How ‘easy’ have Ja Morant’s assists been?

Although they all count the same in the box score, not all assists are created equal. Driving past 3 defenders and dropping a dime for a slam gets you the same mark as making a 2 foot lateral pass behind the arc on a made bucket. In Marquette Scoop terminology, this is the prototypical “easy assist”.

While I have not put in the time to be able to watch all of Morant’s 300+ assists, the NCAA leader in that category is a magician under the rim, finding angles and openings that just don’t exist.

I wanted to try and quantify this ability of his to get teammates easy buckets, so I figured using Synergy’s shot charts to filter by distance would be a good proxy. I took the top 3 in the country and the top 4 in assists and compared them based on shots within 2 feet, shots within 4 feet and then compared those rates with assists that led to 3 pointers, with the thought that these were much more difficult shots with a lot more variance.

To no one’s surprise, Morant led this group in shots created with both 2 and 4 feet (both in raw and percentage terms).

Player Within 2ft Within 4ft 3pt
Ja Morant 48.9% 55.6% 36.0%
Cassius Winston 47.1% 51.7% 35.9%
Kai Towes 24.9% 30.8% 47.4%
James Akinjo 37.2% 40.9% 49.4%
Shamorie Ponds 35.8% 38.2% 47.3%
Markus Howard 29.8% 36.6% 45.0%
Aaron Thompson 20.8% 23.1% 70.0%

Over 55% of Morant’s 311 assists have led to makes within 4 feet. That percentage on that volume is just mindblowing. Michigan State’s Cassius Winston was the only other player on this list to crack 40% for both 2 and 4 feet intervals.

In fact, 71 of his 152 assists within 2 feet led to dunks. I haven’t gone through all of them to see how many are alley-oops, but you can bet there are a fair share. He has an incredible knack for making the pass at unexpected times and hitting players in the perfect spot. Take a look at the GIF below.

Morant never picks up his dribble, making the pass one-handed and starting the process before the runner is within 10 feet of the rim. He also can throw those one-handed passes with either hand, which makes it difficult to anticipate or guard.

Here’s a little bit of a longer video, against dreadful opposition that looks like it swam a mile before the game, but it gives you a good idea of the multiple ways he can wreak havoc with his passing.

Going back to the chart above, I know Markus Howard is a different type of guard, so you wouldn’t expect to see those kinds of assist numbers from him, but even Shamorie Ponds and James Akinjo, the Big Easts top assist-getters and much more natural point guards don’t come close to measuring up to Morant’s numbers.

In an attempt to see how Marquette has fared against some of the better passers, we can check the numbers in games against St. John’s and Georgetown. In the 3 games against Marquette, Ponds assisted on 4 baskets within 4 feet (of a total of 9). Akinjo had 4 of his 13 assists against Marquette lead to buckets within 4 feet. So in 5 games, only 8 assists led to bunnies directly off a pass from these lead guards.

As I mentioned before, Morant is on a different level than Ponds or Akinjo, so that’s not enough data to say Marquette has or can make it difficult against Murray State, but it does show that despite having issues containing lightning quick guards, it hasn’t really resulted in a ton of easy buckets.

Instead, Marquette has had more issues preventing scoring directly from these guards (as well as Seton Hall’s Myles Powell and Indiana’s Romeo Langford). Of the 25 20-point games against Marquette, 18 came from guards. In fact, 7 of the top 11 single game outputs came against quick guards.

However,  Morant’s shooting from deep does not inspire fear in opponents.

Capture2.JPG

If he beats you from deep, you tip your cap and move on. But the scouting report (as Ryan explained in depth here) will be to go under screens and keep him out of the paint at all costs. Once he’s in the paint, his finishing ability is tremendous, only matched by his passing ability.

I’ll leave you with this chart, my favorite this year that I’ve been pushing on Twitter for months.

Capture2.JPG

Morant is the only the second player in the last 12 years to top 50.1% assist rate, and doing that with a usage rate of 36.3% is just mindblowing. He is as good, if not better, than everyone is making him out to be. Marquette will have their hands full.

 

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