Years ago, the NBA would have discarded a player like Juwan Morgan to the side. Listed at 6’8” and 232 pounds, Morgan has “tweener” written all over him. But in 2019, “tweener” have become a fad as positionless basketball has taken over the league. Instead of discarding the undersized 6’8” guys, the league has decided to grab as many 6’8” guys as they can and throw them on the court at once.
That’s all great news for Morgan, who likely will have an NBA career of some length because of that. Morgan is a do-it-all guy that fits into the modern NBA with a couple key question marks that will surround all wings: can he defend and can he hit threes?
What NBA teams will like:
I alluded to a handful of reasons why teams will take a liking to Morgan. At 6’8”, he has experience playing both in the post and on the perimeter. He graded out as a 91st percentile offensive player with a well-rounded profile. He was in the 93rd percentile as a post-up player, scoring 1.085 points per possession (PPP) while also scoring 0.95 PPP as a spot-up shooter, ranking him in the 53rd percentile.
Morgan was also elite on cuts, ranking in the 95th percentile, scoring 1.55 PPP or a ridiculous 93 points on 51 attempts.
Only one player—Ethan Happ—had a higher player efficiency rating than Morgan. Only Bruno Fernando had a higher effective field goal percentage. Morgan was an uber-efficient player despite attempting a career-high 2.5 three-pointers a game.
He was also 41st in the league in spot-up efficiency of players with at least 30 spot-up possessions. His jumper is a work in progress but as a spot-up shooter in the pick-and-roll, Morgan scored 1.125 PPP on kick-outs from the ball handler. It’s not a shot he used often because it wasn’t an area he found himself in during his senior year at Indiana but there’s enough there to have NBA teams interested.
Speaking to his well-balanced game, Morgan ranked 10th in rebound percentage in the league and ninth in points produced in the Big Ten. Only Michigan State’s Xavier Tillman, Michigan’s Ignas Brazdeikis, Maryland’s Fernando and Morgan ranked top-15 in the league in both offensive and defensive rating.
Taking a step back to a bigger scope, Morgan was one of only five players in the country this season with a total rebound percentage of at least 15 percent, an assist percentage of at least 14 percent, a block percentage of at least five percent and a steal percentage of at least two percent. It’s obviously a complex set of standards, but it helps show how much Morgan did and how efficient he still was.
In many ways, he is reminiscent of a player like PJ Tucker of the Houston Rockets. Tucker has developed into an uber-valuable small ball five for the Rockets that does tons of small things and was key to Houston’s success. But, as we stated at the start of this, Tucker’s elite skill sets come on the defensive end and as a shooter.
Defensively, Morgan’s numbers are skewed on Synergy by his inability to defend in the post, a situation he found himself in often with Indiana’s lack of a post presence this season. While he ranked in the 18th percentile in defending post-ups, his next two most common play types were spot-up, where he ranked in the 60th percentile, and isolation, where he was a 91st percentile defender.
What NBA teams will dislike:
As you can tell, there’s a lot of projection for Morgan to be an NBA contributor. First, his jumper has shown signs but it’s not there yet. Last season, he shot just 29.5 percent from beyond the arc and for his career he’s a 29.7 percent shooter. Neither of those numbers will work in the NBA.
While his analytical numbers for spot-ups looked alright, the raw numbers aren’t quite as pretty. He shot just 36.5 percent on those 52 attempts. On true no dribble jumpers, Morgan hit just 36.1 percent of his 36 attempts. More than just a lack of hitting the shots, Morgan often didn’t put himself into position to be a corner shooter whether it was part of Indiana’s offense to keep him near the paint (which would make sense) or simply him not moving into an area that was uncomfortable to him.
His form isn’t a problem. It shouldn’t hold him back from being a consistent shooter. It’ll be a matter of putting himself in positions to succeed.
The other potential problem area is on defense, where it’s another matter of Morgan appearing to have the capability but not the experience. At 6’8” with athleticism and a high IQ he has all the makings of being a player who can defend multiple positions and do so effectively, but he simply hasn’t had those experiences.
Indiana, like lots of college defenses, did not switch pick-and-rolls, instead hard-hedging them most often. As a result, Morgan had a whopping eight possessions of switching onto a ball handler in a pick and roll of which opponents hit just one shot. Similarly he was an elite defender in isolation, allowing just 0.44 PPP for a ranking in the 91st percentile, that came in just 25 possessions.
The thing Morgan has going for him in both of these scenarios and for his NBA career in general is that he has an extremely high basketball IQ as well as an incredible work ethic. Both will be vital in his pursuit of an NBA career. But given what we watched for the last four years, I’m willing to bet on him figuring that out.