“Tell that motherfucker about me,” said the rookie point guard. He had just been challenged to take an open three by James Harden, Tuesday night in Memphis. Harden, one of the game’s premier shooters, tried to get into the head of Morant. Instead, he boosted the confidence of a young man who had already proven himself on the big stage. Even in the age where (almost) everyone can shoot the deep ball, where (almost) everyone has some sort of deceptive layup package, the NBA was still not prepared for Ja Morant.
Back around the turn of the century, what I like to call the “the dark ages” of the NBA where isolation plays and hero ball reigned, Morant would have been one of the gods. It’s too bad that he was just learning to walk for the first time when Allen Iverson was in his prime.
I’ll admit it- I do not watch much college basketball. I casually watch the NCAA Tournament in March, but beyond that, it doesn’t excite me much. I had heard of Ja Morant, mostly from a few colleagues who passionately follow college ball, but I figured if he was good enough, I’d just wait until he made it to the NBA. Well, he’s here, and oh boy is he something special. Let’s have a look.
All of that is just from the first three-ish months of the season. He has an absurd control over his body and a level of confidence I can only understand when I’ve drank my weight in Pabst Blue Ribbon at a karaoke bar.
Prior to the season, Zion Williamson’s rookie of the year award was res judicata. The gambling lines had him at -150 to win, meaning a $150 bet is required to win $100. Second place was Ja, at +400, meaning your wager would be quadrupled if he won. That’s a pretty heavy gap, especially given that individual awards tend to be more difficult to evaluate. Still, the betting action on Williamson alone was cause to believe he was the one. Then he got hurt.
Zion, who still has not played one possession in the NBA, is all but gone from any potential rookie of the year ballot. His line now sits at +1800, Morant at -500. I’ll save my Tyler Herro/Kendrick Nunn love for my inevitable “You Should Have Watched More Heat Games” post this season.
Tuesday night, Ja Morant may have ended the rookie of the year conversation. Give these precious 185 seconds of brilliance your time:
There’s little beauty in sports like a well-executed pick and roll, and the Grizzlies, who should be in rebuild mode, are thriving with their primary ball-handler. Just look at around the 0:36 mark. He draws coverage like rookie Randy Moss in ’98, leaving De’Anthony Melton with a country mile of space for an open 3.
Then come the theatrics. Morant gives a behind the back pass to Jaren Jackson Jr. for a layup-and-one, then promptly makes a gesture around his eyes, letting the crowd know that he sees all things. Spin move layup. Steal and behind-the-back dribble to set up Jackson again for a colossal slam dunk. He already knows how to manipulate a home crowd into becoming the 6th man.
And then, his magnum opus:
James Harden picks up Morant before the line for some reason. Brandon Clarke is strolling up to sit at the shoulder and wait.
Morant dribbles behind his back and continues toward the basket, embarrassing Harden’s in vain attempt to lock the kid down. Clarke, loosely covered by P.J. Tucker, sees an opening to drop in near the basket, but waits just a second longer.
Eric Gordon, previously alone in the paint has decided to move up and help teammate Clint Capela on Morant. Clarke has an open runway and gives the signal for Morant.
Morant jumps, considering a decent jumper from the top of the paint, but just hangs out in the sky for a while. De’Anthony Melton is on the shoulder, wide open. He gives a millisecond look to him, but then changes direction in the air to a streaking Clarke.
Clarke jumps, Morant tosses him an alley-oop, and five grown ass men in black jerseys can only watch as they are torn asunder.
I know, I know… its the Rockets, their defense is middle of the road at best. But keeping defenders honest is a part of the game. Morant already has the head game in veteran form.
The Memphis Grizzlies have now won six straight. With home games against Cleveland and New Orleans coming up, there is a high possibility that they can make it eight.
Speaking of eight, the Grizzlies, a team that should be chasing the worst record, now sit in the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. Maybe rookie of the year is not enough.
Maybe Ja Morant should be on that long list for a bigger award.