Ja Morant is college basketball’s own version of Russell Westbrook

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

On a Monday in late November, over 30 NBA scouts filed into into Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa to take in a matchup between Alabama and Murray State. They weren’t in attendance to see anyone from a Crimson Tide team that had its own lottery pick in Collin Sexton just a year prior.

They were in attendance to get a look at Murray State’s electric do-it-all point guard Ja Morant, who has become college basketball’s closest thing to Russell Westbrook.

Scouts did not leave disappointed as Morant poured in 38 points in addition to hauling in nine rebounds and dishing out five assists. That monstrous stat line was enough to warrant post game comments from Alabama head coach Avery Johnson – who knows a little bit about point guard play in his own right – that included comparisons such as, “the craftiness and cleverness of old Isaiah Thomas, the passing ability of John Stockton, and the athletic ability of Russell Westbrook.”

Huge games like that aren’t the outlier for Morant. They’ve become the norm.

Who exactly is Ja Morant?

Temetrius “Ja” Morant is the exhilarating sophomore point guard for the Murray State Racers. Murray State is no stranger to sending point guards to the NBA as Isaiah Canaan and Cameron Payne have made it to the league in recent years, and Morant is poised to be the next in line.

Morant didn’t receive a ranking from the 247Sports Composite recruiting rankings. He didn’t have any scholarship offers other than Murray State. Despite all that, he projects to be an NBA lottery pick, possibly as soon as this year.

ESPN’s Jonathan Givony has him projected as the No. 4 overall pick in his latest mock draft. Tankathon has him in the same spot as well. Click on a mock draft from just about anywhere and you’ll find Morant’s name near the top. At this point it isn’t a matter of if he makes it to the NBA, it’s when.

Just how good are his stats?

Morant has taken a major leap during his sophomore season, and is putting up numbers that can draw parallels to Russell Westbrook. Westbrook made his name stuffing the stat sheet from the point guard position, and carried such a heavy workload for the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2016-17 that he averaged a triple-double and was named MVP. Morant is doing much of the same.

Morant isn’t averaging a triple-double this year, but he’s not far off. He ranks in both the top 10 in percent of minutes played and percent of possessions used on KenPom, showcasing just how heavy of a workload he has on his shoulders. He’s shown that he’s up to the task.

His scoring average of 23.3 points per game ranks in the top 15 nationally. He leads the nation in assists at 9.9 per game, and his assist rate of 54.6 percent is also tops in the nation. On top all the duties that come with being the focal point of an offense, Morant is also hauling down 6.8 rebounds per game along with 1.9 steals per game. Consider the stat sheet stuffed.

It’s easy to look at those numbers and think, “Yeah, he’s pretty good, but there’s probably been someone before him just as good.”

Using the sports-reference database – which dates back to the 1992-93 season – here’s the full list of college basketball players that have put up averages of at least 23.0 points, nine assists, six rebounds and 1.5 steals per game:

  • Ja Morant, Murray State, 2018-19.

That’s it. That’s the list. It’s not quite Westbrook levels of dominance, but it’s about as close as you can get at the college level.

What makes him so special?

Above all else, Morant’s freakish athleticism is his greatest calling card. Few defenders in college basketball can match his combination of speed, quickness and leaping ability. That gives him the ability to do things like this:

He did all of that on three straight possessions. He’s a sight to see in warmups too.

He doesn’t have the hype or publicity of someone like Zion Williamson, but Morant has become appointment viewing in his own right. Each and every game he’s putting up huge numbers and doing it in an exciting fashion. Every night results in a new highlight reel. He’s not quite Russell Westbrook, but Ja Morant is the closest thing to it in college basketball.

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