Evaluating Ja Morant, John Petty, and Herbert Jones

November 26, 2018

by Alan Lu

Today, I decided to take the time to watch Ja Morant and Murray State take on the Alabama Crimson Tide in an early season, non-conference college basketball game.   It was an exciting, competitive contest in which both teams traded leads, but Alabama was able to hold on to get the win.  Morant turned in a very good showing, as he excelled at attacking the basket to get scores, showed off terrific athletic gifts, and single-handedly almost was able to get his team the victory.  Here are my thoughts on how Morant and other various prospects fared in this match, as well as how their games may translate to the NBA.

Murray State’s 6-3 sophomore point guard, Ja Morant put forth a solid performance in his team’s loss to Alabama.  He showed off strong scoring skills as he excelled at doing so off drives and hustle plays, he made some nice passes, and he also rebounded and defended well when he was on the court.  Morant did a very good job of getting scores off the dribble.  He is a speedy playmaker that changes speeds well and has great acceleration, and he can finish plays using either hand to get numerous scores around the basket.  He has a solid assortment of dribble moves he can use to create separation, and he also can routinely blow past his man to regularly get scores off the glass.  Morant was also able to score on a floater, and late in the game, he used a behind the back dribble move to score on a thunderous dunk in traffic over a much taller defender.  Also, he was able to use a nifty hesitation move to score on a pull-up, mid-range jumper.

He also excelled at scoring on hustle plays.  Morant was able to score off of a couple of tip-ins, including a tip slam off of an offensive rebound, and he also was able to score off of a couple of backdoor cuts to the hoop.  He was able to score on a strong two-handed dunk while getting an extra free throw on one play, and he also scored on a quick layup on another.  On the downside, he did not make a three-point shot in this game, despite having taken both spot-up and pull-up threes, and at times he appeared to rush his shots when taking them from beyond the arc.  On the plus side, Morant did do a decent job of making his free throws and also seems to have good form on his shot, and that he has made over 80% of his free throws in his collegiate career to date could be a sign that he may be capable of developing his jumper if he puts in the time and hours to work on it.

Plus, he also seemed to display decent playmaking skills.  Morant has great speed in the open court, and he showed off strong passing and ball handling skills at times, as he showed a knack for driving hard to the basket to drop off a pass to a teammate around the hoop to set up scoring chances for them.  He showed good court vision when he played under control, and he was able to kick the ball out to shooters off the dribble to get them numerous scoring opportunities.  However, plenty of his assist opportunities seemed to go unconverted, especially in the first half, as his teammates had some trouble finishing plays around the basket or to consistently score on jumpers, but also, he would tend to force the issue too much on offense.

At times, he would drive into traffic and rush his moves, which would lead him to take tough shots, as some of them led to misses, as well as to commit some turnovers, as he had some trouble protecting the basketball when dribbling amidst crowds.  His desire to play fast bordered on recklessness, as he also committed some boneheaded turnovers on some of his possessions.  Also, he can be prone to throwing questionable passes, as some of them were deflected and intercepted, and another one sailed out of bounds off of a drive.  He did not make a three-point shot and struggled considerably with turnovers, but his ability to attack the basket combined with his tremendous athleticism and ability to defend could make him a mid first round pick on draft day.

Morant did a terrific job of rebounding the basketball.  He is a ball hawk that possesses great ball location skills, and he showed a deft ability to chase down balls to get boards, as well as to leap up to get other rebounds.  His strong ability to get boards may be unparalleled among matched up against other prospects his size, and Morant’s ability to get rebounds could be even similar to when current Los Angeles Lakers’ point guard, Rajon Rondo was in college.

He also played good defense.  Morant is a feisty, aggressive defender that has very good footwork, and he applied heavy ball pressure to pester his opponents.  He is a fast, quick player that can jump passes and jump on loose balls to help his team get steals, and he also can create transition scoring opportunities off of them.   But there was one play where he ran past a taller shooter on a switch, as his team allowed a three-point score on a scramble.  Another time, he was defending a taller player in the post, but he ended up allowing his man to get fairly deep position to score on a jump hook.

In general, Ja Morant had a very good showing in his team’s loss to Alabama, and he is a very athletic playmaker that can help his team in many different areas of this contest.   He played well on both ends of the court, and he showed a solid ability to attack the basket to garner scores.  Not only did he excel as a scorer off the dribble, he also showed a good ability to move off the ball to get scores off of off-ball motion plays.  He played with a lot of grit and he also made two fantastic dunks towards the game’s end.

There are still some questions regarding his ability to make the transition to the NBA, despite his strong performance against Alabama.  Morant did not make a three-point shot from beyond the arc, despite showing the willingness to take long-range shots, and he also was quite turnover prone.  But the fact that he scored 38 points, and also had 9 rebounds and 5 assists despite receiving little help from his teammates makes him an intriguing prospect, as Morant is a very good shot creator that can get any shot he wants, and may be the most athletic point guard in the draft.  Right now, Morant is a very talented player that may possess a lot of upside, and he could be a very good candidate for teams to take in the mid first round on draft day.

Alabama’s sophomore swingman, John Petty had a good game to help lead his team to a win over Murray State.  Known for his strong shooting skills, he actually excelled at scoring on off-ball motion plays, and he also rebounded and defended well when he was on the court.  Petty did a great job of scoring on hustle plays.  He showed a penchant for scoring on nifty backdoor cuts, as he would score on acrobatic reverse layups, and he also threw down an emphatic two-handed dunk another time.  He also ran the floor to get a score in transition.

Also, he was able to knock down a mid-range jumper early in this game.  However, he was unable to make a three-point shot, despite getting good opportunities to do so off the catch.  He also appeared to struggle to create his own shot off the dribble, and he had a short-distance drive blocked after looking to score off of an offensive rebound.  In addition, his playmaking skills looked to be fairly average at best.  Petty was able to find the roll man to set up a scoring chance for his teammate, and he would occasionally look to find the open man.  However, he did commit a couple of turnovers, and he had one interior pass that he threw dropped by a teammate that led to one of them.

Plus, he did a very good job of rebounding the basketball.  Petty excelled at chasing down balls to get boards on both ends of the floor, and he showed a good motor in hustling to get them for his team.  He also played adequate defense.  Petty was able to block a shot inside the paint to force a miss, and he also managed to get a steal on this end of the floor.  Also, he was able to contest a couple of three-point shots to force misses.  However, sometimes he may have some trouble guarding quicker players, as he ended up getting beat off the dribble to allow a couple of scores.

In summary, John Petty played well to help get Alabama a well-earned win over Murray State.  He is an athletic swingman that made solid plays on both ends of the floor, and he really got after it on the glass to get his team rebounds.   Right now, he may be a second round prospect for the upcoming draft.  He will need to improve his ability to get his own shot, but his ability to shoot the basketball combined with his basketball IQ may allow him to be a solid role player in the NBA, and if he keeps playing well, he could end up swiftly moving up draft boards to the point where he could be a potential first round pick on draft day.

Alabama’s 6-7 sophomore forward, Herbert Jones had a decent showing in his team’s victory over Murray State.   He had his ups and downs, but he was able to help his team in a variety of ways in this game.  He excelled as a scorer off of drives, and he also moved the ball well.  He also was quite active on the glass.  However, he did not seem to show much of a jump shot, and he also had some trouble with turnovers and position defense when he was on the floor.

Jones did a good job of scoring on aggressive drives to the hoop.  He showed a solid ability to score and draw free throws when he would go to his right, and he even managed to throw down an emphatic, two-handed jam to score on one aggressive right-handed drive to the basket, but sometimes, he can miss shots in traffic as he may try to overtly force the issue on occasion, and he appeared to struggle more when going to his left in this game.

He also showed off fairly average playmaking skills.  For the positives, Jones is an unselfish player that will make the extra pass to keep the ball moving, and he excelled at finding teammates on the move to set up scores for them.  He plays well when operates under control, as he can routinely hit cutters, and kick the ball out to shooters off the dribble to set up scores for them.  However, he would also tend to be too out of control at times when driving to the hoop, as he would commit traveling violations and lose the ball on other occasions.  Plus, he did a very good job of grabbing rebounds in this game.  He would actively crash the glass to get numerous boards, and he showed off good athleticism, motor, and instincts to do so.

Defensively, he may have been perhaps above average.  He was an active help defender that would play passing lanes to get steals, and he also managed to swat a shot to force a miss.  Jones also was able to draw a charge to get an opponent to commit an offensive foul.  However, he also would be out of position when looking to defend drives, as sometimes he would get beat off the dribble, leading him to commit fouls and allow scores, and another time, he ended up leaving his own man underneath the hoop to give up a basket to the other team.

In summary, Herbert Jones had an adequate, yet perhaps unremarkable game in his team’s win over Murray State.  He is a fill-in-the-blanks player that can help his team on both ends of the floor, and he is an athletic combo forward that plays very energetically.  However, he will need to improve his jump shot and free throw shooting, and he will have to cut down on the mental mistakes made when he is on the floor.  Right now, he is a prospect that looks to be a second round prospect, and in a favorable scenario, he could perhaps develop into an Andre Roberson type of player in the NBA.

For Alabama’s senior big man Donta Hall, his performance was a mixed bag.  While he brought forth strong defensive skills as usual and helped shore up his team’s interior play on that end of the floor, he struggled to make an impact on offense.  In this game, Hall played very good defense.  He did a great job of blocking shots to protect the paint, and he showed strong leaping ability, timing, and instincts to do so.  He also would alter numerous shots to force misses, and he also managed to jump a pass to get a steal.  But sometimes, he would not quite rotate in time on opponent’s drives to the hoop, which would lead his team to allow scores around the basket.

Hall also rebounded the ball well.  He was quite active at crashing the glass, and he can chase down balls to get multiple boards on both ends of the floor.  On offense though, that was a different story.  He struggled to score the basketball or to make plays on that end of the floor.  Hall had trouble scoring out of the post or off of jumpers, and he was unable to make a field goal against Murray State.  He did manage to draw free throws after a strong take to the basket using his left hand off the dribble.  However, Hall did not pick up an assist, and he also committed a couple of turnovers.  He had a pass intercepted once, and another time he was called for traveling after posting up on the block.

Overall, Donta Hall is an athletic big man that has had his ups and downs throughout his collegiate career, and this game was quite a rollercoaster ride for him.  He did not play well on the offensive end of the court, but he showed off solid rebounding and interior defensive skills, and made his impact felt the most with his superb shot-blocking prowess.

It remains to be seen if he could end up being a viable role player in the NBA.  He is a very good shot blocker that defends well, and he is also a solid athlete that runs the floor well.  However, his offensive skills may still be unrefined, and he is a bit undersized to play inside at the next level.  Right now, he may be a borderline second round candidate, as he may project to be a similar player to former Miami Heat forward, Jarvis Varnado.  While Donta Hall can defend and block shots, he will need to improve his skill set on offense to increase his odds to succeed at the next level.

Other Notes:

Alabama’s 6-3 freshman guard, Kira Lewis has been a pleasant surprise for his team this year, as he has been a reliable scorer when he is on the floor, and he continued to play well this season as he scored 20 points to help lift his squad to a win over Murray State.  He did a good job of getting scores off the dribble.  Lewis can finish plays using either hand, and he is a quick player that showed a knack for scoring on floaters.  He also can knock down jumpers off the catch or dribble, and he also made a pull-up mid-range jump shot in transition.  However, though he was able to make a spot-up three in transition, he was not consistent in making them from beyond the arc.

Lewis also played good defense.  He was able to get his hands on a pass to get a steal, and he swatted a long two to prevent his opponent from knocking that shot down.  He was called for a reach-in foul on a drive, but Lewis generally excelled as a help defender, as he is an aggressive active player that showed good instincts to make plays on this end of the floor.  Overall, Kira Lewis Jr. has been having a good season thus far, and while he may not have drawn much draft buzz yet, he definitely could be a player to keep an eye on in the future.   If he can continue to develop as an overall player, he could perhaps work his way into becoming an Isaiah Canaan type of player in the NBA.

Alabama’s 6-6 junior swingman, Tevin Mack showed off some scoring skills in his team’s narrow win over Murray State.  He was able to run off of a screen to score on an open spot-up three, and he also posted up a smaller opponent to score on a jump hook.  Plus, he also drove to the hoop to score on a fadeaway jumper while getting an extra free throw.  However, he had some trouble scoring on put backs, as he would rush his shots, and also struggled to score in traffic at times.

He did manage to set a good on-ball screen to help a teammate get a score on a drive, and he did a good job of grabbing offensive rebounds.  While Tevin Mack may not be an elite athlete, he is a crafty player that can score in a variety of ways, and he could project into being a shooting specialist if he is able to find his way into the NBA someday, especially if he can consistently knock down shots on a routine basis.