When you’re a young, great NBA player, it’s inevitable you’ll be compared to legends of the game.
Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant, who is just 23 years old and already appears to be a perennial MVP candidate, is no stranger to the player comp craze.
Allen Iverson. Russell Westbrook. Derrick Rose.
And of course THE comp. The loftiest of lofty comps. But we’ll get back to that one.
All of the aforementioned players make sense. In their primes, they were some of the most electric players the sport has ever seen. All of those players won an MVP award. They also all have their own signature shoe, which Morant will reportedly have soon enough.
But with respect to those guys, it’s difficult to compare Morant to any one of them. Everyone loves a good player comp, but we might be dealing with a player that simply doesn’t have one.
Perhaps he’s the most like Iverson. The scoring at this young of an age is only comparable to A.I. from the above players. Morant averaged 27.4 points a game in his age-22 season. Only five other players have averaged at least 27 points at 22 or younger: Trae Young, Luka Doncic, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson. Not a bad list.
Morant’s ability to seemingly hang in the air forever is very Iverson-like — but also Jordan- and Kobe-like. Iverson was as explosive an athlete as we’ve ever seen, but he was also generously listed at 6-foot. Morant is 6-foot-3.
As a certain ESPN pundit declared, perhaps Morant is a “taller Iverson.”
“I might not see it in the actual style of play,” Iverson said on Kevin Hart’s Cold as Balls, “but the speed, the attitude, the bounce. Ja is 6-3 and can fly ... Ja is the real deal.”
The biggest difference — other than a few inches — is efficiency. For as great as Iverson was, his shooting percentages don’t exactly make him an analytics darling. He shot over 46 percent from the field just once for his career. Morant, on the other hand, was over that mark in two of his first three seasons and is over it so far this season.
His 49.3 percent mark from the field last season was especially noteworthy. Here’s a list of all the guards to average 27 points and hit over 49 percent from the field at 22 or younger:
- Ja Morant
- Michael Jordan
The last thing Morant has in common with these players: he’s a maniacal competitor, as we saw last season in a chippy series with the defending-champion Warriors.
So much so that a 100 percent fake quote attributed to Morant seemed plausible. The made-up quote, by none other than the infamous Ballsack Sports, was Morant saying Jordan would be “just another superstar.”
Yeah, the internet is a weird place.
And this even predates Elon Musk’s Twitter.
While Morant could conceivably be audacious enough to say such a thing, he clearly has too much respect for the game and the players that came before him. He actually complimented M.J. heavily in an interview with Bleacher Report’s Taylor Rooks.
“Feel like he is the reason a lot of people want to play the game of basketball ...
“I wish I played in his generation. How he goes about the game, that mindset he had, I would like to play against him.”
Morant had similar admiration for Rose, who starred at the University of Memphis before entering the NBA.
“He really made it to where people believe in guys like me,” Morant said per the Memphis Commercial Appeal. “Coming in, athletic guards, I felt like he was pretty much the one who kind of made it more famous. With how acrobatic his finish is, his touch around the rim, and how explosive he was. Coming in, he was my comparison. It’s crazy to be out there on the floor sharing a court with him.”
Morant also took plenty from Westbrook as well
“He’s definitely a tough guy,” Morant said on the All the Smoke podcast. “He doesn’t care about who’s on the floor, who’s on the other side of the ball. He’s going to be on go. That’s definitely a mentality I got.”
And Morant and Iverson have developed a relationship over the years as the former Sixer endlessly shows love to this generation of players.
When asked how he’d fare against Jordan, Morant gave a light-hearted response — with plenty of bravado mixed in.
“I would have cooked him too. Nobody has more confidence than 12,” Morant said. “I’m never going to say that somebody is going to beat me 1-on-1 in anything. I don’t care what it is, what sport it is. Soccer — who is the best player in soccer? C’mon, we can play.”
The best potential comparison would be ridiculous to make at this stage of his career. LeBron has been chasing that ghost for decades. The player comp most associated with his likely biggest West rival for the next decade-plus is Larry Bird — which is kind of hilarious (though I’d enjoy a Luka-Ja game of HORSE over a Big Mac).
But maybe we just let Ja blaze his own path. Whether he’s like Iverson or Jordan or something in between, he is a joy to watch. As Kevin Durant is wont to say, Morant is one of one.