Ja Morant won the 2019-20 NBA Rookie of the Year behind an incredible athleticism and explosiveness as well as an incredible feel for the game. In this breakdown we are going to look at why he was so successful in his first season, his scoring and skill breakdown, his ability to run a ballscreen, as well as some of the lessons learned throughout this year and what he can improve on to be even better next season.
It can be a daunting task when attempting to break down a player’s full season. It is nearly impossible to rewatch every single game, break it down with the context of opponents, timing, and the numerous things that occur during an NBA season. My process when breaking down film on Ja Morant was to watch at least 3-4 games per month during the season – in those games trying to find either common opponents month to month or good teams to fully understand the development against the best opponents. I then watched all of the Restart Bubble games as well trying to see any development since the 4-month layoff was essentially an offseason to improve upon – something Ben Taylor touched on during his podcast when discussing rookies in the playoffs.
When rewatching all of the games and studying the film I already had of Ja Morant the focus areas I had were as follows:
– Crafty moves, Tricks, and manipulating the defense
– Reads based on how the game was going
– Type of finishes around the rim
– Favorite moves to attack offense
– How he reads and runs a ballscreen, perhaps the most important thing for a guard in today’s NBA
– When teams switched or he created a mismatch
– What does he do when he is off the ball, cutting and catch and shoot opportunities
– Seeing his defensive IQ and effort
– What are the next logical steps for the next season to reach another level
Frequency/Accuracy according to Cleaning the Glass
Rim – 90th, 49%/49th, 58%
Short Mid (Floaters) – 87th, 29%/69th, 44%
Long Mid – 12th, 6%/24th, 35%
3’s – 6th%, 16%/40th, 35%
The numbers give us good context to what Ja Morant’s shooting profile looks like, attacking downhill first, when given the floater he will take it and make 44% ranking him in the 70th percentile, generally he will avoid the long mid-range shots, and although he shoots a decent amount from 3 at 35% it is clearly not his preference, ranking in the 6th percentile in frequency.
Combining these numbers with the film and it becomes clear that if you can take away Ja’s downhill attacks then you can limit his impact on offense from a scoring perspective. Of course, that is easier said than done when dealing with an explosive, shifty athlete like Morant, but when watching is becoming clear that he wants to get to the rim and use his explosiveness to finish, something that he does well.
Pick & Roll 3s
Crash Into Defense
Catch & Shoots
In Air Adjustments
Between Own Legs
Half Spin Hesi
Running a ballscreen is one of the hardest things for a young guard to learn, and Morant runs a ballscreen better than most veterans. I could spend hours breaking down each of Ja Morant’s ballscreen possessions, so I have linked my full ballscreen edit & notes on the clips for you to view since YouTube limits the number of uploads:
In transition Ja Morant is lethal, combining his speed, athleticism, and vision it makes him extremely hard to guard. Getting downhill is never the issue, the problems in transition usually come from him going too fast – something I think in year 2 he will improve upon.
Don’t Jump to Pass
When you are an athlete often you will use that to your advantage but that also means picking up bad habits along the way. One of those bad habits for Ja Morant has become jumping to pass. Many coaches say that you can jump to pass, but do not jump THEN pass – make your mind up before you jump. Tweaking this will cut down on some sloppy turnovers and also help his scoring increase.
Use your athleticism as a weapon
One of the hardest things for young guards to learn is to control your speed. As a high school coach, this is one of the biggest lessons I have to teach, to not just go full speed every single time but to change different speeds to use that change of pace to your advantage even more.
Improve the 3
The obvious answer is to become a better shooter, easier said than done. I don’t think it will be an issue for Ja Morant, his footwork, form and free throws all point to a player who can improve to a 37-38% consistent 3 point shooter at a high volume. Doing this would make it a nightmare for defenses to guard since most of his issues shooting have been when teams either switch or go under on ballscreens.
I hope this shed a little more light into how awesome Ja Morant’s Rookie season was, and I loved watching his film and look forward to year 2.
If you have any questions for the Q&A coming out November 15th let me know, I have been compiling a list so far and look forward to answering those and getting ready for the NCAA & now NBA season!
Have a great day!