Ja Morant is no longer the nation’s best kept secret. Many fans got to know the Murray State Racers point guard during what has been his sophomore collegiate campaign due to his jaw-dropping leaping ability, which has led to ferocious slam dunks that have been plastered all around social media.
But Morant is more than just a dunker. He has averaged 24.6 points, 10.0 assists and 5.5 rebounds per game entering the NCAA Tournament, a fate he nearly didn’t realize, having to battle through the Ohio Valley Conference tournament to earn a bid. Would the Racers have received an at-large bid despite coming from a non-Power 5 conference? Morant’s national prowess certainly would have been a boost.
Barring injury, it seems nearly unfathomable that Morant would fall outside the Top 4 in the 2019 NBA Draft later this June. Alongside the Duke trio of Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, Morant is a prospect that has consistently been discussed as an early lottery selection, one that still has the NCAA Tournament at his disposal to make a further impression that despite the conference he played in during college, he’s worthy of selecting with a high Draft pick.
There’s precedent for dynamic guards who have come from smaller schools going on to become high-level players in the NBA. Stephen Curry from Davidson, Damian Lillard from Weber State and C.J. McCollum for Lehigh are all examples that scouts have done their homework on prospects that come from smaller schools. But unlike any of those three aforementioned, Morant appears in line to become a Top-4 choice.
That means it’s unlikely that he lands anywhere but Chicago, Cleveland, Phoenix or New York, who are making significant headway in the race to the bottom of the NBA standings. Barring the NBA Draft Lottery going off the rails, which remains a distinct possibility, Morant is likely to land with one of those four teams:
It’s difficult to call Chicago a “bad” landing spot for Morant, but in terms of the talent already on hand, he would certainly have the murkiest path to significant minutes should he land with the Bulls. Already boasting the duo of Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine in the backcourt, Morant would likely be slatted for a bench role out of the gate. Couple that with a franchise that fired head coach Fred Hoiberg earlier this year and there’s some instability concerns in Chicago.
Geographically speaking, Cleveland would make the most sense, after Morant starred in neighboring Kentucky while at Murray State. But the Cavaliers used their lottery selection last year on Alabama’s Collin Sexton, who has developed into the team’s starting point guard during his first professional year. Morant may play off the ball more with the Cavaliers, although Sexton was deployed alongside veteran George Hill during the year prior to the latter’s trade, meaning that Cleveland could be comfortable with letting the two men share ball-handling duties, especially as their development continues. There would be ample shot opportunities available for Morant in Cleveland, who appears years away from returning to serious playoff contention.
There is never really much bad about landing in New York, at least in terms of off-the-court opportunities. That being said, the Knicks’ fan base has been all-in on Zion Williamson for some time now, and anyone that isn’t the big man from Duke is going to shoulder some weighty expectations.
Morant has established himself as the premier guard in the 2019 class, and if New York decides to go that route, Morant would likely be their man. While Williamson has developed a national following for his dunking arsenal, Morant isn’t far behind. There is an element of flash to his game that screams New York, which could lead to marketing opportunities for a city looking to crown their next big star.
Where concerns may lie is in finding a position. The team acquired point guard Dennis Smith Jr. from the Dallas Mavericks in the Kristaps Porzingis deal, so Morant would again likely look at moving off the ball, at least some of the time. Emmanuel Mudiay has emerged in 2018-19 and Allonzo Trier holds a ton of promise, while Frank Ntilikina remains a wild card. The Knicks could be looking at a glut of backcourt talent with Morant in the mix, which keeps New York from being his top beneficial destination.
On paper, Morant and the Suns are a perfect match. The only franchise likely guaranteed to secure a Top 5 pick that is still in need of a point guard, Phoenix could insert Morant as a starter from Day 1, coupling him alongside franchise cornerstone Devin Booker in the backcourt. Phoenix has cycled through multiple point options, even resorting to Booker himself for stretches this season, which has led them to the cellar of the Western Conference despite a talented roster which added 2018 No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton to the fold alongside T.J. Warren.
Morant heading to Phoenix could be that last lottery choice that vaults the club out of the bottom of the conference, benefiting not only the dysfunctional Suns franchise best, but Morant himself as he begins his NBA career.