The Memphis Grizzlies have had a rough go of it over the last few seasons, but they have a shining beacon of hope on their roster currently: Ja Morant. The electric young guard is one of the league’s brightest talents. While Memphis is still struggling for real relevance, he’s doing his best to propel them into the conversation as a future contender.
Based on how he’s performed so far, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Morant was one of the league’s top players in a few years. At that point, it likely wouldn’t surprise anyone if his team follows suit as he wills them to more wins. Let’s look at how Morant has won over the entire city of Memphis in less than one season.
The Memphis Grizzlies’ franchise history
According to NBA.com, the team first began play as the Vancouver Grizzlies in 1995. They entered the league alongside the Toronto Raptors, making them the first foreign teams to debut in NBA history. After six unsuccessful years in western Canada, the team relocated to Memphis, making it the first major pro sports franchise to play in the city.
The team hasn’t won a championship yet, but they have experienced some success. They’ve made the playoffs 10 times in franchise history, including seven straight years from 2010-2017. Highlights include a 56-win season 2012-2013 season that culminated in a Western Conference Finals appearance.
While the team spent the better part of the last decade in the playoff hunt as a contender, they’ve bottomed out in recent years. Things looked bleak for a club that was once able to consistently compete with the NBA’s best. But every storm cloud has a silver lining, and the team’s ineptitude gave them one major advantage: it put them in a position to draft a great player.
Ja Morant’s career so far
Enter Ja Morant. After a brief but outstanding collegiate career at Murray State, the Grizzlies made him the second overall pick of the 2019 NBA Draft. He went right after Zion Williamson, the consensus number one pick.
Despite big expectations so far, Morant hasn’t disappoint. According to Basketball Reference, this season he averaged 17.8 points, 7.3 assists, and 3.9 rebounds per game.
He has a Player Efficiency Rating of 17.4. Morant is all but a shoo-in for Rookie of the Year honors — his fellow draftee Williamson showed flashes of brilliance but didn’t play nearly enough to warrant consideration.
How Ja Morant won over Memphis
Morant has been a revelation thus far in his career, and he’s been a huge hit with the Memphis fans. According to Bleacher Report, the community has responded well to the young guard’s playmaking ability. Morant has been an exemplary player for many reasons, including:
- His dedication. Coach Taylor Jenkins says Morant watches a lot of film and communicates well with his teammates, two components of every great player.
- His magnetism. After playing at the mid-major Murray State and excelling, he’s thrived in the role of underdog. Memphis fans respond to that.
- His overall play. The numbers speak for themselves.
Former Grizzlies player and pillar of the community Zach Randolph summed up Morant’s influence best to Bleacher Report:
“He’s just like me…Blue-collar player. Honest. Humble. Heart like a giant. He gives back. The people of Memphis see that Ja is just like them, too: a hard worker, where nothing’s been given to him.”
Morant’s talent, work ethic, and charisma seem like a winning combination. Morant and the Grizzlies aren’t true title contenders yet, but give it time. It’s clear that this is the right match for the city and the player, and it’s only a matter of time before he helps bring the team to new heights.