The bar keeps rising for Ja Morant.
A few days after dropping a then-career-high 46 points in a 116-110 win over the Chicago Bulls, Morant torched the San Antonio Spurs with 52 points on 73.3 percent field goal shootinneg. While he did make only four of his seven attempts at the free throw line, Morant made all four of his 3-point attempts, which to some extent points to how the stars were still aligned for him.
The Memphis Grizzlies needed all of Morant’s points as the Spurs threatened to rally back in the final quarter. With the Grizzlies lead down to five points halfway through the fourth quarter, the 2022 All-Star proceeded to score 13 straight points to put the game away for good in a 118-105 victory. It wasn’t the only statement he made in the game, as he had everyone on their feet the moment he put the ball in play.
It goes without saying that Morant’s play has been highlight-worthy, but the past two seasons have shown that all that flash now comes with winning and in 2021-2022, he has led Memphis to a place among the Western Conference’s elite. The first-round exit in last season’s playoffs certainly left a bitter taste and the South Carolina native has used that as motivation to put him and his team in an even better position with a little over a month before postseason play begins.
While doing so, Morant has made winning plays that defy both gravity and the expectations laid by pundits for him and his team. On top of his individual scoring prowess, his ability to dissect defenses has helped open things up for teammates like Desmond Bane, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Brandon Clarke, who are all posting career-high scoring numbers as well. You can even add Dillon Brooks to that group, as he is averaging a career-high 18.4 points despite missing two-thirds of the season.
The knock on Morant remains to be his 3-point shooting, but even that area of his game has seen improvements. His 1.6 3-point makes on 4.5 attempts are both career-highs, and while he may never find himself among the likes of Bane, Stephen Curry, or even current 3-point shooting percentage leader PJ Tucker, the threat of a respectable 3-pointer is all he needs to open up those driving lanes.
Taking everything together, you can see that things have slowed down for Morant. His game is clearly built on finesse with some power on those dunks, but he now reads and reacts to defenses, especially when he knows the personnel he is facing aren’t as adept as the league’s elite.
Naturally, this comes with more game reps and detailed pre-game preparation, but his ability to adjust to these, especially in real-time, points to a confidence not just in himself but also on his teammates to make the right plays. Against San Antonio, though, it was his teammates’ turn to trust him albeit more than they usually do already. It’s no surprise that the whole team was loving the huge scoring night of Morant, as it is their success as well.
From here on out, Morant and the Grizzlies are looking at a very favorable schedule, and they are projected to have the second-easiest remaining schedule in the NBA behind the Portland Trail Blazers. In their next 10 games, seven of the 10 opponents have won no more than 25 games. Within that same span of games, only the Atlanta Hawks, New Orleans Pelicans, Boston Celtics, and the Brooklyn Nets are qualified for at least the play-in tournament if the season ended today.
Ja Morant’s maturation process has taken an exponential turn, and with it, he has taken the Memphis Grizzlies to greater heights this season. A trip to the postseason is more likely than not, but how deep they go in the playoffs will certainly rest on the shoulders of Morant. Judging his ascension so far, it isn’t out of reach to say that sky’s the limit for him and his team.