Story by Gage Johnson
With the chaos that was the NBA Draft lottery a few weeks in the past, The Murray State News Sports Editor Gage Johnson takes a look at where Murray State point guard Ja Morant could land with the 2019 NBA Draft less than a month away.
Six percent. That was the odds the New Orleans Pelicans had of earning the No.1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Nonetheless, the ping-pong balls fell in their favor and Head Coach Alvin Gentry and new GM David Griffin rejoiced.
When Alvin Gentry found David Griffin after the Pelicans got the No. 1 pick! (VIa Doug Mouton/ WWLTV)
Posted by New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday, May 14, 2019
To just about every analyst and fan across the country, this means that Duke forward Zion Williamson will be suiting up with the New Orleans Pelicans for his rookie season. All year long Williamson has been the consensus No. 1 pick, but with the lottery not going as planned, things could be subject to change.
Could Ja go No. 1?
As of now the Pelicans own the first pick overall. Griffin has made no claims that the pick is unavailable, but I highly doubt they move it.
The Pelicans are coming off a season in which they were in every rumor possible, but never pulled the trigger on trading franchise star Anthony Davis.
Davis has made it clear time and time again that he wants out, even with them earning the No. 1 pick. However, Davis has one year left on his contract and Griffin has told media that he wants to try and convince “The Brow” to stay in New Orleans.
It’s not like Morant isn’t highly touted either. On Monday, May 27, Morant became the first athlete of the 2019 NBA Draft class to sign a shoe deal, agreeing to a multiyear contract with Nike.
— Ja Morant (@igotgame_12) May 27, 2019
Griffin is no stranger to bold moves, so he could very well shake things up in New Orleans. The new GM has had the No. 1 pick twice in his career—shocking the world by taking power forward Anthony Bennett in 2013 and small forward Andrew Wiggins in 2014 before dealing them in a package for power forward Kevin Love.
This deal partnered Love with small forward Lebron James in Cleveland and Kyrie Irving to help bring the Cavaliers its first NBA title in 2016.
While Griffin doesn’t have as many pieces to move this time around, he does have something to work with. The team is currently about $13 million over the cap. If Griffin moves small forward Solomon Hill and shooting guard E’Twaun Moore it gives them eight million in cap space to work with.
Depending on whether power forward Julius Randle picks up his player option they could have $16 million in cap space. There are a few other pieces that could help clear up a max contract spot for an incoming star-studded 2019 NBA free agent period. Having Morant, combo guard Jrue Holiday and Davis would be a strong core to build around for the foreseeable future.
Williamson could very well replace Morant in this theory as this is all speculation, but the Pelicans found success with stat-sheet stuffing point guards like Rajon Rondo and Elfrid Payton in recent years and Morant fits that mold with better scoring capabilities.
Griffin clearly wants to come in and build a title contender in New Orleans, but people will have to wait and see if that includes Morant or Williamson as well as Davis.
Morant helps rebuild the Memphis Grizzlies if Conley leaves
As many have been made aware of by now, Memphis seems to be the most likely landing spot for Morant.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Grizzlies were focused on taking the new Nike athlete with the No. 2 selection. Those rumors had gas thrown onto the flame when it was reported that Memphis was also looking to move longtime Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley.
The Grizzlies are in the midst of a rebuild, as Conley is the last of a core that consisted of Conley, center Marc Gasol and other ‘Grit and Grind’ players that fueled the franchise for years.
They have acquired multiple veterans like center Jonas Valanciunas and shooting guard Avery Bradley, but also have bad contracts like the $25 million owed to small forward Chandler Parsons.
While the cap space may not be where they’d like it, the Grizzlies found a major bright spot in 2018’s No. 4 pick power forward Jaren Jackson Jr. out of Michigan State. The stretch-four averaged 13.7 ppg on 50.6 percent shooting with 4.7 rpg in 58 games played.
Pairing him with Morant allows the two to strive in a generation of the NBA where the pick-and-roll is its primary source of offense.
While they may not be there for the long-term, playing alongside veterans with playoff experience like Valanciunas, Bradley, guard CJ Miles and more has to be a plus.
Can Conley and Morant coexist?
While it seems pretty certain that the Grizzlies are ready to turn the page on the Mike Conley era, what happens if they are unable to find a deal for him?
If this happens is Morant subject to slipping in the draft order or does he coincide with Conley to make an uber-talented backcourt?
Let’s say Conley stays and the Grizzlies still take Morant. If this happens, due to Conley’s lack of size, Morant could find himself starting at shooting guard.
Morant is completely capable of taking on this role. In his freshman year at Murray State, Morant shared ball-handling responsibilities with current G-League guard Jonathan Stark. By doing so Morant took on more of a slasher role and as shown in the video below, is capable of creating opportunities for himself without the ball. It also helps that he was able to convert on 36 percent of his threes in his sophomore season rather than the 30 percent rate from his freshman year.
— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) May 26, 2019
Could Morant fall in the draft?
It was reported recently by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that Morant had a minor knee procedure to remove a loose body in his knee. It is expected that he will be fully recovered within three to four weeks. While it doesn’t seem like this injury will affect his draft stock, could Morant fall in the draft?
One possible scenario I could see happening is another small forward from Duke—RJ Barrett—being selected with the No. 2 overall pick. This keeps Conley in Memphis and gives them another scorer alongside Conley and Jackson Jr.
If this happens, it’d be shocking if Morant were to fall any lower than No. 3 overall. When the New York Knicks had a chance at the No. 2 pick fans were already praising the idea of having Morant play in Madison Square Garden.
While it might not make sense for the Knicks to take Morant already having another athletic point guard in Dennis Smith Jr., the two could try and unite for a supreme athletic backcourt.
You could make this case for the next two picks with the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 4 and the Cleveland Cavaliers at No. 5. Neither team necessarily needs a point guard, but it would be hard to pass up on the potential that Morant has.
What does Phoenix do?
The Phoenix Suns took the most notable hit from the draft lottery format changes. They were one of three teams with a 14 percent chance of claiming the No. 1 pick, but instead fell to No. 6.
For a long period of time the Suns were predicted to have the No. 2 pick and select Morant. Inserting Morant into this franchise makes perfect sense. The Suns haven’t had strong point guard play since they decided to deal Isaiah Thomas, Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe years ago. In fact the team only had one point guard on the roster last year in rookie Elie Okobo.
Putting Morant alongside budding star shooting guard Devin Booker and last year’s No. 1 pick center Deandre Ayton creates a dynamic offense for the future of the franchise.
The only downside is that the Suns will have to luck out and somehow have Morant fall to them, unless they pull the trigger on moving up in the draft.
The Suns have an onslaught of wing players in Josh Jackson, TJ Warren, Kelly Oubre Jr. and many others. Pair some of them with the sixth pick and that could be enough to make the Grizzlies bite. This would give the Grizzlies the ability to draft another point guard later if they wanted to be mentored by Conley and have improved wing players alongside Jackson Jr. and Conley.
Meanwhile, Phoenix would have a starting lineup that consisted of Ayton, Booker, Morant and any wing players left on the roster or acquired in the impending 2019 NBA free agency. I don’t see it likely, but it wouldn’t be difficult to clear up cap space if you move Warren and possibly another wing in order to attempt to sign a big free agent.
Watch and wait
In the end all fans and analysts can do is speculate while they anxiously await the draft. The 2019 NBA Draft will air on ESPN at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 20. Murray State Athletics is holding a watch party for the NBA Draft at the Murray Country Club, beginning at 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 20. Tickets cost $30, which will provide admission and desserts and appetizers. For ticket information call the CFSB Center (270) 809-3000 or go to the box office in person.