New York Knicks: RJ Barrett’s top five challengers for NBA Rookie of the Year

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2. Ja Morant

It is rare for a team to have two potential candidates for NBA Rookie of the Year, but if a young Memphis Grizzlies team shines through, they will be a talking point, even if minor, by the end of the 2019-20 season. Part of that will undoubtedly attribute to Ja Morant’s play.

The Grizzlies moved Mike Conley to the Utah Jazz and handed the point guard keys to the Murray State product before he took the court. It was a swift reign-ending move, as Conley led this franchise for the past 12 years, featuring multiple playoff appearances. Those are tremendous shoes to fill, and it might take a few years to fit that mold, but the talent is there.

Morant’s passing ability in college was just the start. Averaging 10 assists per game, this point guard knew how to set up his teammates and carry them to tournament success. Creating for Jaren Jackson Jr., Brandon Clarke and this inexperienced Memphis team will immediately put Morant into the conversation as one of the game’s top, young point guards.

The athleticism and physical tools to defend makes Morant intriguing, as well. Standing 6-foot-3 with a 6-foot-7 wingspan, those attributes should translate at the smallest part of the lineup and lead to some steals and even a half block, or more, per game. Reputation matters beyond stats for defense, too, and he could become a shutdown player with enough reps.

The questions come with shooting the basketball. If Morant knocks down three-pointers, he might stand face to face with the favored player to win Rookie of the Year. Without that, it will mean development is necessary, which is fine, but assists and defense will not be enough. Still, after a highlight-reel tournament performance in March, there is reason to believe the shooting stroke exists and too far away from becoming great.