Ja dropping performance headlines March Madness

Ja Morant is really good at basketball. You didn’t need to hear that from me though.

Playing in the much maligned Ohio Valley Conference, Morant’s Murray State Racers have flown under the radar this entire season.

But on Thursday afternoon everyone got to see what Morant was capable of on college basketball’s biggest stage in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. It was a match up of the nation’s two leading scorers, Morant and Markus Howard of the Marquette Golden Eagles.

In a decisive 19 point trouncing by the Racers, Morant solidified his projection of a top three pick in this summer’s upcoming NBA draft. He became the first player to finish with a triple double in a tournament game since Draymond Green did it at Michigan State in the opening round of the 2012 tournament against LIU Brooklyn.

The single most impressive aspect of Morant’s 17-16-11 outing was how he showed tremendous patience and let the game come to him. This can be challenging for a player as explosive and athletic as Morant, whose team depends on him so heavily for its success.

Scouts are comparing his above-the-rim playing style to that of Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook and John Wall of the Washington Wizards. As fantastic as those two are and pure joy to watch, they both tend to make poor decisions with the basketball, trying to do too much with their athletic gifts.

Morant didn’t take that approach at all, finishing with 17 points on just nine shots from the field. Unlike his counterpart for the opposing side, Howard, who finished with 26 points but in doing so shot just 33% from the field.

Duke Blue Devils superstar Zion Williamson is the most hyped -up and talked-about NBA prospect since LeBron James when he came out of high school and was ready to go pro back in 2003. At 6’7 and 285 pounds with a rare athleticism and skill set for a player of his size, he will seriously elevate whichever franchise takes him first in the NBA draft.

But folks have to start looking beyond just Williamson in terms of guys who can single handedly alter an NBA franchise’s future. Morant will most certainly be right behind him at number two after Thursday’s display.

In today’s NBA, where both guard play and shooting ability is at a premium, it’s not too far-fetched to think Morant may have more value than Williamson as time goes on. It’ll be fun to see how both players progress and perform as they play for  teams that are rebuilding.

Catch Morant in action again tonight as he tries to lead his twelfth-seed Racers to the Sweet Sixteen next weekend in a battle against the regions fourth-seed Florida State Seminoles.

-Simon Brady

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