Luka Doncic burst into the NBA, averaging 21.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG, and 6.0 APG in 2018-19, winning the Rookie of the Year Award as the NBA universe proclaimed he’s a modern version of Larry Bird. The following year, the Slovenian sensation dropped an easy 28.8 PPG, 9.4 RPG, and 8.8 APG, just missing a full-season triple-double as he led the Dallas Mavericks to the playoffs. During Doncic’s third campaign, he finished sixth in MVP voting and put up some of the best postseason numbers we’ve ever seen, eventually losing to the Los Angeles Clippers in seven games.
Ja Morant came into the league in 2019-20 as the Memphis Grizzlies consolation prize after losing out on the first pick in the draft and the rights to Zion Williamson. Ja Morant grinded throughout his freshmen year with little to no fanfare despite winning the Rookie of the Year Award. He kept pushing during his second campaign and led Memphis to the eighth seed in last year’s Western Conference playoffs but wasn’t close to making the All-Star squad.
Fast forward to 2021-22. Ja Morant was recently voted an NBA All-Star starter, and he has the Grizzlies at a surprising 35-18, firmly entrenched as the third seed in the Western Conference. At the same time, Luka Doncic struggled the first few months of the season and finds himself outside the All-Star game, hoping to make it in as a reserve.
Luka Doncic and Ja Morant come from unique backgrounds and bring distinct storylines to the table. Still, they’re the two best young point guards in the league. The question is: Who’s better?
We compare Luka Doncic versus Ja Morant and decide who’s the better player.
Scoring - Ja Morant
Ja Morant is dropping 26.4 points nightly off only 20.71 attempts. During past seasons, he was a subpar three-point shooter, which gave defenders a small drop-back cushion they could use on the perimeter, daring Morant to shoot from deep and taking away some of his burst advantage toward the rim. This season, not so much. The former number 2 pick is drilling a solid 35.4% of his long-distance bombs while only taking 2.2 spot-up three-pointers per game—Translation: If defenders take a step back in 2021-22 trying to take away Morant’s drives to the rack, he’s more than capable of hitting a step-back three. Ja Morant’s athleticism and finishing ability at the rim, combined with his improved stroke, make him death in a can on offense.
Luka Doncic is scoring 25.6 points per game, but his three-point stroke has hurt his overall effectiveness on offense. He’s hitting only 30.9% of his long-distance shots, and defenders have taken notice, choosing to step back and let Doncic launch away from deep. In past seasons, “Wonder Boy” also leveraged his 6-7 size to bully point guards in the post, picking up easy baskets in the lane, but this season he’s down to 0.89 points per possession on his post-up attempts (43rd percentile). We’re nitpicking a bit with Doncic. He’s still one of the best bucket-getters in the world, and despite his few flaws, he’s only slightly under Morant’s scoring level.
Defense - Luka Doncic
Luka Doncic came into the 2021-22 season, slightly out of shape, without his legs under him, and he struggled on D in November and December. As we’ve moved past Christmas, Doncic has rounded into form, and he’s been impressive on the less fun end. Over the past 15 games, the Mavericks are 11-4, behind their number two rated defense (104.0) during that span. Doncic clocks in with an excellent 99.4 DEFRTG over his last 15 games, good for 2nd on Dallas (minimum 15 MPG), and he also has a very solid 44.4 defensive field goal percentage. We’re finally seeing what Doncic can do on the less fun end when he’s fully engaged, and it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the league.
Ja Morant has shown concrete development on defense, but at 6-3, 174 pounds, he doesn’t have the size to lock down opposing point guards, lowering his overall impact on the less fun end. The stats are ugly. The Grizzlies are 6.9 points less stingy per 100 possessions with Morant on the floor per Cleaning the Glass good for the 9th percentile among NBA point guards, and Dunks and Threes rate him in the 42nd percentile out of all players. Memphis ranks 8th overall in defense this season, but head coach Taylor Jenkins has had to hide Morant, tasking Desmond Bane or Dillon Brooks with the more challenging assignments.
Passing - Luka Doncic
Luka Doncic is a wizard with the ball in his hand, and he could be the best passer in the league. He’s third in the NBA in potential assists at 17.4 per game but ranks first in assist percentage at 47%, meaning he’s responsible for nearly half of his team’s assists when he’s on the court. Going deeper, Doncic is third in the NBA in drives with 20.5 per game, and he has an excellent 44.0% pass percentage off his rim attacks. Simply put: Doncic is the engine that runs the Mavericks offense. His teammates rely on his drive and kick game to get open looks from deep, and his swing passes from the block are a thing of beauty.
Ja Morant’s no slouch in the passing department. He ranks 15th in the NBA in assists at 7.0 per contest, and he averages 13.4 potential assists per game. Morant is a top-15 playmaker in the association with a solid drive and kick game, and the ability to hit Jaren Jackson Jr. or Steven Adams with precision passes toward the rim off of his 12.0 pick and roll possessions per game (4th in the league). Morant has excellent court vision, and against nearly every other player in the league, he’s the better passer, but Luka Doncic could go down as one of the best setup men ever.
Clutch - Ja Morant
Ja Morant has been one of the best clutch players in the league this season. The Memphis Grizzlies have found themselves in 19 clutch games in 2021-22 with Morant on the floor (he was injured for one of the Grizzlies’ clutch contests), and they’ve gone 14-5. Morant’s gone full destructor at the end of close games, averaging 4.1 points per clutch contest, good for third in the NBA. He’s also hitting 50.0% of his three-point attempts, and he’s drawing 1.6 free throw attempts, where he’s shooting 87.1%. Overall, he’s +1.9 points in clutch situations behind his fearless drives to the rack and never-ending bag of crossovers and pump fakes in midrange situations.
Luka Doncic has played in 13 clutch games this season, and he’s helped propel the Mavericks to a 9-4 record in close contests. He’s struggled a bit with his shooting, though. He’s hitting only 27.3% of his three-point attempts, and his playmaking has fallen flat in clutch situations as well, evidenced by his 0.3 assists VS. 02 turnovers. Still, he’s played solid defense at the end of games, and he’s found ways to secure victories for his squad. In the end, he’s not on Morant’s level this season at the end of tight games.
Basketball I.Q. - Luka Doncic
At the top of the basketball IQ spectrum, we have Nikola Jokic and LeBron James, two players who seem to be a step ahead of everyone on the court, seeing things unfold before the rest of the world knows what’s happening. On the other end of the spectrum is a player like Russell Westbrook, who goes full throttle every moment he’s on the floor, unaware of the best way to leverage his and his teammate’s skill sets.
Luka Doncic and Ja Morant rest on the upper end of the IQ scale, just under Jokic and James, but Doncic could have the third-highest basketball intellect in the world, while Morant isn’t at that level yet. Watch Doncic play, and his ability to read the game sticks out instantly. He innately knows when to attack an offense and score and when to lie back and get his teammates involved with his pinpoint passing. Ja Morant is known as one of the most athletic point guards in the league, a player who relies on his incredible burst and shot-making ability to propel his team to victory, but that undersells what the Grizzlies starting point guard can do. He’s not quite as cerebral as Doncic, but Morant sees cracks and crevices in opposing defenses and knows how to attack off the dribble or hold things up and hit a teammate with a dime.
Leadership - Ja Morant
Some leaders are outspoken while others guide by example. Every now and again, you get a player who goes 110% on the court and also talks up his teammates, pushing them to be better. In Ja Morant’s third campaign, he’s become the rare dual-threat leader. The Grizzlies point guard has always played as hard as possible, constantly putting his 174-pound frame on the line as he attacks the rim relentlessly throughout every contest, like a modern Allen Iverson. This year he’s also speaking up in practice and during games, and his coach Taylor Jenkins has taken notice. “He’s just taken huge steps all around, as a player, as a leader. He’s finding his voice," Jenkins said of Morant after a Grizzlies victory over the Golden State Warriors. “He’s been finding it for the first two years, but even now, just more confidence in what he’s got to do to lead this team. ... Just his positivity, just communicating with the guys in the flow of the game, in timeouts. His voice is resonating throughout, and everyone is just helping to follow his lead and responding.”
Luka Doncic is an excellent player, but he’s never been known as a vocal leader, and he crushed team morale last year with his constant clashes with ex-Mavericks head coach, Rick Carlisle, culminating in a shouting match between the two during a Dallas game. Carlisle stepped down as the Mavs head coach over the offseason, preferring to take on the task of guiding the Indiana Pacers’ sinking ship over trying to reign in his Texas superstar. When you have a hand in getting your coach fired, it doesn’t matter how good you are, you’re never going to win a leadership battle, especially against a player like Morant whom everyone seems to love.
Impact - Luka Doncic
Luka Doncic scores 25.2 points per game and averages 22.2 assist points created per contest for a Dallas Mavericks team that scores 106.1 PPG. All that means he has a hand in just a smidge under 45% of his team’s point production. That alone pushes Doncic over Morant in impact, but Doncic also pulls down 8.9 rebounds per game, plays solid defense, and has the highest usage rate among all point guards at 40.7%. Outside of Nikola Jokic, the Mavs point guard means more to his team than any other player in the league.
Ja Morant also makes a massive impact on the Grizzlies. As we said earlier, he’s one of the best clutch players in the league, and he’s led Memphis to 14 victories versus only five losses in close game situations. Dunks and Threes also rank him above Doncic in estimated wins with 5.9 (21st in the NBA) to 5.0 eW (37th in the NBA). Ja Morant is no poopoo platter; he’s pouring in 25.9 PPG and creating 17.7 assist points per contest. Still, he’s going up against one of the best young players ever, and his two-way impact, which includes rebounding, defense, passing, and scoring, isn’t quite up to Doncic’s tier.
1-On-1 Game - Ja Morant
Ja Morant averages 2.9 isolation plays per game, converting 1.05 points per possession, landing in the 84th percentile. Morant blends a collection of shifty crossovers to rock defenders off balance, helping create space for a blow-by or pull-up jumper. This season he’s also added a nice change of pace game to his bag of tricks, lulling defenders to sleep with a couple of setup dribbles as he examines the floor before using the most explosive first step in the game to get to the rack. When defenders lay back on Morant, he takes a hard dribble, rocking his cover on his heels before pulling up for a mid-range jumper. Ja Morant is a top-5 one-on-one player.
Luka Doncic doesn’t have the type of athleticism that Morant possesses. Instead, he uses his size to bully smaller point guards on the block, or he utilizes an assortment of jab steps and pump fakes to create breathing room before attacking the rim. Doncic averages 4.5 isolation sets per game this season, but he’s only creating 0.86 points per possession (48th percentile). The biggest problem in Doncic’s 2021-22 one-on-one game comes from his pull-up shooting woes. The Mavericks point guard is taking a whopping 12.5 pull-up shots per game, but his eFG% is 43.3%. Doncic’s offensive struggles this season stem from his inability to consistently hit pull-up jumpers, dragging his one-on-one game down.
Career - Luka Doncic
This is no contest.
Luka Doncic’s first three-and-a-half years in the league are some of the best we’ve ever seen.
Here’s a breakdown:
25.7 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 8.8 APG, 52.2 eFG%, and 0.8 defensive box plus/minus
Compare his numbers versus LeBron James’s first three years in the association
LeBron James: 26.5 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 6.6 APG, 48.8 eFG%, and 0.9 DBPM
You could easily argue he’s outperformed LeBron James during the early stages of his career, and that’s saying something because LBJ is probably the second-best player of all time.
Going beyond the regular season, Luka Doncic has yet to win a playoff series with the Dallas Mavericks, but he’s done everything humanly possible to try and get to the second round. Through 13 career playoff games, he’s averaged a ridiculous 33.5 PPG, 9.5 APG, and 8.8 RPG while hitting 39.2% from deep.
Compare those numbers to Michael Jordan’s career playoff statistics: 33.4 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 5.7 APG, and 33.2 3P%.
Nobody is saying Doncic is the next Jordan. Still, his playoff numbers are better than the GOAT’s, and even though it seems like M.J. came into the league winning titles, he was ousted from the first round of the postseason three years in a row before he broke through to the semis. Air Jordan didn’t win his first chip until his seventh campaign.
Ja Morant can’t hang with Doncic’s career accomplishments, but he’s still on a Hall-of-Fame course. Through two-and-a-half seasons, the Grizzlies All-Star point guard is averaging 20.2 PPG, 7.2 APG, 4.4 RPG, 50.8 eFG%, and -1.1 DBPM. Those are excellent numbers, just not quite as good as Doncic’s.
Ja Morant has also shown out in his lone postseason appearance. He and the Grizzlies crashed the playoff party last year, and although they got gentlemen swept by the Utah Jazz in the first round, their point guard put the NBA world on notice that he wasn’t scared of the moment. Morant dropped a calm 30.2 PPG, 8.2 APG, and 4.8 RPG while flashing a ridiculous array of spinning mid-range jump shots and pinpoint dimes.
Morant’s 2020-21 playoff shot chart was out of control:
0-3 feet: 75.0%
3-10 feet: 47.6%
10-16 feet: 50.0%
16 feet-3P: 50.0%
Last season’s playoffs were Ja Morant’s coming-out party. The Jazz had no answer for him. He’s not at Doncic’s postseason level, but he’s giving him a run for his money.
Luka Doncic wins our battle of the best young point guard versus Ja Morant 5-4.
This clash of top young point guards was close, with Ja Morant making up a lot of ground with his stellar play this season.
If Morant continues to excel and the Grizzlies march into the Western Conference Semis or finals this postseason, while Doncic and the Mavericks suffer another first-round loss, we might have to rewrite this piece over the offseason and reevaluate our winner. But for now, Luka Doncic is the better point guard.
Final Score: Luka Doncic vs. Ja Morant 5-4