AAU to Potential ROY, Morant Shining Early

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You probably didn’t know who Ja Morant was two years ago. Most people didn’t. I didn’t. If I had to guess, not a single member of the Memphis Grizzlies’ organization knew who he was. Boy, are they glad that they know who he is now.

Morant was AAU teammates with Zion Williamson for one season. The two are about as polar opposite as it gets. Zion, blessed with out-of-this-world athleticism, took the world by storm well before entering college. His dunking made him a social media sensation. He wounded up being the number one pick in the 2019 NBA Draft after a season for the record books at Duke.

 

Fast forward to now and we know Ja as another fantastic dunker and hyper athlete, but it wasn’t always this way. He couldn’t dunk until three years ago. Morant was a wiry, barely six-feet tall teenager with a one-dimensional game coming out of high school. Ja Morant was a nobody.

Well, that may be a slight exaggeration. Morant is the all-time leading scorer for Crestwood High School. He received an offer from the University of South Carolina; however, his name wasn’t mentioned in all of the major recruiting services. Ja Morant was fighting for a place among a nation of rising stars, all with their eyes aimed at the glam and glory of the NBA. At the moment, Morant wasn’t one of them.

Small Combine Yields Big Dividends

One day, Ja Morant attended a small combine for high schoolers in his area. James Kane, Murray State’s assistant men’s basketball coach, was there to do some scouting. The thing is, though, Kane didn’t know who Ja was. He was on a different scouting assignment, but he happened to stumble upon the hungry point guard. According to NBA.com’s Chris Dortch, the only reason James Kane saw Morant was because he was hungry, too. Well… not exactly the same kind of hungry. Kane was looking for a concession stand and happened to walk by a court where Ja Morant was dominating a 3v3 scrimmage, as described by Chris Dortch. He couldn’t take his eyes off of him.

Not long after this, Morant was offered a scholarship to play for the Murray State Racers. Freshman season, he played in a two-point guard system alongside senior Jonathan Stark in the backcourt. Through one successful season in which they won 26 games, Ja still failed to break through to national prominence.

Despite having a well-balanced skill set, the one thing lacking from Morant’s game was a three-point shot. He was 30.7% from beyond the arc his freshman season. Almost all the great point guards in the NBA have legitimate jump shots nowadays: Curry, Dame, Kyrie, Conley, CP3… even Russell Westbrook’s effectiveness has recently been criticized, mainly because he’s a non-factor from three.

Sophomore Strides

Something lit a fire under Ja during his sophomore season, though. He nearly doubled his numbers in every major statistical category besides rebounds. His 3-point percentage spiked up to 36.3% on nearly five attempts per game. Carrying his team to a March Madness berth, Morant finally broke through the glass ceiling. Highlights of him were commonplace on Sportscenter. Twitter broke every time he posterized someone. It was often!

Capping off an incredible season with a March Madness performance for the ages, Ja Morant cemented himself as the #2 prospect in the upcoming NBA draft. Despite his run only lasting two games, he put all of the tools he had to offer together for a tantalizing display.

This is what James Kane pictured once he saw Ja at that small combine. You can tell why he was drooling… it wasn’t about that cheeseburger he was picturing in his head while hunting for a concession stand.

The point guard was scooped up by the Memphis Grizzlies with the second pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, just one slot behind his former teammate Zion Williamson. (Just think of the pick-and-rolls and alley-oops that would have existed if these two were teammates now!) Not long before this, Memphis traded their longtime franchise cornerstone, Mike Conley, to Utah, so Morant could run the show from day one.

Strong Start Rare for New PG’s

This is often a recipe for disaster. Point guard is the toughest position to play in the NBA, today. We all saw recent lottery point guards (De’Aaron Fox, Collin Sexton, and Trae Young) struggle mightily out of the gates. Ja Morant has been quite the exception.

Through 10 games, he is averaging 18.3 points and 5.8 assists. Oh… he’s also shooting a scorching 44.4% from long range. Add to that, a block on Kyrie Irving’s attempted go-ahead shot in the third NBA game of his career. The Grizzlies went on to win in overtime, led by Morant’s 30 points. A recent game-winner by Ja against the Hornets has only backed yet another strength of this kid’s game. He was born with ice in his veins!

https://twitter.com/usatodaynba/status/1188615250406498304

Ja Morant already has all the makings of a star. You can make out the playmaking and motor of Russell Westbrook. His athleticism and dazzle are reminiscent of prime Derrick Rose. The shooting and clutch factor forces you to think of Damian Lillard. That’ll send shivers down your spine. Yet, this is just the beginning.

Primed to take the Grizzlies into a new era of basketball alongside 2nd-year phenom Jaren Jackson Jr. and fellow rookie Brandon Clarke, Ja Morant hasn’t even blinked. This is his time. Ja’s been preparing for this moment since elementary school. Two years ago, nobody knew what a Ja Morant was. Now? The answer’s become crystal clear. He’s the future of the NBA.

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