Ja Morant
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Murray State’s electrifying Ja Morant is made for today’s NBA and would make an immediate impact with the New York Knicks.

Ja Morant is a great player in the making and the New York Knicks should have him on their radar.

Murray State’s star point guard declared for the NBA Draft on Wednesday. On top of announcing his decision to the media at the CFSB Center, he also posted it on Twitter.

The Knicks are currently the worst team in the NBA. Hopefully, they will land the first overall selection in next month’s draft lottery. Naturally, dominant Duke big man Zion Williamson is the odds-on favorite to be picked first.

But sleeping on Ja Morant would be a big mistake. Given the scoring point guard reigning supreme in today’s NBA, general manager Scott Perry should give him a serious look.

A diamond in the rough

Ja Morant was not expected to become an overnight sensation. He was not a top recruit and, per ESPN and 247 Sports, no school other than Murray State showed interest. The South Carolina product was on the skinny side at 6-foot-3, 175 pounds, so he’d have to do a little extra to get noticed.

His freshman year with the Racers flew right under the radar. Morant averaged just 12.7 points per game but also posted 6.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game. He also shot 45.9 percent from the field, but just 30.7 percent from three-point range.

As a sophomore, Morant looked like a completely different player. His scoring went up to 24.5 points per game, which ranked eighth in the nation. His rebounds dropped to 5.7 per contest, but his assists rose to an even 10.0. Morant also averaged 1.8 steals and improved his field goal percentage to 49.9 percent and his three-point percentage to 36.3.

Throw in a triple-double in Murray State’s upset victory over Marquette in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, and one thing is certain.

Ja Morant can play, and well.

Draft strategy

Now, let’s shift the conversation back to the Knicks and their draft plans. The pick has to be a big one, especially if Perry has his sights on luring Kevin Durant and/or Kyrie Irving to New York in free agency.

In terms of the best player available, it’s Zion Williamson at the top. Hands down. The man can do it all from battling in the paint to shooting threes at a respectable 34 percent. Not to mention, he is built like the Incredible Hulk at 6-foot-7, 285 pounds.

Morant, however, is more like Ant-Man. He is regularly underestimated, or at least was for a time, and often comes through when least expected. His triple-double versus Marquette is a prime example of that.

Not only that, but what if the Knicks don’t land the first pick? The draft lottery rules have changed in such a way, New York and the two next worst teams only have a 14 percent chance of winning it. Not only that, the Knicks could fall as far as the No. 5 pick if bad luck decides to arrive.

Morant as a Knick

This is exactly why the Knicks need to have Morant on their radar. Williamson is far from guaranteed and any and all backup plans must be explored, especially Morant.

This is because regardless of what happens in free agency, the New York Knicks need a leader. Guys like Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson can definitely grow into those roles, but their development will go smoother with a great point man getting them the ball.

Morant is that player to a tee. When he’s not driving the lane for a dunk or nailing a three, he’s playing great defense or going after rebounds. He’s not going to be a triple-double machine like Russell Westbrook, but the potential is definitely there.

Moreover, Morant taking such a big step forward as a sophomore speaks volumes about his character. He knew he had to be better and, in the process, became a top NBA prospect.

Granted, coach David Fizdale doesn’t run the same fast-paced game as Racers coach Matt McMahon, but he still knows how to develop young talent. Under his watch, Ja Morant could immediately become the strong point man the Knicks need.

What about free agency?

As for free agency, the Knicks need not worry if Ja Morant winds up their pick. Zion may be the silver tuna, but to say Morant isn’t a catch is just plain wrong.

Look at it this way. Wherever guys like Durant, Irving, and others go in free agency, they’ll probably be looking for a combination of max money and ability to win. If New York has Morant and takes a meeting with Kevin Durant, the young rookie could be pitched as a great point man to get the future Hall of Famer the ball.

Not only that, but even Kyrie Irving should be impressed with Morant if the Knicks draft him. He can play both guard positions, so drafting him doesn’t necessarily remove Irving from the free agency conversation.

As to Morant being a winner, he had 8.2 win shares this season. Williamson, by comparison, had 8.3 win shares. Though different players entirely, each helped their team win big.

If that doesn’t entice free agents to sign with New York, then the Knicks have bigger problems.

Final thoughts

And none of this is to say the Knicks absolutely must draft Ja Morant. There is no guarantee the team will even be in a position to draft him, let alone Zion Williamson.

But Dennis Smith Jr., despite his talent, isn’t the answer in New York. He hasn’t shown much improvement since being traded from the Dallas Mavericks in February, and a new face is needed at the point.

Depending on how the draft pans out, that face could be Ja Morant. He can do it all on the court and holds himself to a high standard.

In the eyes of long-suffering Knicks fans, that should be more than enough.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.