2019 NBA Draft Spotlight: Ja Morant, G, Murray State University Racers
Every year in college basketball several unsung players on non-major conference teams rise and become a household name. This year is no different and the player that is rising higher than all others is Temetrius “Ja” Morant of Murray State University.
Unlike five star recruits such as Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, and Keldon Johnson, Ja Morant was an unknown recruit. The only schools that offered him a scholarship were Murray State, South Carolina, Duquesne, Maryland Eastern Shore, South Carolina State, and Wofford. No other school even looked at him. Coming out of high school he was 6’ 2” and only 160 lbs. Undersized and under-celebrated, Morant was forced to create a name for himself outside the major conference spotlight.
Morant, as a freshman at Murray State made first-team All-Ohio Valley Conference and first team All-Newcomer. Morant started every game in his freshman season in 2017-18 and averaged 12.7 points, 6.5 rebounds, 6.3 assists, with a 46/30/80 shooting split. He is known as a scorer, however, his passing numbers are truly incredible. In just one season, Morant has made a giant leap. Through 17 games in the 2018-19 season, Morant is averaging 22.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, 10.6 assists, with a 54/34/80 shooting split. He is 6th in the nation in points per game and first in the nation in assists per game. He is also first in assists per 40 minutes, total assists, assist %, and efficiency. No player in NCAA basketball since 1992 has averaged 22 points, 5 rebounds, and 10 assists for an entire season. If we drop his assists down to 5 per game, we have 8 players including Morant who have averaged 22 points, 5 rebound and 5 assists per game: Charles Jones, Jon Elmore, Nate Wolters, Penny Hardaway, Speedy Claxton, A.J. English, Markelle Fultz, and Morant. The point is, if Morant sustains his current numbers he will be in a category all his own as an elite scorer and passer.
Morant is no doubt a talented scorer and passer, but also has phenomenal court vision and basketball IQ. The NBA player that immediately comes to mind when watching Morant is Damian Lillard. Another small conference player that excelled in scoring, passing, and basketball IQ, and rose from the 48th ranked point guard in the 2008 class to a lottery pick. Morant is going to need to pack on some more muscle to really compete at the next level, however, his athleticism and basketball IQ are already elite. The 2019 NBA Draft will almost certainly be remembered as the Zion Williamson draft but some lucky team will get a combo guard with incredible upside.