The Washington Wizards will have a first round pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects who could fall around where the Wizards will select...
2019 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: Ja Morant
School: Murray State
Position: Point guard
Age: 19 (turns 20 in August)
Max vertical: 44 in.
2018/19 stats: 24.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 10.0 apg, 1.8 spg, 0.8 bpg, 49.9 FG% (6.3/11.3), 36.3 3PT% (1.7/4.8), 81.3 FT%
Player comparison: Russell Westbrook/Dennis Smith Jr.
Projections: NBC Sports Washington 3rd, NBADraft.net 2nd, Bleacher Report 2nd, Sports Illustrated 2nd, Ringer 3rd
5 things to know:
1. Morant had a breakout season at Murray State, emerging as a mid-major diamond in the rough much like Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum did before him. Morant was a consensus All-American and conference player of the year as a sophomore. This was one year after he earned no such accolades as a freshman.
2. He stands out first because of his athleticism. Morant jumps off the screen for his speed and quickness with the ball as well as his leaping ability. At 6-foot-3, he can play well above the rim and finish with power much like Russell Westbrook does at the NBA level. The question is whether he can do the same in the NBA, as he may measure in a few inches shorter than Westbrook. Also, he probably has to add some weight to finish through contact.
3. Morant also appears to have a rare ability to pass the ball. He was the first player to average double-digit assists in Division I college basketball since 1994-95. And he did that while playing with mid-major teammates. Many of his assists did not come easy. Morant is uniquely good at passing on the run and mid-air while leaping around the rim. He is likely to be an elite passer in the NBA.
4. One concern with him at this point is outside shooting. He improved year-over-year in college, but topped out at 36.3 percent this past season. Though he did so with volume (4.8 3PA/g), he will have to continue to improve to max out his potential as an NBA guard in today's game. Working in his favor is the fact he was an 81 percent free throw shooter in college. That suggests he has good feel for shooting the ball.
5. Like Zion Williamson, the projected No. 1 pick, Morant is from South Carolina. He and Williamson grew up less than two hours apart and were teammates on the same AAU team, the South Carolina Hornets, in 2014-15. The two split ways as Williamson became a super prospect, while Morant developed more slowly as a late bloomer.
Fit with Wizards:
On the face of it, Morant doesn't fit with the Wizards due to the fact he's a point guard and they already have John Wall, who is set to begin a four-year supermax contract this season. But with the unknowns of Wall's injury, the Wizards can't afford to pass on a player with Morant's potential.
Long-term there could be issues due to Morant's position and style of play, as he is likely to be most effective with the ball in his hands. But in the short-term, he would probably slide right in as their starting point guard as Wall continues to recover.
Morant would seem to be a great fit with Bradley Beal, whose game is compatible with just about everyone. The question would be what happens when Wall returns, as they probably wouldn't be able to start both point guards. But as long as Morant developed into a star, the Wizards would be in good shape.
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