Just because you haven’t watched Ja Morant all year doesn’t mean NBA teams are changing their opinion based on a couple games in March.
It was heartening to watch Morant play at an elite level on offense against better competition in the NCAA Tournament this weekend, but he will always be No. 2. That’s no fault of Morant’s — he happened to break out the same year as his former AAU teammate, Zion Williamson. So while the national media will force this debate to break into your consciousness because it is impatient with Williamson’s greatness, ignore the talking heads telling you Morant could be the better prospect.
To go back over Williamson’s numbers in case you’ve been sleeping: 22.2 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 1.8 blocks per game on 28.2 percent usage and a 71.2 true shooting percentage. He is the all-time leader in PER since Sports-Reference began tracking the stat in 2009. His Box Plus-Minus, which estimates players’ quality and contribution to the team per 100 possessions, is the highest for any player since that stat was created in 2011.
Williamson also checks every box for Phoenix: he is a secondary playmaker who can create shots for himself and for teammates in any context and an elite team defender. His size and athleticism will allow him to fill several roles on both ends of the court. Simultaneously, he will help stabilize Deandre Ayton’s shoddy rim protection and Devin Booker’s need for a playmaking partner.
Even more importantly, Williamson is a diligent worker who is self-motivated and is passionate about winning team basketball.
“When I’m out in that rectangle, that’s all that matters. It’s just poetry in motion for me, it’s what I love to do.
“I am not embracing being a dunker, I have embraced being a basketball player. ... Any great player that I see, I just try to take something out of their game and add it to mine.”
Williamson doesn’t have to say this stuff. He could have walked into the sunset after his right knee sprain in February and still left Duke as one of the best college players ever. All season, he’s made it clear he loves basketball, loves playing with a great team, and wants to dominate.
Morant certainly has that killer instinct as well. He single-handedly willed a Murray State team to the second round that had very little talent compared with Marquette, Florida State or even regular-season conference champion Belmont. His skill and patience as a passer was the biggest reason the Racers’ secondary scorers had space and time to make shots.
Morant also has a ton of fun playing and certainly loves to make his teammates better.
But it’s not close.
Morant had to be hidden against the 5-11 Markus Howard in the first round. The Suns can’t afford another low-ceiling defender in their starting lineup long-term.
The guys Phoenix has tried opposite Booker the past two years were liabilities for one of two reasons: Either they couldn’t shoot or they couldn’t defend. Morant, despite making some absolute bombs against the Seminoles on Saturday, may not be able to do either against the length and athleticism of NBA players.
Williamson, on the other hand, is exactly what the Suns need. He has very few holes in his game. Even if his shooting doesn’t come along (and he’s more willing than someone like Ben Simmons), Ayton should one day be able to invert the floor and make the pairing work. Creating in the halfcourt may take time for Williamson, but with Booker and Mikal Bridges spacing the floor, Williamson will have even more room to operate than he does at Duke.
Morant’s run was exciting and gave more folks an opportunity to see him. The team that gets him will be thrilled.
But at No. 1, the choice is still simple to grab a generational prospect in Williamson.