Lakers Film Breakdown: How Do Lakers Game Plan For Grizzlies Star Ja Morant?
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

After conquering a 2-10 record and eventually the Play-In Tournament, the Los Angeles Lakers have returned to the NBA Playoffs. The Lakers face a tall task ahead though as they take on the No. 2 seed Memphis Grizzlies in the first round beginning on Sunday afternoon.

One of the biggest challenges that the Lakers will have is how they will guard Grizzlies star Ja Morant. That’s what I will try to do in this film breakdown.

In two contests against the Lakers, Morant averaged 30.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 9.0 assists while shooting 41.4% from the field and a whopping 9.1% from three. The Grizzlies do a great job at getting Morant good looks downhill and doing so in creative ways. With that being said, let’s dive into the film.

Ja Morant Ball-Screens

Let’s start with Morant ball-screens. According to Synergy, the Grizzlies utilize ball-screens at the 12th-highest rate in the NBA. Additionally, according to Synergy, the Grizzlies’ offensive possessions end in the ball-screens via (made baskets, missed baskets, foul and turnovers) at the ninth highest rate in the NBA. Obviously, at the head of that snake is Ja Morant.

So how would I guard Morant in ball screens? Well, it isn’t straightforward, to say the least. There isn’t one ball screen coverage that I’d use against Ja. This isn’t as easy of a question as Anthony Edwards, where it was obvious that drop coverage was the correct choice.

There are three ball screen coverages I would use to attack \Morant, and those are; drop coverage, hedging, switching & blitzing. Now I get it; the last thing you want to hear about is the Lakers drop coverage but hear me out. Morant finishes at the rim at roughly 57% and a 1.21 PPP (points per possession) on dunks and layups. While on floaters/runners, those numbers drop to 46% and 0.93 PPP. So I’m playing the numbers with that. The two most efficient shots in basketball are layups and corner 3-pointers, and you have to try to take the rim away as best as you can.

The Grizzlies run this ball-screen set for Morant; Dennis Schroder goes under the screen with Thomas Bryant in drop coverage just outside the restricted area. This leads to a Morant floater that he winds up missing. As long as you get a solid contest as Bryant does here, I’m more than OK giving this shot up.

 

Next, let’s look at a situation where the Lakers must switch. In a perfect world, the Lakers would never have to switch. However, the Grizzlies have many great actions that force the switch, including “Veer” & “Ghost” screens/actions. In this clip, the Grizzlies go to their “Ram Ghost” set for Morant in late-clock situations. Steven Adams sets the Ram screen for Desmond Bane, who comes and sets a ghost screen for Morant. To help prevent any confusion, you must switch underneath. Troy Brown Jr. stays attached to Bane too long, and Morant gets a wide-open downhill lane to the rim.

 

When you look at the film of Morant, when he is “trapped,” or teams put two players on the ball, the data is significantly worse for the Grizzlies’ offense. Albeit in a minimal sample size (31 possessions), when Ja faces these types of coverages, the Grizzlies score at a whopping 0.581 PPP, including a turnover rate of 22.6%, per Synergy.

The goal of hedging is to encourage the ball-handler to give the ball up. The Portland Trail Blazers hedge on this ball-screen temporarily leaves the big/rim open. Hedging relies a ton on your backline help. The Trail Blazers don’t do great rotating if Ja delivers an accurate ball; this should be a wide dunk. Instead, it’s a turnover.

 

In this clip, the Grizzlies go to their five-out series; once Morant receives the pass, Jaren Jackson Jr. comes and sets a step-up screen allowing Ja to attack downhill toward the baseline. Alex Caruso does an excellent job chasing overtop the screen and Nikola Vucevic does a good job being mobile, and they can trap Morant along the baseline. Ja makes an off-balanced pass, and it leads to a turnover.

 

Favorite Plays For Ja Morant

There are only two plays I want to talk about right now since I will have a whole offensive film breakdown released in the coming days.

This is a creative action the Grizzlies will run as a counter to their “Horns Out Spain” set. The setup here is just like their Spain pick-and-roll. But, instead, it’s all decoy action. Bane comes off the screen as if he’s about to use it but instead pitches it to Morant, who gets a wide-open lane to the rim. Ja’s defender is playing at the elbow, trying to prevent the Spain pick-and-roll, which enables this Decoy play to work.

 

Against the Lakers, the Grizzlies go to their “Double Drag Shallow Exit” set to end the third quarter. The setup is just like a regular double-drag screen. However, Bane clears out, initiating Shallow action, which can confuse a defense. You combine that with the exit screen for Luke Kennard; this set is fantastic from the Grizzlies. Wenyen Gabriel does a good job being vertical, but Morant is too athletically gifted and is able to finish strong at the rim. This set does a fantastic job allowing Ja to go one-on-one at the rim, where very few can stop him.

 

The Milwaukee Bucks do a slightly better job with it here. The Bucks decided to guard it by simply switching the first screen and having Bane’s man stay attached. Unfortunately, Jae Crowder commits too far into the lane, leading to a Tyus Jones 3-pointer.

In conclusion, there isn’t just one way to gameplan for Ja Morant. This isn’t like Devin Booker, Anthony Edwards, or any other guard in the NBA. Ja is genuinely one of one. You can’t truly blitz/hedge Morant for the entire series because the Grizzlies would have figured out the counter to that coverage. However, if you get versatile with your coverages and force Morant and the coaching staff to see different defensive schemes, that’s when it gets interesting.

If the Lakers gameplan the right way, they can win the series against Memphis. However, as LeBron James mentioned, the head of the snake is Ja Morant, so your preparation starts and ends with him.

 

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