Grizzlies

Manifesting Morant to All-NBA Status is a Must

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Awards season is upon us and the MVP debate is the hottest of topics.

Jaren Jackson Jr. should have Defensive Player of the Year in the bag and Paolo Banchero is the odds-on favorite to win Rookie of the Year. Beyond the major individual awards, the media votes for All-NBA, All-Rookie and All-Defensive teams. Let’s just call a spade a spade— the media should not solely wield the power to control whether or not a player earns an extra $30 million.

That leads us to Ja Morant. The off-court drama has been well-documented and yes it cost him nine games of play. Are All-NBA teams about on-court performance or who you are as a person? Sure, we are all human and the multitude of image-damaging stories that dropped about the budding superstar in a short-time span will certainly be in the back of the minds of voters.

But that is where it should stay.

To build the case for Morant’s validity on an All-NBA team, I looked at the All-NBA selections dating back to the 2017-2018 season, a five-season sample size. Morant ranks tenth in scoring and seventh in assists in the league with two games remaining. The first category investigated was top-ten scorers, a 50-player pool over five seasons.

Of the 50 players to finish as a top-ten scorer in the league, only nine did not make an All-NBA team. They are:

Only Mitchell, Tatum and Irving played on teams that made the playoffs. Of those three, the Irving case in 2017-18 is the closest profile to Ja.

The Boston Celtics finished 55-27, good for the second seed in the East in 2017-18. It was Kyrie’s first season in Boston, leading a group consisting of a rookie Tatum and sophomore Jaylen Brown. Irving finished that season playing just 60 games, missing the final 15 due to injury. We all know how recency bias plays a role in media-based voting.

The Grizzlies will finish with at least 50 wins and likely the second seed. Morant will have played 61 or 62 games — not missing his stretch of games at the back end of the season — but Kyrie’s case feels more outlier than precedent.

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The next level of investigation led me to looking at players who finished in the top ten in both scoring and assists, in which Ja currently sits seventh in dimes. Since 2017-18, 14 players have finished in the top ten in both categories:

Only once, did a player finish in the top ten of these categories and not make an All-NBA team. In 2019-2020, the Atlanta Hawks were abysmal, finishing 20-47— the second-worst record in the East.

Looking at the 13 other instances, only once did a player finish as a third-team selection— Trae Young in 2021-22. Nine of the fourteen times a player finished in the top ten in both categories over the last five seasons led to a first-team All-NBA selection.

That is what history tells us. Precedent.

What about this season?

Yes, Ja is currently tenth in scoring and seventh in assists. Yes, he will play less than the new CBA number (that does not go into effect this season).

But are we really about to say there are SIX guards more worthy of an All-NBA selection based on performance this season?

Only five guards are outscoring him (six if you consider Jaylen Brown a guard. Of those five guards, no one has more assists (Luka is currently tied with Ja at 8.1/game). Only Brown’s Celtics have a better record than Memphis while Mitchell and the Cleveland Cavaliers are tied at 50-30.

Ja has led his team to the second-best record in the West, not the second-worst like Trae Young and his omission year. Ja will play 60+ games this season unlike Damian Lillard, who will finish at 58 after quitting for a tank job.

This six guards selected should be some combination of Luka Doncic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Ja Morant, Donovan Mitchell, De’Aaron Fox, and I suppose James Harden? Stephen Curry has played 54 games and does not even qualify as a stat leader on NBA.com. Jaylen Brown has played the majority of his minutes as a forward, thus should not be above Morant.

There ARE NOT six guards that have a better performance profile than Ja Morant.

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