Brandon Dill / Associated Press
Memphis Grizzlies’ precocious puppy, Ja Morant, reintroduced his contender in the playoffs to a national television audience on Tuesday.
He went for 26 points (up 11 shots), eight assists, five rebounds, one theft and one block in the Grizzlies 121-110 victory over the Houston Rockets at the FedEx Forum.
“[Morant] is the first rookie in [NBA] history to record 25+ points and 8+ assists while shooting 90% + from the field ” Grizzlies PR tweeted after the game.
In another over 40 point outburst for James Harden, Morant was undoubtedly the star and his last three were a dagger.
And it seemed only fair that he was paired with Harden for the shot. He also hit a third of the first quarter and tried to do it to warn him on what was to come.
It did not matter. Morant has controlled this game, as he has many in this season, with the balance and skill of a much more experienced player 1.
It’s not just this season’s favorite for the rookie of the year. He is also running away with the race with the same speed he shows night and night.
After going 10 out of 11 from the field and 3 out of 4 from three on Tuesday, Morant averaged 18.0 points per game while making 49.4% of his shots and 40.7% of his three pointers.
“Doubts said I couldn’t shoot,” Morant told NBA TV Dennis Scott after the match. “I’m proving they’re wrong.”
On top of that, it could make some history. No rookie has ever hit all three of these marks in an entire season.
And those aren’t the only numbers and traits that believe his age (he’s a 20 year old).
Being a starting man in the NBA is difficult. And generally it takes a few years to develop the feeling necessary for the game to be a winning player. Morant sees pick-and-roll and transition readings and angles that many older guards don’t. He has a level of confidence that allows him to take advantage of the weaknesses as they arise and tiptoe with superstars like Harden.
Put it all together and it’s no surprise that Memphis’s net rating is better than 2.0 points per 100 possessions when Ja is on the floor, a swing that ranks in the 62nd percentile.
Knowing how to finish around the rim usually takes time, especially for the smaller guards (Morant is a 6’3 “, 175 pounds). But this is another area where Morant is early.
Over 50 percent of Ja’s throws are attempted on the edge, a sign that ranks in the 98th percentile among the guardians. His field goal percentage is in the 50th percentile.
Putting that kind of pressure on the rim creates dozens of opportunities for Ja’s teammates. His average per game of 2.0 assists per unit is equal to fourth in the league. Hence, it should come as no surprise that the actual percentage of goals on the Grizzlies’ pitch is better than 1.5 points when Morant is on the ground.
And there is a psychological push that comes from the way Morant creates his teammates. Watch and listen to the reactions to this.
Ja isn’t just increasing the numbers of monsters. It is becoming a must-see TV. The NBA has already changed the national program this season. You might want to think about adding one or two Grizzlies games. Ja is exactly the promising athletic and altruistic type that the league should show.
“Ja Morant took a small look at the type of teammate he’s questioned about [the play above], “ESPN’s Tim MacMahon a tweet. “He pointed out that Solomon Hill running on the floor created the opportunity to hit Jaren Jackson Jr. for the dunk. ‘We only thank for that comedy and the great Jaren finale,” said Morant. “
If there are areas to be nitpicked, they are probably defense and discretion. We will start with the latter.
“I’m actually very angry, “teammate Brandon Clarke told Omari Sankofa II of The Athletic about all the criticisms Morant has taken this season.” I have seen Ja fall so many times. He’s obviously very, really scary every time, but he’s a really tough guy, so he finds a way to get up. “
Hardness is important, but Memphis would prefer not to see so many of those uncertain landings.
“The Grizzlies are teaching Morant the correct way to fall,” wrote Sankofa. “And while Morant has publicly expressed his desire to stick to his current playing style, he understands that he needs to preserve his body.”
The other nitpick, once again, is defense. And this could be a career-long search. Its size starts it at a natural disadvantage in many matchups.
This season, his defensive RAPTOR rating (a FiveThirtyEight metric that incorporates box score, on / off and tracking numbers) is minus -2.2. It ranks 221 out of 270 players with over 500 minutes.
However, Morant is not necessarily condemned to be an below average defender. It will become stronger in the coming years. He has shown enough IQ about attacking basketball to suggest he will pick up the subtleties of the NBA defense. If Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard could turn into decent gears for good defenses, Morant can do it too.
It is not there yet. Alright then.
Ja is 20 years old.
And it is the face of one of the most exciting young cores in the NBA. After Tuesday’s victory over the Rockets, the Grizzlies have exclusive possession of eighth place in the Western Conference. They are 8-2 in their last 10. The average age of their top 10 in minutes played is less than 25. Jackson and Clarke also have immense potential.
This team plans to become one of the most efficient and fun teams in the league.
Funny, we could describe Ja in the same way.
Sam Amick, NBA senior writer for The Athletic, joins “The Full 48” to discuss the movements of the best teams before the trade expires, the teams that need the most deals, the players who can move and the selections of All-Star Game ratings.