Following reports the past few weeks from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Kevin Arnovitz as it relates to a lack of scouting personnel as well as lack of effort in scouting college players, the Phoenix Suns were out in full force at the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament in Evansville, Indiana.
Murray State, who has a likely top-3 pick on their roster with point guard Ja Morant, was up against Jacksonville State with 40-plus NBA team representatives on hand headlined by Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Morant finished with 29 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists (7 turnovers) and 1 steal on 9-14 attempts but absolutely took over late making or assisting on 10 of their last 13 points (4 points, two three-point dishes) to will the Racers to victory.
The 6’3” wing from South Carolina is averaging 24.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 10.3 assists (5.1 turnovers), 1.8 steals and 0.8 blocks per game while carrying 50.2/33.8/80.3 shooting splits. Playing at Murray State has also led to Morant’s usage rate being a well above average 33.2 percent, which has only been topped by CJ McCollum (Lehigh), Doug McDermott (Creighton), T.J. Warren (North Carolina State), Trae Young (Oklahoma) and Jimmer Fredette (BYU) over the years by recent lottery picks.
Phoenix’s contingent on hand to take in Morant’s brilliant scoring and playmaking package was all of their most important figureheads: Owner Robert Sarver, Co-Interim GM James Jones, Co-Interim GM Trevor Bukstein...and Larry Fitzgerald?
Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver just sat down at the OVC tournament with Arizona Cardinals legend Larry Fitzgerald. Obviously here to take a closer look at Ja Morant, who could be right in the Suns wheelhouse depending on where their pick lands.— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) March 9, 2019
If you remember from last season, Sarver and the Arizona Cardinals’ legendary wide receiver watched Deandre Ayton up-close at the University of Arizona too.
ESPN showed Robert Sarver and Larry Fitzgerald at the Arizona game against UCONN.— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) December 22, 2017
Later on in the game, Givony also noticed there wasn’t just Sarver on hand. Outside of the Co-Interim GMs, Phoenix also had Director of Player Personnel Bubba Burrage and Director of Analytics Jake Loos in the building to watch their possible long-term answer at point guard as well.
Burrage was also at Murray State’s road game versus Morehead State on Feb. 28 where Morant dropped a triple-double albeit in a poor shooting performance (11 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists on 3-11 FGA), per The Ringer/The Dime Drop’s J. Kyle Mann.
Not just Sarver here from the Suns. Looking around, I've also seen James Jones, Trevor Buckstein, Bubba Burrage and Jake Loos from Phoenix's front office as well. Maybe others too. https://t.co/1ETdQpUSSX— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) March 9, 2019
Point guard has been a longstanding issue for the Suns ever since Eric Bledsoe’s drama-filled departure at the beginning of last season. Over that time, Phoenix has been cycling through G-League options before ultimately having two rookie point guards in Elie Okobo and De’Anthony Melton plus the October signing of 38-year-old Jamal Crawford.
Morant could be seen as the answer by Phoenix helping taking some of the burden off of Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. Even though he’s a score-first guard who is already great at drawing contact for fouls, Morant can also become a pass-first version when needed.
Within an environment where he’s the third option, Morant could blossom well if head coach Igor Kokoskov can bring the best out of him while taking out his bad habits.
Far too often Morant struggles with turnover issues and porous defense against lower-tier competition, though. There will be legitimate questions asked as to whether a Morant/Booker backcourt could even work defensively when Ayton also anchors the back end. Could that trio’s offensive firepower override those questions early on?
Stay tuned to Bright Side of the Sun for more draft coverage soon on Morant and other top draft prospects as the NBA Draft Lottery is now only two months away.