How is 6’2″ “175 soaking wet” Ja Morant leading the NBA in paint scoring? The question feels like it doesn’t even need to be asked when you see how easily Morant glides to the paint and his effortless finishing at the rim. Whether it’s an acrobatic layup or a thunderous dunk on his opponent’s rim protector, regardless of his stature, the 2022 All-Star naturally looks like he belongs among the elite of the NBA.

But being 6’2″ and leading the NBA in paint scoring? Nah, Ja Morant is different for that. The fourth-year guard says the answer is simple as the fact that “motherf—ers can’t stay in front of me.” We can laugh at the comment all we want, but big facts are big facts; the 23-year-old out of Murray State led the League in points scored in the paint last season, becoming the first guard to do so in at least 25 years.

And he does it with a God-given burst, the ability to change directions like a cheetah chasing it’s prey, and a shifty handle that even Allen Iverson could admire. Not to mention his supernatural ability to finish at the rim going around and through centers, Morant has taken notes from athletic guards like Derrick Rose and Iverson, two elite guards who won MVPs in 2001 and 2011, an ironic ten-year gap.

“People look at that athletic stuff, but that happens once a game or once every two games,” teammate Desmond Bane said of Morant’s highlight-reel dunks per ESPN. “But he finishes with 26 points and 20 of them are in the paint, so it’s like, how the hell did he get the other 18?”

One weapon Morant uses is his floater. Morant has 40.7 percent of the 90 floaters he attempted this season, and he’s averaging 14.5 points in the paint per game, good for seventh-best in the League. Last year, he hit same shot 44.7 percent of the team.

“It allows me to not receive contact every time,” Morant said, “being able to have that floater right before I get to the big.”

Morant can also dive deep into his bag and finish with either hand, and he thrives launching to the rim off one foot, two feet, leaping off his left instead of the right or vice versa. Morant is finishing his lefty layups 57.5 percent of the time this season.

Morant has 37 games with 20 paint points amongst guards in the last 25 years, fourth behind Dwyane Wade (56), Russell Westbrook (54), and Kobe Bryant (39). This season, Morant is the only player 6’3″ and under in the top seven of paints in the point scored per game. The only guard ahead of him Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the 6’6′ breakout point guard of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“I can’t just rely on dunking every single play, so I have to have different types of finishes to be able to get my shot off,” Morant said, “whether it’s high off the glass, same leg/same hand, reverse, hanging in the air forever.”

Memphis will look to win their fifth game in a row against the Atlanta Hawks on Monday.

The post How Ja Morant Became the Top Paint Scorer in the NBA appeared first on SLAM.

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