Scrolling through Instagram on Sunday, the Ja Morant highlights on the House of Highlights and NBA accounts jumped through the phone. There he was with no-look passes, up and under layups, and explosive dunks. In a close loss, he finished with 40 points, 10 assists on 62 percent shooting. He even canned 5 of 7 from deep. Coming off a playoff series where he averaged 30 and had a 40 point game, everyone is waiting for the Ja’s star arrival. 

What caught my attention even more than the specific plays was how Ja looked, both aesthetically and physically. There is joy, blinding speed, a streaky jump shot, and flair. Also showing up are some very skinny arms.  In short, I couldn’t help from being reminded of a certain number 3 who spent most of his career in Philadephia. You might call me crazy, but I felt I was watching some 2021 Allen Iverson.

Sleeping on it over the night, wondering if I truly was crazy, I hit play on the latest episode of True Hoop’s BRING IT IN podcast from Henry Abbott and Coach David Thorpe. To my surprise, Coach Thorpe, who has been training basketball players for 30 years, made the same observation. Ok, maybe I am on to something here. As someone whose favorite player is Allen Iverson, I was not going to make this comparison lightly. Alas, with Coach Thorpe’s indirect blessing, I’m now excited to see if this comparison holds.

Blinding Quickness

More than anything AI did on the court, his quickness is what allowed a 6’, 165-pound guard to win scoring titles and an MVP. This same quickness has been apparent in Ja’s game from the moment he stepped foot on the NBA hardwood. Both players use the quickness to relentlessly attack defenses that do little to respect their outside shot. When you shoot 31 (Iverson) and 32 (Morant) percent from deep, you’re going to need to find ways to score. The ability to get from point A to point B much faster than your defender can do the trick.

Relentlessness

It would be one thing to have the aforementioned quickness, one can do solid damage with that trait. What Iverson compounded that with, and what Morant has as well, is a relentless motor that takes that quickness to the next level. Both of these guys just would not let up attacking you possession after possession. For Iverson, that was with a more scoring approach, but Ja’s game is a little different in that respect. He comes off as both a more willing and smooth passer, averaging over seven assists in his first two seasons. The combination he can bring as a scorer and a passer can be devastating

For both of these players, the relentlessness they play with is more than how they attack the defense. It breeds into the identity of the team, as their teammates see what these slight guards attacking and work to meet their leaders. Whether that is the ‘01 Sixers punching above expectations and making the NBA Finals or the Grizzlies having a surprise run to the playoffs last season, the swagger both teams played with was palpable. And it could all be traced back to how the head of the snake carried themselves, both AI and Ja.

Aesthetics

This is where two elements converge for both Iverson and Morant, in my eyes. It’s a combination of the aforementioned flair Morant showed in the Lakers game combined with their slender physique. It’s already been mentioned what AI was working with, but Morant is only slightly bigger at 6’3”, 174 pounds. To me, both the flair and slenderness simply add to the aforementioned skills of quickness and relentlessness. 

The slight body requires one to be extremely quick to survive and thrive in a game of giants. It also requires an attitude that won’t back down when you inevitably get knocked on your ass. Combine that with a sense of flair in how they approached the game, it’s no wonder both players had their teammates following in their footsteps from a young age. Both players and fans alike can’t help but be drawn to players who combine these aesthetics with joy for the game.

The Verdict

Ja Morant dribbling and Allen Iverson looking into the crowd.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr also sees some of Allen Iverson in Morant’s game.

Does this mean that Ja Morant will go down in the NBA annals with the same career as AI? Of course not, that remains to be seen. However, seeing the flashes of AI in Ja’s game and wondering if he can translate in the same way, now that is something all NBA fans should be excited about.

For more basketball coverage from Belly Up Sports, check out The Midweek Midrange show on YouTube on Wednesdays and @HoopsBellyUp on Twitter. Read additional coverage at Belly Up Sports.

About Author

Ryan Rodriguez

If you want to hear my thoughts, check out my podcast, The Coastal Connection, which I do with some former coaching colleagues available on Spotify, Apple, and Google Podcasts. You can also check out my personal blog, The Thoughts of r2, if you want to read me on more topics than just NBA.

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