The NCAA’s March Madness is about to end, with the Final Four teams squaring off for the Big Dance in Minneapolis’ US Bank Stadium this weekend. The NBA regular season is also about to get over and the exciting playoffs are about to begin. However, only sixteen teams will get to play in the playoffs. For the rest of the league, the focus shifts on to the NBA Draft. March Madness is usually a good measuring stick for the scouts of the NBA teams and a prospect’s performance in the tournament helps cement his position on a team’s draft chart. Zion Williamson of the Duke University Blue Devils appears to be the consensus number one pick for the 2019 draft. Ja Morant, the sophomore superstar guard of the Murray State University Racers is projected to also be a lottery pick and go as high as number 2.
Morant, whose 6 foot 3 frame and explosive game has drawn comparisons to Oklahoma City Thunder’s superstar Russell Westbrook, was one of the best college players this year. He led Murray State to the Ohio Valley Conference title and a March Madness berth with the 12th seed. He led the Racers to a first round upset of Marquette with a spectacular triple double (17 points, 16 assists and 11 rebounds). He was the first player since Golden State Warriors superstar Draymond Green to notch a triple double during March Madness. He scored a valiant 28 points against Florida State in the next round but the higher seeded team proved too much of a mismatch as the Racers lost 62-90.
His spectacular showing in the tournament made him a household name in the country and cemented his position as a top 5 lottery pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. In an event inside his school’s arena, Morant announced that he will forgo his remaining two years of college eligibility and declare for the NBA Draft. Let’s take a look at the teams which have a shot of drafting and how he will fit with them.
1. New York Knicks
The New York Knicks traded away their young superstar and supposed franchise cornerstone Kristaps Porzingis to the Dallas Mavericks. That signalled a move towards a complete rebuild centred around a new player. The Knicks regular season record is bad enough for them to land a lottery pick (possibly even the number 1 pick). If they land the number 1 pick, they will most likely draft Zion Williamson. However, if they don’t get the number 1 pick, Ja Morant will be a great addition to the team that they can actually build around. They received Dennis Smith Jr. from the Mavericks in the Porzingis trade but he is an inferior prospect when compared to Morant. The Knicks also have a lot of cap space and they can use it to attract top notch free agents such as Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard or Jimmy Butler to the team. Having a great playmaker like Morant should be a great fit for those players and the Knicks can finally start becoming relevant in the NBA again.
2. Memphis Grizzlies
One of the biggest burdens pulling down the neck of the Memphis Grizzlies is the massive contract of veteran point guard Mike Conley through the 2019-20 season. If the Grizzlies have Morant available for their pick, they can draft Morant and either trade Conley away or help Morant learn the chops under Conley’s mentorship. They already have a future building block in Jarren Jackson Jr. and if they manage to land Morant, the future would look really bright for the Grizzlies. And this future won’t have playoff success in the previous ‘grit and grind’ format. It will be more exciting and high flying.
3. Dallas Mavericks
The Dallas Mavericks have two future superstars in Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. One was drafted and the other was acquired via trade. To acquire Doncic, they had to trade their 2019 first round pick away. That pick however, is top five protected and if the balls come out in their favour on draft lottery day, they might just be able to keep their pick. Morant will be a major upgrade over current point guard Jalen Brunson and this team can have the potential to become the next Golden State Warriors of the Western Conference.
4. Phoenix Suns
The Suns had the number 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft and used it to draft center DeAndre Ayton. They had also drafted lethal scorer Devin Booker a few years earlier. However, the Suns have consistently been bad for the last few years and don’t really have many good players outside of Ayton and Booker. Getting Morant will make a potentially strong young nucleus but the ceiling won’t really be high.