Morant Primed To Make Another Leap In Memphis


Since stepping foot in Memphis in 2019, Ja Morant has taken the basketball world by storm.

From his highlight reel dunks to his flashy handles and passes, the Murray State alum has excelled at the professional level. After leading the Grizzlies to a franchise record-tying 56 wins and a second playoff berth in his third year, Morant garnered his first All-Star and All-NBA selections.

While Morant has already made tremendous achievements, there is much more in still store for the star point guard.

With his fourth season looming, Ja has already had a significant impact both on and off the floor. The city loves him, and he loves the city back, as evidenced by his recent signing of a max extension without a fifth year player option.

A match made in basketball paradise—so how else can this get better for Memphis?

Unprecedented Potential

When they were bestowed with the second overall pick in the 2019 draft, the choice for Memphis was clear. With Zion Williamson projected to go first in every mock draft, Morant was right there for the taking.

Early on in their careers, Ja and Zion have been closely compared to one another. In the early stages, there’s no denying that Ja has had the better start. Zion has had injury woes that have plagued him early on, and as everyone knows, the best ability is availability.

Since Morant was selected with that pick, the culture in Memphis has undergone a rather large change compared to the days of the Core Four. While those teams brought winning basketball and unity to Memphis, this new era has shown Grizz fans something they have never seen before: a title contender.

There is still room for improvement with this Grizzlies squad, but the championship potential is already clearly there. The likes of Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Desmond Bane and countless others have instilled a winning culture in Memphis that bears a resemblance to the Core Four.

However, this group brings a swagger and confidence that previous squads did not. They’re loud and proud, and they don’t shy away from anyone.

But with the big talk comes backlash. If you dish it out, you’ve got to be able to take it, and the Grizzlies players have done that well. They’re more than willing to have teams bark back at them, and they always find a way to bark right back.


With this attitude, the Grizzlies have asserted themselves as a real threat to teams in the West, including the Golden State Warriors.

The back-and-forth’s between the Grizz and the Warriors provides great entertainment and keeps both sides on their toes, too. And it is a showing of the Ja Morant effect in full-force.

To be considered a legitimate threat to one of the best dynasties in recent history is something Memphis has never experienced before. While the entire team contributes to this potential, the presence of Ja is what makes it a true possibility.

The Core Four had some really solid years and made it further than this group has (so far), but they were never really in the conversation of “title contenders”. The main reason was they never had “The Guy” to push them over the top.

With Morant in Memphis, the Grizzlies have their “Guy” for many years to come.

Call 12

Ja Morant’s clutch performances have become famous, and at the end of a close game everyone knows the Grizzlies are about to “call 12.”

But the truth is the Grizzlies call on Morant to deliver throughout games, and he delivers in a number of ways.

Ja’s ability to drive and score the ball inside is among the best in the Association. In fact, he was THE best in 2021-22. Ja averaged 16.6 points in the paint (PITP) per game in the regular season, outscoring behemoths such as Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

It’s already impressive that Morant did this as a 6’3″ guard, but in doing so, he literally made NBA history. Since they began tracking the stat in 1996, no guard had EVER led the league in PITP. In 26 years, Morant is the only one, which becomes more amazing when you think about some of the elite penetrating guards the game has seen in modern times.

Ja had his best three-point shooting season this past year, as well, averaging 34.4% from beyond the arc. Obviously, three-point shots are becoming a must-have at every position in today’s game, especially at guard.

While his numbers aren’t up there with the elite shooters, Ja’s increased comfort with shooting the three bodes well for Memphis moving forward.

It just comes down to confidence for Ja. When he is confident in his shooting touch, Ja becomes nearly impossible to stay in front of, much less guard. His continued development of his shot will be the stuff of nightmares for opposing defenses.


Despite his jump in points per game to 27.4, Ja still exhibited his playmaking ability. Even with it taking a dip from the year prior, he averaged 6.7 assists per game in 2021-22.

The jump in points and the slight dip in assists sparked conversation that he wasn’t able to facilitate for his teammates, which is ludicrous. Here are some reminders for the poor, lost souls who bought into such talk.

His first two seasons were spent as a pass-first point guard, where he averaged 7.3 and 7.4 APG in 2019-2020 and 2020-2021, respectively. Meanwhile, this past season he took 20.6 FGA per game, a 5.4 FGA increase from his sophomore season.

Despite this increase, a shift from the scorer that was Jonas Valanciunas to a facilitator in Steven Adams, and missing a volume shooter in Dillon Brooks for most of the season, his APG still only dipped by 0.7.

The Grizzlies would happily accept a dip in playmaking if it translated to a higher volume of Morant’s elite scoring. But the truth is that trade-off is an illusion in the first place. Ja Morant is still a fantastic passer and playmaker, and he will show as much this coming season.

What’s Next For Ja?

There isn’t much that Morant can’t do on a basketball court, but there are things he can still get better at.

The one thing that Ja has consistently lacked is defensive skill. Yes, he does have some really nice chase-down blocks that are exhilarating, but overall his defense is average at best. To see him improve on it would be promising.

But the truth is that Ja exerts so much effort offensively that he doesn’t have much in the tank on the defensive end. When he really needs to, Ja can lock in defensively as he does in the clip below.

Regardless, this would be a minuscule area of need for Ja. The production he provides on offense is worth the lapses on defense.

Offensively, there are still areas for Morant to improve. His ability to drive the ball and penetrate defenses is second to none, but there are other aspects that could heighten that ability.

If Ja is able to consistently score at all three levels, he becomes impossible to defend. If he can develop a solid three-point and mid-range shot, the possibilities are endless. This opens up shots not just for him, but for players like Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr.

This would be the main area Morant could improve this coming season, especially with regards to the mid-range. Morant has already shown a renewed confidence from deep. If he could consistently hit mid-range jumpers like the one below, there isn’t a defensive scheme in the world that could stop him.

Just watch these highlights from one of last season’s early matchups against Golden State. The defense had to start respecting Morant’s shot from midrange, which opened up the ability to make the crucial layup at the end of OT.

These are all small improvements for Memphis’ first bonafide NBA star, but they can help Morant take his game to yet another level.

Ja speaks for himself every time he steps out on the floor, and he does it loudly. He’s taken over not only Memphis, but the entire league in just three years. His Grizzlies, like him, are still young and have much to learn. They won’t be expected to truly contend this year, and they will likely be expected to even take a step back.

But just like every year since Ja’s arrival, it will prove foolish to doubt him and his team. Expect the unexpected with this team, because they have a supernova running the point, and at any moment he is likely to explode.

The Grizzlies are attached to Morant for years to come, and since he’s been known to have “rockets in his calves,” this team might just be ready to takeoff with him at the helm.

Craving More Grizzlies?

Check out last week’s Deep Dive Piece on Jaren Jackson Jr. by Chris Ingram (@chriman_), Why Jaren Jackson Jr. Could Dominate The NBA. And be sure to check out the Grizz 901 Podcast, where the Grizz Lead guys get on to discuss these Deep Dive players and much, much more!

About Ian Sparks

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