Ja Morant was a top prospect coming out of high school, but he had to wait for his turn in the NBA. In one offseason, however, it appears that he has gone from an afterthought into serious MVP conversation by averaging 24 points and seven assists per game while shooting 47 percent from three-point range.
The “nba mvp candidates 2021” is a question that I am sure many basketball fans are wondering about. The NBA MVP race has been wide open recently, with the likes of Kyrie Irving and James Harden in the conversation for the award. However, one player has made an improvement that could change this race entirely.
Ja Morant of the Memphis Grizzlies came out of the gate with a bang, winning the NBA Rookie of the Year award for the 2019-20 season. He was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 draft, behind Zion Williamson, who was the basketball world’s darling at the time.
Coming out of Murray State, Morant had the characteristics of an explosive, athletic scorer. In 2018-19, he was one of the greatest players in the NCAA, but his level of competition and shooting skills were questioned coming into the draft.
Over the first two years of his career, it was that final question mark that held Ja back. Morant’s jumper required work, even according to NBA veteran Allen Iverson. However, AI believes that if the wiry point guard can ever become a reliable shooter, he would be “trouble” for the NBA.
Iverson’s prediction has proved to be correct.
Ja Morant is enjoying a breakthrough season in 2021-22.
The Memphis Grizzlies’ Ja Morant warms up before Game 5 of their first-round Western Conference playoff series against the Utah Jazz in 2021. | Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images
Morant wasn’t exactly an afterthought in his draft class, but Williamson was the center of attention. Even when Ja won Rookie of the Year, it was assumed that Zion would miss too many games to qualify, and Morant would win by default.
While the NBA world is still focused on the dynamic Duke product, his 2019 draft companion has been hard at work and offering glimpses of what might be.
In his debut NBA season, the South Carolina native averaged 17.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 7.3 assists. In 2020-21, those averages rose to 19.1, 4.0, and 7.4.
Last season, Morant guided Memphis to the playoffs, where they met the No. 1-seeded Utah Jazz in the first round. In the series, the 6-foot-3 point guard averaged more over 30 points and eight assists on 48.7% shooting.
Morant, on the other hand, has been a revelation this season, averaging 35.0 points per game and a 50.3% effective field goal percentage. He’s putting up more points while also improving his efficiency.
Those flashes are no longer something that might be. Morant has firmly established himself as one of the top point guards in the NBA, replacing the Ghost of Christmases Yet to Come with the Ghost of Christmas Present.
Morant is putting himself in contention for NBA MVP.
Iverson said about Morant in an interview with Bleacher Report:
“The only thing that might be anything less than an A, and I’d say maybe an A- or B+… the only thing you could probably say is his jumper.”
“Just going ahead, problem,” says the narrator, “once his jumper is practically automatic.”
Ja Morant on Allen Iverson
What grade would AI give Ja’s jumper today if he gave it an A- or B+ before this season?
Morant has a career-high 6.0 attempts per game and is shooting 58.0 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from 3-point range through three games. To be fair, it’s a tiny sample size, but there are grounds to believe this shooting improvement is genuine.
Morant is still the same aggressive offensive player he was his first two seasons in the league, according to the numbers. According to NBA.com, Ja scores 59.0 percent of his points in the paint and makes over 70% of his field goals unaided. He’s also hitting the free-throw line 7.0 times a game, which is a career best.
Despite the increase in shooting percentage, three-pointers account for just 22.9 percent of the 35.0 points per game.
Morant isn’t altering who he is as a result of this. He’s still an attack-minded scorer who prioritizes getting to the basket. More than half of his shots in the paint on drives to the hoop are unaided, demonstrating this. This year, though, Morant’s improved shooting has forced opponents to respect him farther away from the basket.
Iverson describes himself as “trouble.”
The Grizzlies’ point guard is on the verge of becoming a superstar.
Morant was an athletic wonder who could whiz past, through, and over opponents when he departed the Racers. Even on a team that wasn’t as great as most others around the nation, he showed plenty of playmaking skill in college.
During his first season, he showed flashes of both of those abilities, and much more so last year. Morant, on the other hand, has improved his shooting stroke and is currently playing at an MVP level.
Watch out, NBA, for danger is on the way.
Unless otherwise stated, all statistics are courtesy of Basketball Reference.
After the Jarrett Culver-Patrick Beverley trade, the Memphis Grizzlies are stocking up for long-term success.
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