Ja Morant picked up from where he left off last year and put on a dazzling show in the Memphis Grizzlies’ season opener against the New York Knicks.
The 2022 NBA Most Improved Player had 34 points, three three-pointers, four rebounds, nine assists, and one block to lead Memphis to a hard fought 115-112 overtime victory. He was flying all over the court in his typical fashion and had a few fancy assists as well.
While the 23-year-old’s passes did not always make it to their intended recipient and led to six turnovers, the added flair kept their home crowd energized throughout the evening.
Morant looks primed to improve on his seventh place finish in last year’s NBA Most Valuable Player voting, though he will have to remain healthy. He missed 25 regular season games in ‘21-’22 and could have easily been a top three contender if he was more available.
His high-flying style makes him more injury prone, but this is also what separates him from most players in the league. At the very least, the hope is that another off-season of conditioning and strengthening will help him stay on the floor more often this year.
The Grizzlies will have to have another strong regular season to help bolster Morant’s case as an MVP candidate. They emerged with a 56-26 win-loss card last year which earned them the second seed in the Western Conference behind only the Phoenix Suns and ahead of the eventual champion Golden State Warriors.
It may be difficult to replicate this given that the Los Angeles Clippers and the Denver Nuggets are back at full strength, yet this entire Memphis group has never been one to back down from a challenge.
The rest of their team provided Morant with ample support versus the Knicks as they stepped up in the absence of expected starters Jaren Jackson Jr. and Dillon Brooks. Spanish forward Santi Aldama and third-year guard John Konchar took their place in the line-up and they did not miss a beat.
The 21-year-old Aldama scored 18 points on 50% field goal shooting along with three triples, 11 rebounds, an assists, a steal, a block, and no turnovers. Meanwhile, Konchar added 12 points on four three-point shots plus 11 rebounds, two assists, two steals, and a turnover.
Last year’s breakout star Desmond Bane had a poor shooting night, hitting only six of his 22 attempts, although he still managed to tally 16 points, four rebounds, six assists, and a block. He exited the game with a minute and a half remaining in overtime with what appeared to be cramps.
Veteran guard Tyus Jones stepped in for Bane and hit the go-ahead three-pointer with 47.8 seconds remaining in the match. His shot gave the Grizzlies a 115-112 edge that they managed to hold on to up until the final buzzer. The 6’0 Jones ended the contest with 15 points, three three-pointers, four rebounds, three assists, a steal, and only one turnover in 25 minutes of action.
It will be a long road back to the top of the Western Conference standings for Memphis this season, but Morant and his ever reliable supporting cast should never be counted out.
This gutsy squad has exceeded expectations time and time again which has inevitably brought the bar higher for them. Morant and the Grizzlies have shown that they never back down from a challenge though no matter how lofty the goals can get which should make this an exciting year for this young team and its burgeoning superstar.