When the bright lights come on, some players draw energy from the situation, with the combination of adrenaline, responsibility and confidence transforming into superstar performances.
At just 22 years old, Memphis Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant is quickly establishing himself as one of those profitable A-list players as he continues to show that he’s not just ready for the big stage … he’s built for it.
Sure, we’ve only been into the new NBA season for a week, but Morant has been moving toward this level of play since first set foot on an NBA court, electrifying the crowds with his athleticism and sheer determination to convert centers. rivals in screensavers on the hoop. .
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The 2020 Rookie of the Year was actually announced in the playoffs last season, first defeating the San Antonio Spurs and then Steph Curry’s Golden State Warriors in the Play-In Tournament, before a virtuoso performance in their five-game series. against Utah Jazz. .
With what’s at stake with each game, so did Morant’s level of play, highlighted by a 47-point explosion in Game 2 – the most playoff points scored by a player 21 and younger, breaking LeBron James’ record (45 points in 2006).
He also became the fourth player in NBA history to score more than 100 points in his first three playoff games, joining the likes of Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and George Mikan. Not a bad start to your playoff career.
All of this seems to take people by surprise, well everyone except Morant, who sees a young Grizzlies team destined for great things. Not just in the future, but right now.
Sporting News spoke with Morant during the offseason and made it clear that the taste of the postseason action was just the beginning of something big.
“Obviously we want to now, we all work together, we are all hungry and we are trying to show everyone else how special we are,” he said.
Adding a seemingly bold proclamation during the summer. After averaging 19.1 points, 7.4 assists and 4.0 rebounds in Year 2, Morant told HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto that he sees himself as one of the top five point guards in the league, entering his third season.
“Steph [Curry]. I am a huge Chris Paul fan. I would say lady [Lillard] and [Russell] Westbrook, “Morant said.” It’s hard. The point guard position is very loaded. Some guys have to stay out, “he said.
Can we honestly say that he’s not playing better than any of the guys he listed, maybe other than Curry?
Morant’s start to the season would make you think he’s the number one point guard in the league.
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After losing 37 points in his first game of the season against the Cleveland Cavaliers, a new franchise record, he followed it up with a 27-point outing and eight assists against the LA Clippers.
In his third game of the season against the Los Angeles Lakers at STAPLES Center, in a game that featured LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis, Morant was the best player on the court, losing 40 points, 10 assists and three steals on a loss from nail biting.
Only three other players in NBA history have reached those milestones in one game at age 22 or younger: LeBron James Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas (3x).
“My goals for this season are, number one, to be better than I was in my last two seasons,” Morant said in the offseason. “Being an All-Star and being part of an All-NBA team are my other two goals this season.”
An inaugural All-Star spot and an NBA Game selection appear to be within reach for Morant in his third season and, according to Clippers star Paul George, he is following in the footsteps of the latest player to lift the trophy. Most Valuable Player at age 22.
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“It’s just explosive, electrifying,” George said. “I would compare him to D-Rose. I protected him in my rookie year, Indy-Chicago, and tagging Ja is very similar to what D-Rose was like.”
From the most outstanding dunks to the ability to change gears, George, a four-time NBA defender, marveled at Morant’s ability to keep defenders guessing.
“It was how fast and his ability to change direction, move his body in the air,” George said. “He made it difficult for us. He put a lot of pressure on us.
“It’s just explosive. It’s explosive. You know the direction it wants to go. It wants to go left, we knew that, but it’s so good and so fast that it still gets it.”
The gaps in Morant’s game are beginning to close. With teams focused on stopping his dribbling penetration and challenging him to shoot, Morant is taking down 44 percent of his 3-point shots at six attempts per game and when he gets into the paint, it’s nothing short of devastating.
More than half of his shots this season have reached the rim, where he is converting at a ridiculous rate of 71.4 percent, according to NBA.com Statistics. When he’s not creating his own shot, he’s making things happen for his teammates, taking advantage of the extra attention defenders are giving him, dishing out 8.0 assists per game, which puts him ninth in the league.
As Morant’s shares continue to rise, so do those of the Grizzlies franchise. Armed with a young and talented group alongside Jaren Jackson Jr, Dillon Brooks, Desmond Bane and Brandon Clarke, the Grizzlies are no longer League Pass favorites, but must-have television.
This season they have seven nationally televised games, with Morant forcing them into the limelight as one of the best shows in the league.
His rise to becoming a household name is especially important for a small-market team like Memphis that hasn’t had a player in its cache … maybe ever.
The Grit and Grind Grizzlies won the hearts of the city with their focus and cohesion, with Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, Mike Conley Jr., and Marc Gasol falling as legends of the franchise, while Pau Gasol, the only other player from the Grizzlies to win Rookie of the Year, became a star in Memphis, winning an All-Star pick before heading to the Los Angeles Lakers in their prime.
In a recent interview with Joe Vardon of AthleticMorant, who is eligible for a maximum rookie extension next summer, reaffirmed his commitment to the Grizzlies.
“Me, I’m not a big fan of the game,” Morant said. “As long as I’m here, I’m here; that’s my focus. Regardless, I’m going to make the best of any situation, keep hanging out with my teammates, win games, play in front of our fans and do everything I can to keep bringing love. “
Without even scratching the surface of his potential, the Ja Morant show in Memphis is just beginning.
Make your popcorn!
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.