Ja Morant Keeping the Memphis Grizzlies Relevant in the West

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Memphis guard Ja Morant dribbles up the court in a recent game.
(All-Pro Reels/Wikimedia Commons)
Colton Pool @CPoolReporter Mar 01, 2022, 5:55 PM

Ja Morant catapulted himself off the floor, moving with such velocity and fearlessness that nothing would stop him from scoring.

Morant, who has the fourth-best NBA odds to win MVP at +1200, caught a pass near midcourt. He was immediately met by a defender, but the Memphis Grizzlies guard moved by him equally as swiftly. 

With a few dribbles, Morant was barreling toward the lane. Spurs center Jakob Poeltl was all that stood between Morant and a bucket. With one foot out of the paint, the 6-foot-3 Morant elevated. Poeltl, a 7-footer, jumped and raised his arms in an inconsequential effort.

Morant’s thunderous dunk sent his teammates and fans into a frenzy. Morant, though, coolly walked along the baseline. He acted as if what just happened was routine, an expectation.

As of late, plays like that have been. 

With his stellar production, the Grizzlies are 43-20, seven games behind the conference-leading Suns and good for third in the West. That’s a step up from where the franchise has been in recent seasons.

Morant has been a catalyst for the recent uptick the Grizzlies have taken. He currently has the leading basketball odds to win the Most Improved Player Award at -750.

“He’s absolutely in that conversation and is deserving of being an MVP,” Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins, who has the third-best NBA betting odds to win Coach of the Year at +650, said. “The level he’s playing at and how it all impacts our winning at the end of the day, that’s the true definition of MVP. I’m not the decision-maker, but it’s pretty obvious to me he’s the MVP.”

Ja Morant Performing at Scorching Pace

On Saturday at Chicago, Morant set a personal best with 46 points. Then against the Spurs on Monday, Morant was even better, scoring a career-high and franchise-record 52 points.

At one point, he tallied 13 consecutive points in the final quarter.

“I attack every game the same way, no matter the opponent,” Morant said. “I just try to read the defense, take what the defense is giving me, if it’s me scoring or my teammates scoring. Tonight it felt like they were trying to stay home to the shooters and not allow everybody else to get going, and I just took advantage of it.”

In the San Antonio game, Morant made 22 of 30 shots and all four of his 3-point attempts.

On one of them, he retrieved the ball behind the halfcourt line with five seconds left on the shot clock. He took two dribbles and, from near the Grizzlies midcourt logo, pulled up and hit from long range.

Morant was often on the attack. 

He exhibited blistering speed as he weaved through a packed paint for a layup, spun away to gain separation before jump shots, and showcased creativity on floaters above taller opponents.

“What a night by Ja,” Jenkins said. “Obviously a big win for the team, and obviously 12 had a huge imprint on this game tonight. Phenomenal force.”

His scoring prowess was never more clear than at the end of the first half.

With 0.4 seconds remaining following a Spurs free throw, Steven Adams quickly grabbed the ball to inbound it. He whipped it down court to make some use out of the little time left. 

Morant jumped from along the opposite baseline to catch it. With a defender contesting the rushed shot, he propelled the ball out of his hands just in time. 

The shot sunk, and his teammates crowded him. The Grizzlies built on their lead and gained a ton of momentum.

Grizzlies guard De’Anthony Melton said the shot felt like a game-winner as if the contest was decided even before intermission.

“At this point, he’s at the rim every night,” Melton said. “But the way he put it together tonight, he was just in attack mode from the jump and he got whatever he wanted and it looked easy out there. It was just special to even be out there to watch that. The way he did it, missing eight shots, crazy.”

Ja Morant Proving To Be Among Most Effective Players

Morant is seventh in the NBA averaging 27.6 points per game and is 14th with 6.6 assists per contest. He’s eighth in the NBA’s Player Impact Estimate.

Morant, in his third year out of Murray State, landed in a great spot for his skill set. The Grizzlies emphasize pace, and they’re eighth in the league in that area.

After the Spurs game, Jenkins said Morant made “big-time shots.” Those were often a result of Memphis establishing a high tempo.

“(Morant) set a tone with the pace he was playing with, pushing the ball in transition and obviously getting downhill,” Jenkins said. “And he was just kind of slicing and dicing out there. But then also I thought he did a really nice job defensively.”

Even after Morant’s phenomenal moments, Jenkins usually appears stoic on the sidelines. He wants to focus on the next play. But he admits he’s celebrating internally and postgame.

Morant, after his latest performance, initially struggled to discuss what had just transpired. He said his “head is all over the place.”

However, having won eight of their last 10 games, the Grizzlies appear more focused than ever.

“My main motto is just focus on today. Handle my business and as long as we continue to win, everything else falls in line,” Morant said.

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About the Author

Colton Pool

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Colton Pool is a Web Content Writer for BetMGM living in Bozeman, Montana, focusing on the NFL and NBA. Previously, he covered Montana State football at the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and worked at newspapers in his home state of North Dakota. He graduated from North Dakota State in 2015.

Colton Pool is a Web Content Writer for BetMGM living in Bozeman, Montana, focusing on the NFL and NBA. Previously, he covered Montana State football at the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and worked at newspapers in his home state of North Dakota. He graduated from North Dakota State in 2015.