Memphis point guard Ja Morant isn’t planning to wait his turn, the 20-year old wants to take over the league right now.
Many world religions, fables, and social epithets teach the young to mind their elders. We’ve all heard the chimes. “Respect those who came before you” or “show some deference.” This may be true for most of us, in many walks of life. But on the basketball court, age ain’t nothing but a number - and as Aaliyah said “throwing down ain’t nothing but a thang.” Twenty-year-old phenom Ja Morant isn’t waiting around to pay any dues or allot homage to the more established players in the league. The Memphis guard wants his respect right now. Ironically, the rookie is earning that esteem by being down-right nasty to his opponents. Most of them, his elders. No exaggeration, there have been at least a dozen times this season when Morant pulled a move out of his bag and the best commentary I could provide after seeing it was “Oh, that’s just disrespectful.” Whether he’s barking at 2018’s MVP James Harden after nailing a three-pointer, yelling “[you better] tell that mother f**cker about me,” or trying to jump clean over Kevin Love - Morant has given fans several reasons to look at their television screen or cell phone with the “stank face,” and utter things like “don’t do him like that.” He is quickly becoming one of the league’s must-see attractions - routinely delivering unforgettable moments well worth the price of admission. Even if it's at the expense of another hoopers pride.
I knew Ja Morant was a different kind of animal when the kid told Chris Hayes of Yahoo Sports that he wasn’t a point guard but a “point god." When asked what made him garner such a title, Morant said "the ability to not only make plays for me but also my teammates. And just everything I bring to the table. Try to play an all-around game and do whatever I can to help my team win." Morant likely gets that edge from his father who he says was his “first hater.” Morant’s dad was very instrumental in his growth as a player. The two would often run drills in the backyard, then laying the foundation for Ja’s tremendous work ethic and competitiveness. When asked about the way he plays, Morant told ESPN "It's just my edge. The chip I have on my shoulder from what I had to go through to get to the NBA." Later saying, "My dad always told me that I was trained to go, basically that I'm built for the moment. And my mom always told me I'm beneath no one." Ja was selected with the second overall pick in the 2019 draft following his sophomore year at Murray State (where they recently retired his jersey)
Morant welcomes any and all challengers. It’s because of this relentless attitude that the Grizzlies are in playoff contention when some thought that’d be back in the lottery. He relishes the opportunity the play against the game’s best point guards. In fact, his finest moment perhaps came in a game against Kyrie Irving, whom he idolized, and the Brooklyn Nets. As time wound off the clock, the Grizzlies needed someone to step up and make a big play to force overtime. Morant answered the call, blocking the shot of Kyrie Irving and then later dishing the assist which led to the game-winning shot. He scored some big buckets down the stretch as well.
"He came out and it wasn't about, 'Aw man, I look up to you. I'm wearing your shoes,'" Grizzlies forward Solomon Hill said. "It's about, 'I'm trying to get this W.'" It could be James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Stone Cold Steve Austin or the Easter Bunny. If you’re in between the lines. Ja is going for your neck. Plain and simple.
No one and I mean, no one is exempt from the wrath of Ja. Morant is even in the crosshairs of a social media spat with established veteran forward and NBA champion Andre Igoudala and Steph Curry. It all started after a report by David Aldridge that Iggy was prepared to sit out the entire season if Memphis wasn’t able to trade him. After this Morant and teammate, Dillion Brooks mirrored the sentiment they couldn’t wait for the former Finals MVP to be traded. Curry then threw some shade back at Morant who of course didn’t take it lightly and sprayed back at Steph. Morant also liked a tweet that read “Fuck Iguodala.” Just goes to show you he’s not your average rookie and no one is safe (not even Steph Curry).
Morant was named rookie of the Month for January after posting 17 points, 8 assists and 3 rebounds per game.He became the first rookie since 2001 to post those averages while shooting 50% from the field. January marks the third consecutive month he has earned such honors. He is the first Grizzlies player to win the award in back-to-back months. In January Morant led Memphis to a 11-4 record, best in the Western Conference over that span.
As the season has grown so has Morant’s game. Both his shooting percentages and overall efficiency have improved significantly since October. Ja is learning to harness his explosive athleticism and leverage that advantage using heady execution. He is great off the live dribble, with a tight handle and terrific change of pace-direction. Not to mention some dynamic playmaking ability. Russell Westbrook meets Chris Paul.
With his brash banter and even bolder play on the court, Ja Morant is swiftly making a name for himself despite being only 40 or so games into his NBA career. Whether he’ll be able to maintain this productivity, only time will tell. Playing a flashy style, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant are fueling the new era of Grizzlies basketball - from Grit and Grind to Sizzle and Shine.