In his third season, Temetrius Jamel Morant of the Memphis Grizzlies leaves no one in doubt per how much of a whirlwind the start to his NBA career has been. Not too long ago, he was a rookie taking on those he idolized with daring liberty
Much of that trait is evident till date, but he has managed to rub shoulders with the league’s elite point guards with his awesome playmaking abilities and has officially entered the top echelon of All-NBA candidates.
The 22-year old did not emerge out of the blues as if he were some obscure draft pick. He was the second overall pick from the 2019 NBA Draft. Perhaps we got so caught up with the athletic built of Zion Williamson, that we forgot about the shorter point guard with his own eye-popping skill-set.
Morant is asserting himself as not only a superstar of the future but as a star of the present. In doing so, he is transforming the once grit-and-grind Grizzlies into one of the most exciting young teams in the league.
But how has the former Murray State baller managed to elevate from being Rookie of the Year to an All-Star and All-NBA caliber within such a short period of time?
JA MORANT 🤯— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 10, 2022
ONE OF THE MOST ATHLETIC BLOCKS YOU’LL EVER SEE. pic.twitter.com/mSBEajPDtK
THE RISE AND RISE OF JA
While many take note of the increased three-point production, and rightly so, along with the gravity defying dunks fast becoming synonymous with him, it is actually another aspect that is bearing the fruit of his overall offensive game.
It seems NBA defenses are wary of the explosive dunks, as well as the improved three-point ability that has seen him shoot a career-high 38.3 percent this season.
According to Basketball-Reference, Morant’s shooting 29.8 percent of his field-goal attempts from within three feet, easily a career-low after 36.5 percent came from within that distance across his first two seasons.
Although his shooting from distance has taken large strides, the percentage of attempts from beyond the arc has actually reduced from 25.2% last season to 22.1% so far this season. What it leaves is an aspect that’s largely gone missing in today’s modern NBA – the mid-range game.
That may not be the right way to describe it, either. Morant is not producing the traditional mid-range pullups or fadeaways like Chris Paul does. But it is his own signature style, and one that, like Paul, is producing a devastating effect.
Through over 30 games this season, Morant is taking 32.2% of his shots from between three and ten feet; a reasonable shift from his first two seasons, where 25.4 percent of his shots came from that part of the court.
Morant may be the new poster boy for floaters, an underrated shot for any point guard aiming to perfect the pick-and-roll game. He’s shooting 42.9 percent from that 3-to-10 foot range, a reasonable improvement from the 37.2 percent he shot last season.
KEYS TO SUSTAINING ONE OF NBA’S BRIGHTEST STARS
Not only is the former rookie of the year taking a greater percentage of shots from just outside the restricted area, he is also fast becoming much more effective in doing so. It is, indeed, an amalgamation of multiple factors.
His threat as an explosive finisher and improvement in three-point shooting, the increased play-time Coach Taylor Jenkins is providing, as well as the supportive roles of big guys like Steven Adams and Jaren Jackson Jr. as pick and roll threats and pick-and-fade threats in the case of Jackson are some of the factors behind the complete package he is fast becoming.
No doubt, the jaw-dropping athleticism produces the highlights, but the creative ball-handling abilities and crafty finishes are what make Ja Morant fascinating. It is what has helped elevate his game this season, and it is what will continue to sustain one of the brightest futures in the NBA.