Ja Morant Is Getting All-Star Respect, but He’s Being Grossly Overlooked in the MVP Conversation

On Sunday night, the Memphis Grizzlies won their ninth game in a row, beating the Los Angeles Lakers 127-119 on the road. Ja Morant was once again in the heart of the action, registering 16 points, seven assists, and a strong +20 rating.

The performance was far from Morant’s best, which says a lot about the 22-year-old out of Murray State. In year three, the electric point guard has gone from a promising young player to an All-Star lock. Not only that, he has the 28-14 Grizzlies surging up the standings.

Yet for all of the talk about Ja, very few if any MVP conversations bring up his name. But for all of the reasons basketball fans hype Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, and others, Morant deserves the same level of recognition.

Ja Morant is in line for his first All-Star Game

When the NBA released the first round of voting results for next month’s exhibition in Cleveland, Morant was in a good spot. The 2019 second-overall pick accrued 669,033 votes, placing him in third place among Western Conference guards behind Curry and Luka Doncic.

The All-Star love Morant is receiving is well deserved, to say the least.

Ja is setting a number of career highs across the board. The talented guard is averaging 24.7 points after netting 17.8 and 19.1 points in the last two years. He’s also setting career highs in rebounds and steals, plus field-goal, 3-point, and free-throw percentage.

Morant has looked the part of a franchise-changing star since dropping 37, 28, and 40 points in the first week of the season. Then, after coming back from a knee sprain, Ja has quickly regained his superstar form. Since December 20, the 6-foot-3 guard has scored 33, 36, and a season-high 41 points while leading the Grizzlies to an 8-2 record over his last 10 games.

Morant deserves to be in the MVP conversation

Typically, the way MVP is decided is fairly straightforward. Did this player finish among the league leaders in points? Did his team have one of the best records in basketball? It’s why Curry, who’s starring for the first-place Golden State Warriors, remains the odds on favorite.

By conventional methods, Morant’s MVP case isn’t as strong as someone like Curry’s. His 24.7 points, although impressive, place him in a tie with Paul George for 13th in the NBA. His 6.7 assists place him firmly in the ‘teens, tied with the likes of Jrue Holiday and Fred VanVleet. And his Player Efficiency Rating, or PER, is eighth between Trae Young and Rudy Gobert.

Barring an unheard-of second half, Morant likely won’t gain much traction in catching up to favorites Curry and Durant. But he should at least be in the discussion.

After back-to-back mediocre seasons, the Grizzlies’ rise correlates with Morant’s ascension. In three seasons with Ja, Memphis has gone from 34-39 to 38-34 to now 28-14. Credit should be given to coach Taylor Jenkins and several of the supporting cast members, but the team doesn’t sit just 3.5 games out of the one-seed without Morant.

There’s also something to be said for delivering in the clutch, where Ja is better than nearly everyone in the league. According to NBA.com, “clutch time” is the final five minutes of a game decided by five points or less. In those instances, Morant is averaging 4.8 points, which is second in the NBA behind Joel Embiid. Not only that, but he’s scoring those points on 45.2% shooting from the field and an incredible 57.1% rate from three.

Elevating a fringe playoff team to a true contender is impressive enough. But factor in his numbers in the clutch, and you’ll get a fractional idea of how valuable Morant really is.

Even if it’s not this year, Ja Morant has an MVP in his future

The reality of the situation is that Morant won’t win the MVP this season. Should he be discussed as a candidate? Absolutely, but he’s not going to overthrow some of the elite superstars he’s competing against.

However, we haven’t seen the last of the “Morant for MVP” train.

The 22-year-old is continuing to show improvements year after year. It stands to reason that by 24 or 25 years old, Morant will be in the same position we’re currently holding players like Giannis and Nikola Jokic in.

It also helps Morant’s future MVP case that the Grizzlies are in excellent shape moving forward. Not only are they one of the NBA’s top teams this season, but they have a young roster surrounding Morant and a promising amount of cap space to work with. Perhaps that leads to a trade for another star to partner with Ja, but regardless, Memphis has an extremely bright future.

Morant has yet to reach his ceiling, which should concern the 29 other teams considerably. And once that happens, don’t be surprised if he receives a career-defining piece of hardware.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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