In a game that featured former MVP winners Kevin Durant and James Harden, it was Ja Morant who stole the show.
The third-year point guard had 36 points and eight assists in the Memphis Grizzlies‘ 118-104 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Monday night. It was one of many great performances this season from Morant, who is now vaulting himself into the discussion of the NBA’s best point guards.
Ja Morant has officially reached superstar status
In 2019, Morant was the consolation prize for a Grizzlies franchise that just missed out on Zion Williamson. But there’s no complaining in Memphis, especially given what the 22-year-old has done this season.
Following two strong campaigns, one of which ended in a Rookie of the Year Award, Morant is exploding in year three. The former Murray State Racer is averaging 25.1 points on 49.2% shooting in 26 games. Both his points and field-goal percentage are career highs, as is his 40.4% clip from three. Additionally, the star guard is setting career bests with 5.7 rebounds and 1.4 steals, as well.
Morant’s season was interrupted on November 26 when he sprained his knee against the Atlanta Hawks. But since returning from a 12-game absence, Ja has been more productive than ever. His last four games in particular have been exemplary, with the third-year guard scoring 33, 41, 30, and 36 points in the Memphis victories.
After Monday’s win over the Nets, Grizzlies guard Desmond Bane gave a ringing endorsement of Morant. Though not just as someone worthy of making the All-Star team.
“He’s special,” Bane told ESPN. “People debate whether or not he should be an All-Star, but I think we should be debating whether he’s the best point guard in the league. … I don’t think it’s any question he’s an All-Star. The real conversation is, ‘Is he the best point guard in the league?'”
Morant is quickly becoming one of the NBA’s best point guards
Perhaps Bane is onto something. Based on the numbers, Ja is buffing up his resume as the NBA’s top floor general.
Only Trae Young (28.4) and Stephen Curry (27.2) are scoring more points from the point guard position than Morant. That being said, the Memphis star has some advantages. Ja’s field goal and 3-point percentages are both higher than Young’s or Curry’s percentages while taking just one fewer shot a night on average. Additionally, he’s second in the NBA to only Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with 13.4 points per game from driving to the hoop.
Box plus-minus, according to Basketball Reference, estimates the points per 100 possessions a player contributes above a league-average player, factoring in both offense and defense. Morant currently ranks eighth with 6.3 but is second to just Curry among true point guards.
Furthermore, team success is a make-or-break category for point guards more than any other position. Clearly, veterans like Curry and Chris Paul are showing why they’re on a one-way trip to the Basketball Hall of Fame. Though at 24-14, just six teams top the Grizzlies’ record through Monday. Considering their .632 winning percentage is as high as it’s been since 2014-15, Morant deserves much of the credit.
The Memphis Grizzlies are in good hands with Morant
Staying with the Grizzlies, Monday’s win over the Nets was their fifth win in a row. Memphis now holds a comfortable 4.5-game lead over the Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks for the four-seed in the West.
During the streak, which coincides with Morant’s 30-point run, Memphis has defeated Paul, Booker, and the Phoenix Suns on the road, LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers at home, and now Harden, Durant, and the Nets on the road. Several players including Bane, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Dillon Brooks have been valuable assets to the team. But Ja drives this Memphis ship that certainly looks playoff-bound.
“Obviously I’ve come out and said he’s absolutely an All-Star, but I think the follow-up to that is because he impacts winning,” head coach Taylor Jenkins told ESPN after the win. “His style of play, it’s whatever his teammates need … but a performance like that, all he cares about is let’s keep winning, let’s keep winning, let’s keep winning.”
At 22 years old, we still haven’t seen the best of Morant. At this rate, expect him to continue his transformation into an elite point guard and potential MVP in the near future.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.