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The secret key to Ja Morant’s rise to success this season


Ja Morant

May 16, 2021; San Francisco, California, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant (12) talks to Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) after the game at Chase Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Just halfway through his third season, it’s fair to say Memphis Grizzlies’ star Ja Morant has had a whirlwind start to his NBA career. Not too long ago he was a rookie, taking on those he idolized with a sense of daring freedom.

Although that remains, he’s surpassed many of the league’s elite point guards and has officially entered the top echelon of All-NBA candidates.

Should we be surprised? It’s not as if he were some obscure draft pick. This is the second overall pick from the 2019 NBA Draft. Perhaps we got so caught up with the athletic phenom Zion Williamson, that we forgot about the shorter point guard with his own freakish skillset.

Ja Morant has asserted himself as not only a superstar of the future but as a star of the present. In doing so, he’s transformed the once grit-and-grind Grizzlies into one of the most exciting young teams in the league.

But how has the 22-year-old managed to elevate from a high base (Rookie of the Year) to an All-Star and All-NBA level within such a short period of time?

The secret key to Ja Morant’s rise to success this season

While many rightly look at the increased three-point production, along with the awe-inspiring dunks that have always been a trademark, it’s actually another aspect that’s bearing the fruit of his overall offensive game.

It seems NBA defenses are wary of the explosive dunks, as well as the improved three-point ability that’s seen him shoot a career-high 38.3 percent this season.

According to Basketball-Reference, Morant’s shooting 29.8 percent of his field-goal attempts from within three feet, easily a career-low after 36.5 percent came from within that distance across his first two seasons.

Although his shooting from distance has taken large strides, the percentage of attempts from beyond the arc has actually reduced from 25.2% last season to 22.1% so far this season. What it leaves is an aspect that’s largely gone missing in today’s modern NBA – the mid-range game.

That may not be the right way to describe it, either. Morant isn’t producing the traditional mid-range pullups or fadeaways like Chris Paul does. But it’s his own signature style, and one that, like Paul, is producing a devastating effect.

Through 29 games this season, Morant is taking 32.2% of his shots from between three and ten feet. That’s a reasonable increase from his first two seasons, where 25.4 percent of his shots came from that area.

Morant may be the new poster boy for floaters, an underrated shot for any point guard aiming to perfect the pick-and-roll game. He’s shooting 42.9 percent from that 3-to-10 foot range, a reasonable improvement from the 37.2 percent he shot last season.

So not only is Morant taking a greater percentage of shots from just outside the restricted area, but he’s also become much more effective in doing so. It’s a culmination of multiple factors.

His threat as an explosive finisher, an improvement in three-point shooting, the increased usage rate Taylor Jenkins has provided, and a credit to big guys like Steven Adams and Jaren Jackson Jr. as pick and roll threats (or pick-and-fade threats in the case of Jackson).

While the insane athleticism may produce the highlights, the ball-handling ability and crafty finishes are what make Ja Morant. It’s what’s helped elevate his game this season, and it’s what will continue to sustain one of the brightest futures in the NBA.

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