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'Hold Your Horses': Doncic Still Better Than Morant, Despite ESPN Claims

ESPN talking heads said they'd rather build their team around Memphis Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant instead of Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic. Here's why they're wrong.

Would you rather build your team around Memphis Grizzlies' rising point guard Ja Morant or Dallas Mavericks' two-time All-NBA First Team superstar Luka Doncic?

During the pregame show the Mavericks-Grizzlies game on Friday night, ESPN's Stephen A Smith, Jalen Rose, and Michael Wilbon unanimously answered that question by picking Morant. 

"It's not close to me, it would be Ja Morant," said Stephen A Smith, who is no stranger to hyperbole.

Smith mentioned Doncic's eating habits and overall fitness as the reasons for people starting to doubt him. However, despite the valid concerns, Doncic is the main reason why Dallas wins basketball games. The Mavericks have a 5-9 record without the Slovenian star this season. Conversely, when Morant went out due to injury earlier this season, Memphis blazed the league, posting a 10-2 run in his absence. 

The Grizzlies' impressive record without Morant doesn't mean they are better without him, but it does indicate the overall strength of the roster compared to what Doncic has. While the Mavs' elite defense is a significant reason for why Dallas was able to stay afloat when Doncic missed time this season, the team will only go as far as he will take them.

It's fair to debate Doncic vs. Morant this season alone, as Morant has had the better campaign from an efficiency and defensive standpoint, but as mentioned earlier, Doncic already has two All-NBA First Team awards on his mantle. That is a very hard feat to accomplish in just four season. Morant, on the other hand, has yet to receive any All-NBA honors. That will likely change this season, but it still might not be First Team honors.

Rose mentioned Morant's knack for playing fast and finishing in the paint as his main reasons for picking the athletically-gifted guard, both fair points for his decision. However, despite his pudgy figure, Doncic finishes at the rim efficiently

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Using CleaningTheGlass's data (excludes garbage minutes), Doncic finishes shots within four feet of the rim at an efficient 71 percent, falling in the 91st percentile league-wide. When comparing his numbers to Morant, you'll see a six-percent difference, as the Grizzlies' guard falls to the 85th percentile. Essentially, Doncic is the more-efficient paint-scorer. 

"I want a guy who will play both ways," Wilbon stated with continued praise for Morant. 

Now, it's disrespectful to Morant shrugging off his highlight-reel defensive plays, but again, the numbers indicate the two point guards are closer than Wilbon thinks. 

Unfortunately, defensive metrics don't tell the whole story, but Doncic leads over the "factor of the defensive end" Morant in a few categories. Firstly, Doncic has an individual defensive rating of 105 compared to Morant's 110. Historically, the rating favors frontcourt players, but these two play the same position, so it seems fair to use such a stat as a comparison.

Doncic also finishes as a positive in the defensive box plus-minus category, while Morant currently has a negative rating in the same metric. While no one will confuse Doncic as a supreme defender, his size helps with many matchups, and he shouldn't be viewed as being a pushover.

What are Doncic's thoughts on the dynamic Grizzlies' guard? Doncic, never one to fall to the traps of national media-manufactured rivalries, gave his honest opinion of Morant after the Mavs' 112-85 blowout of Memphis on Friday night:

“I think (Morant) deserves the attention he’s been getting,” said Doncic. “He’s been playing at an amazing level this season, and I think he deserves it. … I think he’s very talented.”

Although Morant passed him in fan All-Star voting recently, Doncic is still the superior player, and the ESPN pregame crew picking Morant as a 'no-brainer' decision was nothing more than them being prisoners of the moment with Memphis having won 11 games in a row before meeting up with Dallas.