Now in his third year in the NBA, Ja Morant is blossoming into one of the elite players in the league. If he continues to play at this current pace, there is no doubt that accolades will soon follow.
Through the first 15 games of this season, Morant has upped his scoring average to 26 points per game from 19.1 last year, buoyed by much improved shooting percentages across the board.
His field goal shooting has leapt from 44.9% to 50.2% and he is making 77.5% of his free throws, which still leaves much to be desired, but is a marked improvement from his previous 72.8% norm. More importantly, he is now hitting his three-pointers at a 38.4% clip after making them at just a 30.3% rate last year.
The lack of a three-point shot was always the biggest knock on the 22-year-old guard and now that he has added a consistent three-pointer to his arsenal, it has opened up driving lanes for him and paved the way for his big start to the season.
The game is getting much easier for him as opposing defenses now have to respect his perimeter shot and challenge him beyond the three-point line. This gives him more opportunities to blow past them for one of his breathtaking finishes around the rim or a nifty assist to one of his teammates.
If he continues playing at this level, there is no doubt that he will at least be in the conversation for his first All-Star game appearance later this season. With the slow start of perennial All-Star Damian Lillard, it is conceivable that Morant can leapfrog him this year and take over one of the much-coveted guard spots in the cutthroat Western Conference.
A winning record also plays an important role in the narrative of one’s All-Star candidacy, especially with first-timers, and it helps that the Grizzlies are right in the thick of the playoff hunt. They are currently seventh in the West with an 8-7 record–a half game ahead of Lillard’s Portland Trail Blazers–and if they can keep up with the rest of the pack or even make a run towards one of the higher seeds before the crucial voting period in January, it should only help Morant make his well-deserved All-Star debut.
The second overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft has also drawn his fair share of praise recently and received favorable comparisons to the flamboyant Hall of Fame guard Allen Iverson.
Morant and the former Philadelphia 76er have a similar blend of craftiness and explosiveness that makes them almost impossible to cover one-on-one. Iverson powered his way to the 2001 NBA MVP award and tallied 11 NBA All-Star appearances with four scoring titles through the course of his 14-year career. What makes all of this even more impressive is that he did all this despite being listed at just 6’0 – and rumors have always floated around that he wasn’t even that tall.
Two decades later, the 6’3 Morant is giving the league nightly flashbacks to Iverson in his heyday, and it is not far-fetched to think that he can replicate or even exceed his well-decorated resume. Iverson himself has also given his take on the matter and named Morant as the player who most closely resembles him in an interview last month.
The main thing that can set Morant apart though is winning.
Although Iverson made the finals (and eventually lost to the Los Angeles Lakers) in 2001, he was mostly a one-man show. In that season, he averaged 31.1 points per game and their next leading scorer was Dikembe Mutombo with 11.7. He never made it past the second round of the playoffs after that and gradually faded into the background.
Meanwhile, Memphis is slowly building a juggernaut of a team with multiple young pieces who fit well around Morant and are already flashing their potential. Jaren Jackson Jr. looks like he has finally moved on from his injury woes and continues to grow his tantalizing inside-out game that is made even more lethal by his lengthy 6’11 frame.
The return of Jackson has relegated Brandon Clarke back to a full-time reserve role, yet he has made the most of his opportunities and is impacting games with his seemingly infinite energy levels.
Out on the perimeter, Dillon Brooks, De’Anthony Melton, and Desmond Bane are proving to be excellent complementary pieces on offense while the latter two are establishing themselves as top notch defenders as well.
Brooks, Bane, and Jackson are all averaging at least 14.3 points per game this season while four other Grizzlies are also putting up between seven and 10 points a night.
They have the talent to support their transcendent superstar Morant and the next step is for this core to stick together for a couple of years so that they can continue to grow as a unit. The tools are present and the opportunity to take over the league as this current generation of stars ages deep into their thirties is there.
A bit of patience may be required before this team begins to achieve its share of postseason success, but in the meantime, Morant is primed to establish himself firmly as a bona fide superstar and a force to be reckoned with for the rest of this decade.
The future begins now and Morant is putting himself at the forefront of the next generation of stars.