Ja Morant Solidifies His Status as the NBA’s Most Exciting Player

Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard pour in three-pointers from beyond area code range. LeBron James still throws down thunderous dunks at the age of 37. Kevin Durant’s scoring wizardry makes him must-see television, while international studs Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, and Luka Doncic all continue to stake their claims as the best players in the league. Still, none are electrifying as Ja Morant.

The Memphis Grizzlies star has quickly ascended the ranks of the best point guards in the NBA in Year 3. Morant always had the bounce and athleticism to fill highlight-reels across the Internet. Now, however, he’s capturing the attention of his peers and rapidly turning the Grizzlies into Western Conference contenders.

Monday’s record-breaking showing against the San Antonio Spurs made one thing abundantly clear: In a league of superstars, Morant is the most exciting player in the NBA today.

Ja Morant scored a franchise-record 52 points against the Spurs

Morant is having himself quite the week.

After starting in the 2022 NBA All-Star Game, Morant had one of his ugliest shooting nights of the season in a Feb. 24 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. He went 7-of-25 from the field as Memphis began the final stretch on a sour note.

But as he so often does, Morant responded.

The former Murray State star scored a career-high 46 points in a Feb. 26 win over the Chicago Bulls, getting to the free-throw line at will and consistently making plays in the restricted area. As it turned out, that performance was merely a precursor to something bigger.

Morant set a franchise record by dropping 52 points in Monday’s win over the Spurs. He shot an astonishing 22-of-30 from the field, in addition to a perfect 4-of-4 from beyond the arc.

Ja’s scintillating scoring exhibition proved wondrous enough, especially given the efficiency with which he got his points. Yet, the record-breaking showing was all the more watchable because of two plays in particular.

Morant stamped his big night with a pair of absurd highlights

Ja Morant has never shied away from taking the ball right at the trees in the paint and trying to dunk over everyone. This time, it resulted in a Ja jam that might go down as the best rim-rocker of the season.

With just over two minutes to play in the second quarter of Monday’s game, Grizzlies center Steven Adams grabbed a defensive rebound and sent an outlet pass to Morant. The 22-year-old left Spurs guard Joshua Primo in the dust before finding himself facing down San Antonio big man Jakob Poeltl.

Bear in mind: Poeltl is one of the best interior defenders in basketball. He is averaging 1.8 blocks for the second consecutive season and leads the league in contested twos, per NBA.com. But this is Ja Morant, and he’s not afraid of anyone or anything. Perhaps Poeltl should have made a business decision.

Morant crossed over to his right hand before launching from just inside the paint. He exploded up and over Poeltl, throwing the ball down with the ferocity of a Grizzly bear catching fish and sending the FedEx Forum into a tizzy.

Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell spoke for everyone when he begged Morant to enter the 2023 Slam Dunk Contest.

Amazingly, Morant wasn’t finished adding to his reel. Two minutes later, he followed his thunderous jam with a play every bit as spectacular.

With merely 0.4 seconds to go in the half, Adams launched a full-court inbounds pass in Morant’s direction. Knowing the time, Ja had to jump, catch, and fire the ball in one fluid motion. He did just that, somehow guiding the rock into the cup.

Morant’s superhuman feats might lose some luster if the Grizzlies stunk. But Memphis is quite good, adding to Ja’s allure as the most in-demand attraction in the NBA.

Powering the Grizzlies to the top of the West

Memphis Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant (12) celebrates with his teammates during an NBA game against the San Antonio Spurs
Ja Morant #12 celebrates with Memphis Grizzlies teammates during a game against the San Antonio Spurs on February 28, 2022 | Justin Ford/Getty Images

More important than any counting numbers or remarkable feats of athleticism, Ja Morant contributes to winning for a Grizzlies team taking the NBA by storm.

Memphis came into All-Star Weekend sort of in the background to the dominance of the Phoenix Suns and the resurgence of the Golden State Warriors. However, the team’s stellar pre-All-Star play and roster complexion made it one of the top groups to watch out of the break.

Morant has only continued to add to that latter notion with his fearless attitude and stellar play.

The Grizzlies improved to 43-20 with Monday’s win over the Spurs. They remain a whopping 7.0 games back of the runaway Suns, but find themselves just one game behind the Warriors for the No. 2 seed in the West. A hungry Ja is sure to want that No. 2 spot.

Given the youth, explosive athletes, and characters on the Grizzlies, they might be the single most intriguing team come playoff time. Morant is the headliner, and he’s wasting little time becoming a headliner for the entire NBA, as well.

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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