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Memphis Grizzlies

Is Ja Morant the NBA's next superstar point guard?

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Ja Morant (NBA Getty Images)

Ja Morant did something recently that we haven't seen since Michael Jordan.

After scoring 26 points in a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on November 6, Morant became the first rookie since His Airness to average at least 20 points and five assists while shooting 50 percent from the field through seven career games.

Does that mean Morant is the next Jordan? Of course not. It's a tiny sample size and there's only so much you can take away from a comparison that involves not one, not two, but three qualifiers. But does it speak to the type of talent the Memphis Grizzlies have in Morant, whom they selected with the No. 2 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft? Absolutely.

Morant's numbers have dropped slightly since being compared to Jordan, but he's still putting up 18.4 points, 6.0 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 0.9 steals in only 27.2 minutes per game through the first month of the season. He's been doing it efficiently, shooting 47.2 percent from the field, 42.3 percent from the 3-point line and 73.7 percent from the free throw line.

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Even though it hasn't translated into many wins for the Grizzlies, Morant is already showing that he has the potential to be a special player in this league. He's the early front-runner for Rookie of the Year and he's had a number of signature performances, from leading the Grizzlies to an overtime win over Kyrie Irving's Brooklyn Nets with 30 points to recording his first career double-double and game-winning shot against the Charlotte Hornets.

With that in mind, let's take a closer look at what we know about Morant through the first month of his NBA career.

A fearless driver

The first thing that jumps out about Morant is his speed. He's a blur from one end of the court to the other and he uses his quickness to blow by defenders and get into the paint.

The result? More than half of Morant's shot attempts have come within five feet of the basket and he's among the league leaders in drives per game, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard and Bradley Beal.

As was the case in college at Murray State, Morant puts his speed to best use in transition. He hasn't been incredibly efficient in those situations in the NBA - he currently ranks in the 51.5 percentile with 1.11 points per transition possession - but rookies rarely are. What's important is that he can get out in the open court and he's not afraid to challenge anyone at the rim despite his slight frame.

Though he's his own player, it's that fearlessness that has led some to compare Morant to Russell Westbrook.

"[Westbrook] was my favourite player before I got in the league," Morant recently told NBA.com. "I didn't try to play like him or anything - I always try to be myself - but I just like how he play aggressive."

Plus, it's hard to believe that someone who can do this...

...as well as this...

...won't eventually develop into one of the league's most feared transition scorers.

Morant reminds me a lot of Sacramento Kings guard De'Aaron Fox in that regard. I wrote almost the exact same thing about Fox midway through his rookie season. He still wasn't a particularly efficient scorer in the open court last season, but Fox finished the season with the sixth-most transition points in the league. The combination of him and Buddy Hield turned every Kings game into a track meet, adding an element to the team it had been missing.

MORE: Ranking all 30 backcourts

Morant could have a similar impact on the Grizzlies. While he doesn't have the luxury of sharing the backcourt with a sharp shooter in the same vein as Hield - though Dillon Brooks, a career 36.1 percent 3-point shooter, is no slouch when it comes to spacing the floor - the Grizzlies are already getting out in transition far more this season than they did last season. And while that alone won't be what turns them into a contender again, it will help the franchise move on from the "Grit and Grind" era and establish a new identity that better suits this young roster.

MORE: Dillon Brooks is ready to become a household name

Morant also uses that speed to his advantage in pick-and-rolls, where he has generated close to half of his scoring this season. Morant is in the bottom half of the league in efficiency as a pick-and-roll scorer for reasons we'll get to soon, but there's a lot to like about what he can do with the ball in his hands on those plays.

One particular word that's often used to describe his game is shifty. Morant changes speeds well and he's a creative finisher around the rim.

It helps that Morant has Jaren Jackson Jr. as a teammate. The No. 4 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Jackson has proven to be one of the better shooters at his position. With the way Morant likes to attack the basket, the two complement each other well. If defenders stick to Jackson to limit his 3-point attempts, it opens up the paint for Morant to attack. If they help off of him to take away Morant's drives, Jackson is one pass away from a wide open 3-pointer.

"Just being able to spread the floor," Morant told NBA.com about how Jackson impacts the game. "It opens up the floor. It allows me to attack and make a read."

Jackson is still logging a lot of his minutes next to another big man. If the Grizzlies do eventually make him their full-time centre and pair him with a stretch four - think Davis Bertans, Bojan Bogdanovic or Robert Covington - it's scary to think about how much space Morant would have to work with.

A capable - albeit limited - shooter

The biggest concern for Morant coming into the NBA revolved around his jump shot.

So far, the results have been promising.

Through 12 games Morant is shooting 42.3 percent from 3-point range, which is one of the higher rates in this rookie class. He's done so on only 2.2 3-point attempts per game and almost all of his makes have been open or wide open, but it's still encouraging to see him punish defenders for giving him space.

One area Morant has struggled to score from is midrange, where he's 6-for-21 on the season. It's not the most popular shot in the league right now, but it's important for any point guard who is as quick and athletic as Morant to have in their arsenal. It'll otherwise be difficult for him to score consistently in the halfcourt because teams are only going to become more aware of his strengths as a driver.

We got a taste of that recently when the Grizzlies played the Orlando Magic and San Antonio Spurs, two of the best teams in the league at keeping opponents out of the restricted area. It's perhaps no coincidence that Morant had his worst games of the season against them, combining to score 17 points on 5-for-25 shooting from the field.

To put it simply, these are the types of shots that are always going to be available for Morant out of the pick-and-roll:

Morant has been more willing to shoot floaters when he gets in that in-between range. According to ESPN, he attempted a total of 50 floaters during his two years at Murray State. He's already attempted 34 floaters with the Grizzlies this season.

Morant has converted only 14 of those opportunities, but he's at least taking them confidently. The better he gets at them, the higher his ceiling is as a scorer because defenders won't be able to give him as much space whenever he steps foot inside the 3-point line.

That'll come particularly in handy in isolation. With how much of his own offence he generates in pick-and-rolls, Morant is going to have plenty of chances to attack mismatches when he faces switch-heavy teams. Again, he needs to prove that he can consistently knock down jump shots - both from the perimeter and midrange - to prevent defenders from backing off of him, but if Morant ever gets to a point where they have to play up on him, it's going to be practically impossible to keep him out of the paint.

The Hornets learned that the hard way when he blew by Cody Martin on a switch and finished over three defenders at the rim for the first game-winner of his career.

More than a scorer

In addition to leading all rookies in scoring, Morant leads all first-year players with 6.0 assists per game. He's also averaging 10.6 potential assists per game, a similar amount as Chris Paul, Derrick Rose and Lonzo Ball, to name a few.

Morant is the type of player who should always be surrounded by shooters - at least three, ideally four. More than half of his assists have created 3-pointers so far this season, which shouldn't come as a surprise based on how easily he gets into the paint.

Morant benefits from being 6-foot-3 because he can see the entire floor, not just what's happening directly in front of him.

Morant is capable of making just about every read out of the pick-and-roll, whether it's kickouts to shooters with both his left and right hand, lobs to the basket for a rolling big man or shovel passes to cutters. The combination will only make it easier for the front office to build around him because he's unselfish and can find teammates in every which way.

Turnovers have been a problem for Morant, but that's nothing new for a rookie point guard, especially one who has as high of a usage rate as he does. Morant currently has the 13th-highest usage rate in the league, ahead of players like Pascal Siakam, LeBron James and Westbrook.

That's not to say there aren't ways Morant can improve - he can get a little careless with his passes at times. It's just not a surprise given his experience and role on this up-and-coming Grizzlies team.

What to watch next

The jump shot, obviously, because of what it would mean for his development. Even if he never becomes a high volume 3-point shooter, looking for his own shot more often from midrange, whether it's with pull-ups or floaters, will go a long way in keeping defences honest.

He might not convert those shots at a high rate this season, but taking them is step one.

Beyond it helping Morant when he has the ball in his hands, improving as a shooter would enable him to play off-ball more. He's already shown that he can be a dynamic cutter with his speed and athleticism. If he can make spot-up jumpers at a decent rate, it would only make him a more complete player.

Additionally, Morant would benefit long-term from adding to his frame. Not only would it help him play through contact, both on drives and at the rim, it would make him a more versatile defender. With his speed and length, Morant projects to be a solid defender at his position. He will, however, struggle to hold his own against bigger players on switches at 174 pounds, making him someone teams will look to attack down the stretch of games.

If he can improve in both of those areas, it's only a matter of time until we talk about Morant as one of the best point guards in the league.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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