On the eve of the 2019 NBA Draft, the Memphis Grizzlies made it clear that the keys to the franchise would be handed to Murray State point guard Ja Morant before he was even officially a member of the team.
It was on that day that reports surfaced that the Grizzlies would be sending point guard Mike Conley, who had been the heart and soul of the franchise for many years, to the Utah Jazz. Not only would this deal usher in a new era, but it would also remove all doubt that the Grizzlies would use the No. 2 overall pick to select Morant, who the franchise clearly believes in.
They have every reason to put their trust in the 19-year-old.
In his sophomore season at Murray State, Morant took the NCAA by storm, posting averages of 24.5 points, 10.0 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 1.8 steals while shooting 49.9% from the field and 36.3% from beyond the arc. His performance led the Racers to a 28-5 record, a conference title and their first NCAA tournament win in seven years.
As evidenced by the numbers, Morant projects to be both an elite scorer and playmaker, the perfect archetype for a player that will have the ball in his hands as much as he will this upcoming season.
Just last season, we saw Trae Young excel as a rookie point guard to finish the season as a Rookie of the Year finalist with averages of 19.1 points and 8.1 assists per game. Like Young, Morant will spend his rookie season alongside an athletic young big man as his running mate for a franchise that has hired a new head coach.
Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. make for an exciting 1-2 punch and head coach Taylor Jenkins is a young voice to lead a young team.
What Morant lacks in shooting ability compared to Young, he makes up for with the athleticism that he put on full display in college. As with most mid-major products, questions surrounding Morant's competition have often come up.
Those concerns should have been officially put to rest in the opening round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament.
Morant recorded a triple-double of 17 points (on 5-9 shooting), 16 assists and 11 rebounds in an upset win over a Big East opponent in Marquette. In that game, he would again put on full display what he is set to bring at the next level, doing things that will make things easier for his teammates in Memphis.
For example, in this offensive set, Morant commands the attention of two defenders as he receives a dribble hand-off, setting up a passing lane for him to toss a perfect lob to 6-foot-6 forward Devin Gilmore.
Ja vision. 👀#MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/41SLtFwOYE- NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 21, 2019
Here, the quick hedge that MarShon Brooks commands off of a ball screen sets up a lane for the 6-foot-11 Jackson to finish a lob around the rim.
Morant's ability to get downhill with or without a pick will put defences in an even tougher position, as he can get to the rim for a finish, find a target like Jackson for a lob, or kick the ball out to a 3-point shooter.
5 quick assists for Ja Morant! 😯 Murray State is up 18-10!#MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/Z3qOzQ41FT- NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 21, 2019
It's not just in the half court, either. Where Morant is sure to thrive in the upcoming season is in transition, as the Grizzlies are set to feature nine other players that are 25-years-old or younger to run the floor with him.
As shown at Murray State, Morant is the type of player to reward his teammates for running with him.
back-to-back alley-oops, the second from 50 feet, this dude with Jaren Jackson Jr would be something else pic.twitter.com/LYsv56FAKI- Peter Edmiston (@peteredmiston) May 22, 2019
The Grizzlies, who played at the league's slowest pace last season, hired Jenkins from the Bucks, who had the fastest pace among teams to qualify for the postseason, good for fifth-best pace in the NBA.
With an influx of youth on the roster and a point guard who's willing and capable to push the ball, expect Memphis to have a much quicker brand of basketball in this new era.
To have been the No. 2 overall pick, Morant has seemingly flown under the radar this offseason as some of the bigger names from the 2019 NBA Draft have commanded the attention of many. Morant's sitting out of Summer League after undergoing a minor knee procedure placed the spotlight on those that did suit up, including the Grizzlies' other rookie Brandon Clarke, who was named MVP of both the league and its championship game.
After a transformative summer, the Grizzlies are moving into the next era of basketball in Memphis; fittingly, it comes in the franchise's 25th season. While the days of Grit and Grind look to have officially come to an end, this new, young team will have no shortage of highlights.
As the presumed Day 1 starter at point guard, Ja Morant's impact will be felt immediately as he takes his skills and talents to the next level. With a young core and head coach to shift the culture forward, Memphis will be one of the more exciting teams to watch in the 2019-20 season and beyond.
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