Morant is known for being a high-scoring, highly-athletic guard capable of taking over a game. Though according to Draymond Green, his intelligence vaults him into a category with future Hall of Famers LeBron James and Chris Paul.
Ja Morant is playing at an MVP level
Little by little, the Grizzlies have become relevant since the third-year guard Morant entered the league. Memphis went 34-39 his rookie season before going 38-34 and securing the Western Conference’s eighth seed last year. Now, Morant’s Grizzlies have nearly matched last season’s win total and comfortably sit in the three-seed.
To no surprise, Morant’s breakout is the primary reason for Memphis’ sharp rise. The 22-year-old is averaging a career-high 25.9 points after scoring 17.8 and 19.1 points the last two seasons. He is also shooting a career-best 48.8% from the field and 35.7% from three while averaging 7.0 assists, 6.1 rebounds, and a personal-best 1.3 steals.
Morant has been excellent all season, but he’s been especially brilliant since returning from a knee sprain on Dec. 20. Since then, he’s averaging 27.6 points on 49.9% shooting. That places him seventh in the NBA ahead of fellow stars Devin Booker, James Harden, and Nikola Jokic.
The former Murray State Racer is currently in the midst of his best five-game stretch of the season. Morant has scored 30 or more points in five straight contests, including a season-best 41 points on Jan. 26. Friday against the Utah Jazz, the 6-foot-3 guard registered his first triple-double of the season with 30 points, 10 boards, and 10 helpers.
Draymond Green lauds Morant for his intelligence
One of the teams Morant and the Grizzlies will have to go through out west is the Golden State Warriors. Specifically, they’ll have to go through Green.
The 2016-17 Defensive Player of the Year stopped by JJ Redick’s podcast The Old Man and the Three to talk about a variety of subjects. When Redick asked Draymond about the smartest players he’s gone up against or played with, the Warriors star gave a surprising answer.
“The smartest players I’ve played against are, by far, LeBron, Rajon Rondo, and Chris Paul,” Green said. “And who’s creeping up into that category is Ja Morant.”
Green, a six-time All-Defensive Team selection, elaborated on what impresses him the most about the young Morant.
“Everybody is excited about how Ja Morant flies around, everybody’s excited about the passes he may throw … all of those things are very exciting. Don’t get me wrong, they excite me too. But the thing that excites me the most about Ja Morant is when we’re playing against the Memphis Grizzlies and, not quite to the level of LeBron James, Chris Paul, or Rajon Rondo, but when we’re playing against those guys, I can feel the chess match. Every possession down, they’re looking at me, scoping me out to see where I’m at. I’m looking at their guys to see what they’re doing, and every time down the floor it’s like a chess match. It’s like that with Ja.”Draymond Green
Draymond stopped short of claiming Morant was at LeBron’s overall playing level or whether he was headed to the Hall of Fame. But he sees a very bright future for the Grizzlies star.
“He’s in his third year,” Green explained. “Not quite to the level of those guys yet, but I didn’t have the privilege of playing against those guys at that time in their career. But I’d only imagine it was along those same lines as Ja.”
The Grizzlies and Warriors could be facing off in the postseason
With Golden State in the two-seed and Memphis in the three-seed, Morant and Green could be going head-to-head in an epic playoff series. It would be a rematch of last year’s play-in game for the eight-seed, where Ja dropped 35 to help the Grizzlies shock the Dubs 117-112 in overtime.
After his clutch performance in the Bay last year, Morant has kept it rolling against Golden State in 2021-22. In just his fifth game of the year, the former Murray State Racer scored 30 points in a three-point Memphis victory. Three days after returning from injury in December, Morant offered up another 21 points in a nine-point loss on the road. Then on Jan. 11, Ja took advantage of the Green-less Warriors by registering 29 points and eight assists in the eight-point win.
“It’s a chess match when we’re playing the Grizzlies,” Green told Redick. “And I, as the anchor of our defense and facilitator on offense, feel that.”
For what it’s worth, the 10-year veteran does see at least one way to expose Ja. While it’s better than it has previously been, Morant’s defense presents an opportunity for growth.
“Ja hasn’t gotten that part yet of where on the defensive end, I have to be worried about you too because you’re so smart [and] you’re sniffing out everything,” Green said. “He is that smart, but he just doesn’t understand how to sniff out everything yet. Whereas with those guys (LeBron, CP3, Rondo), I’ll throw a pass and LeBron will be right out there waiting as if I was throwing a pass to him.”
Considering Morant is still just 22, he has plenty of room to become a highly-intelligent defender. And he might have a chance to do it this spring against Draymond and the Warriors.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.