Is it too early in the NBA season for Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant to be sending out overcoming adversity tweets after a missed free throw? Probably. Is it too early in the season to consider the Grizzlies a contender in the Western Conference? Absolutely. It’s even too early in the season to think that Morant will finish the season as the NBA scoring champion, even though he currently leads the league at 35 points per game — and the next closest player is Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant with 31.
What it’s most definitely not too early to do, though, is marvel at Morant having his way with the NBA during the first week of the 2021-22 season, and believe that this is the year he moves from League Pass star to NBA All-Star, and possibly an All-NBA performer.
Morant opened the season with a bang at home against the Cleveland Cavaliers. He scored 37 points on 58.6 percent shooting with six rebounds and six assists, but if the bang is in Memphis… against Cleveland… and drowned out by delirious New York Knicks fans after a double-overtime win against the Boston Celtics to start the season… did it really make a sound?
The Grizzlies’ next two games were a weekend back-to-back in Los Angeles, and with both days plagued by uninteresting football Morant provided a much needed nightcap at L.A. Live. He went for 28 points and eight assists in a 120-114 win against the Los Angeles Clippers, and on Sunday night he was clearly the best player on a court that included LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
The Los Angeles Lakers could not stay in front of Morant at all. Then any defender who did manage to get in front of him was treated like a yellow light in Morant’s way as he hurried to his appointment at the rim. Look at this crossover on Kent Bazemore, followed by a reverse layup against Davis on the other side of the basket. Stunt pilots wish they could fly a plane this gracefully.
Morant finished the game with 40 points and 10 assists on 61.9 percent shooting from the field, 71.4 percent from three, and 9-for-11 from the free throw line. Unfortunately for him, one of those missed free throws was at the end of the game, when he was fouled at the three-point line and missed the final foul shot that could have tied the game.
Last season, Morant’s efficiency took a dip following his 2020 Rookie of the Year performance. His scoring average increased by just over one point per game, but his field-goal, free-throw, and three-point percentages all decreased. Then the postseason arrived and Morant began to show the makings of a star to a national audience. He went for 35 points in the Grizzlies’ overtime win against the Golden State Warriors to advance to a first-round playoff series against the Utah Jazz. In that play-in game, Morant either scored or assisted on the Grizzlies final seven points in overtime. Against the No. 1 seed Jazz, the Grizzlies were eliminated in five games, but Morant averaged 30.2 points per game on 48.7 percent shooting against one of the best defenses in the NBA.
So far in 2021-22, Morant is picking up where he left off with 35 points per game on 58 percent from the field. That field goal percentage is going to come down, as will the scoring average, but Morant may be on to something here. If he keeps dazzling basketball media and fans this way on big stages, the Memphis Grizzlies won’t be the only team that he is on come the end of the season — count on him being listed with the other league elites in its top-honors spots.