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Ja Morant: Welcome to the paint

At 6-foot-3, Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant leads the NBA in points in the paint and points off drives.

Grizzlies star Ja Morant leads the NBA in points in the paint at 16.7 paint points per game.The last time we examined the points in the paint leaders during the final week of December, Memphis’ Ja Morant was the only guard and only player under 6-foot-9 in the top 10 as he ranked third in the league at 14.2 paint points per game.

Fast forward nearly 11 weeks, and Morant remains the only guard (and the shortest player) among the top 10, but he no longer ranks third in the league – he is now the league leader at 16.7 paint points per game.

Ja Morant MEM 16.7 G 6-3
Giannis Antetokounmpo MIL 15.4 F 6-11
Nikola Jokic DEN 15.3 C 6-11
Anthony Davis LAL 14.1 F/C 6-10
LeBron James LAL 13.9 F 6-9
Bam Adebayo MIA 13.2 C/F 6-9
Deandre Ayton PHX 13.0 C 6-11
Jarrett Allen CLE 12.6 C 6-10
Domantas Sabonis SAC 12.6 F/C 6-11
Pascal Siakam TOR 12.1 F 6-8
Karl-Anthony Towns MIN 12.1 C/F 6-11

Through games played on March 12, there have been 210 instances in which a player has scored at least 20 points in the paint this season. Morant accounts for a league-high 21 of those games – meaning that 10% of those games belong to one player. There are only three other players in the league with double-digit games with 20+ points in the paint: Giannis, Jokic and LeBron.

Ja Morant MEM 21
Giannis Antetokounmpo MIL 18
Nikola Jokic DEN 16
LeBron James LAL 12
Anthony Davis LAL 9
Bam Adebayo MIA 7
Domantas Sabonis SAC 7
Jarrett Allen CLE 7
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander OKC 6

Morant scored an NBA season-high 34 points in the paint on Feb. 28 against San Antonio when he finished with a career-best 52 points. That was one of two games in which Morant reached 30 points in the paint; there have been just three other such games this season.

Morant not only leads the NBA in points in the paint (16.7 ppg) – and points off drives (14.9 ppg) – he scores those points in spectacular fashion on a nightly basis, which has made the Grizzlies must-see TV all season long. We watch in awe at his latest thunderous dunk (he tries to put every shot blocker on a poster), 360-spinning layup, alley-oop throwdown, chase-down block, or twisting scoop shot around the rim, and continue watching the same highlights on repeat on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube.


But there’s more to those incredible highlight plays than just going viral, making top 10 lists, impressing fellow players or sending Grizzlies fans into a frenzy.

For Morant to be able to lead the NBA in points in the paint as a 6-foot-3 guard, he has to have all of those tricks in his bag. Morant’s combination of speed, athleticism, elevation and creativity while in the air not only makes him stand out among his peers in the game today, but draws comparisons to some NBA legends.

During a recent NBA on TNT pregame show, three-time NBA champion Dwyane Wade broke down the similarities between his game and Morant’s.

That segment began with a nod to former league MVP Derrick Rose who also played with similar explosiveness as Morant – as both players experienced breakout seasons in their third year in the league.

This side-by-side video of fastbreak alley-oop dunks from Rose and Morant is both amazing and a bit eerie in their similarity:

There is one other former league MVP and NBA 75th Anniversary Team member that elicits comparisons with Morant – Sixers legend Allen Iverson. In addition to the similarities in their physical attributes and scoring feats around the basket, Morant also shares a fearlessness and relentlessness that players like Iverson, Wade and Rose possessed every time they stepped on the court (or still do, in Rose’s case).

While Morant’s electrifying play draws comparisons to some of the league’s all-time greats, we don’t have a comparison for this level of paint scoring from a guard. Looking back at the data (which is available since the 1996-97 season), there have been 86 instances in which a guard has averaged at least 10 points in the paint for a season; this includes one season apiece from both LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo, who have played nearly their entire careers at forward.

Morant’s 16.7 points in the paint this season is on pace to shatter the existing top mark of 15.0 ppg from Russell Westbrook in 2019-20.

Ja Morant MEM 22 6-3 16.7 2021-22
Russell Westbrook HOU 31 6-3 15.0 2019-20
LeBron James* CLE 33 6-9 14.4 2017-18
Ben Simmons PHI 22 6-11 13.3 2018-19
Giannis Antetokounmpo* MIL 22 6-11 13.1 2016-17
Ben Simmons PHI 23 6-11 12.9 2019-20
Luka Doncic DAL 21 6-7 12.8 2019-20
Ben Simmons PHI 21 6-11 12.7 2017-18
Bradley Beal WAS 28 6-4 12.7 2020-21
Dwyane Wade MIA 29 6-4 12.6 2010-11
Dwyane Wade MIA 24 6-4 12.5 2005-06
Collin Sexton CLE 22 6-1 12.4 2020-21
De’Aaron Fox SAC 23 6-3 12.4 2020-21
Gary Payton SEA 28 6-4 12.2 1996-97
Allen Iverson PHI 31 6-0 12.1 2005-06

*One of only two seasons in which a player was eligible at guard

Wade finished with 10 of those seasons in his career – the most by any guard on record – followed by Westbrook (8), Gary Payton (6) and Iverson (5). So far Morant has hit double-digit points in the paint in each of his first three seasons, so expect him to challenge Wade’s mark in the years to come.