An up-and-coming Memphis Grizzlies team made playoff pushes in each of the last two seasons, and the team’s ceiling could be even higher with Ja Morant playing like a superstar early in the 2021-22 campaign. Indeed, Morant demands more respect, and he’s doing his very best to earn it.
The Grizzlies lost a tightly-contested matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, hanging tough with one of the teams widely expected to make a run to the NBA Finals. But Morant doesn’t feel Memphis’ strong start or his exceptional play should be considered a surprise to basketball fans.
Ja Morant is accelerating the Grizzlies’ competitive timetable with tremendous play
The Grizzlies weren’t necessarily considered much of a playoff team when they drafted Ja Morant in 2019. Yet the No. 2 overall pick immediately galvanized the franchise into a more competitive state.
Morant won the NBA Rookie of the Year Award and led Memphis to the play-in tournament during the 2019-20 season, though the Grizzlies would fall to the Portland Trail Blazers. He elevated his team again last season, getting the Grizzlies into the playoffs with a 35-point performance against the Golden State Warriors and later putting up big numbers in a first-round loss to the Utah Jazz.
The 22-year-old continues to show why he is one of the brightest young stars in the NBA. Judging by the first few games, this could well be the year he becomes an All-Star.
Morant has been nothing short of dominant. He’s averaging 35.0 points, 8.0 assists, and 3.7 rebounds while shooting 58% from the field. The most impressive aspect is the perimeter shooting. Morant’s deep ball was a weakness coming into the NBA, but he is 8-of-18 from beyond the arc through three games.
Naturally, it’s a small sample size. The season only just started. But Ja’s play and leadership already appear to be rubbing off on guys like Desmond Bane, with the latter saying (h/t Drew Hill of the Daily Memphian) the Grizzlies will follow Morant into “war.”
Memphis looks hungry. Morant intends to earn his team more respect as he leads the Grizzlies in a loaded Western Conference.
Morant feels basketball fans are sleeping on the Grizzlies
Ja Morant knows what he’s accomplished in his brief time in Memphis. He wants the rest of the basketball world to take notice, too.
Morant put on a show against the Lakers on Sunday, scoring 40 points and dishing out 10 assists. The former Murray State star expressed frustration after missing a late free-throw that would have tied the game with just two seconds to play. Still, the Grizzlies guard issued a clear message to LeBron James and Co.
Morant thinks (h/t the Daily Memphian) that the Grizzlies have sent those kinds of messages for years now.
He’s not wrong.
Morant and the Grizzlies upstaged Stephen Curry and the Warriors in last year’s play-in game. They shocked the Utah Jazz by taking Game 1 in Salt Lake City, even though the Jazz would go on to win four straight.
With Morant blossoming into a superstar and the likes of Bane and De’Anthony Melton making vital contributions, Memphis only figures to keep improving. Even in a loaded Western Conference, it’s time to recognize their credentials.
The Grizzlies are a team on the rise
Memphis is a team to watch in the West this season, especially if Morant makes the leap to being an All-NBA talent.
The Grizzlies have backcourt scoring and playmaking depth in Morant and Melton, and Bane looks like he could be the steal of the 2020 NBA Draft after making the All-Rookie team last season and averaging 19.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 3.0 assists starting in place of the injured Dillon Brooks.
Much of Memphis’ year-over-year growth could be dependent on Jaren Jackson Jr. The former Michigan State star just signed a four-year, $105 million rookie deal and has remarkable offensive upside as an athletic 4-man who can space the floor and give the Grizzlies a bona fide rim protector on the other end. He’ll have to stay healthy, though, as an injury in the Orlando “bubble” forced him to miss a good chunk of last season.
The Western Conference is crowded, and Memphis is likely still a few years away from title contention. But Morant likens this Grizzlies club to the end scene of the Breakfast Club. In other words, don’t forget about them.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.