You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.
While the Memphis Grizzlies may be entering a new era, 2019 media day was nothing out of the ordinary. You could hear all the usual pseudo-truths that are a staple of NBA media days (Jaren Jackson Jr. has put on between 10 and 20 pounds of muscle and between a half-inch and two inches of height depending on the time of day that you ask someone). If there is a message that the Grizzlies or any NBA team wishes to convey at their media day, it’s optimism—filtered, controlled, and opaque optimism.
That’s the way this game is played by NBA organizations.
However, there were a few moments of true authenticity where the public relations-influenced facade was dropped. Seeing Grayson Allen’s refusal to downplay his persistent on-court issues and his transparency about his struggle with anger issues was refreshing. NBA players and other professional athletes are not merely characters that exist in a narrative for our entertainment; they are real people with real problems.
But an even more exciting moment of transparency for Grizzlies fans came from Dillon Brooks. When asked about what he though of Ja Morant, there was a glint of amusement in his eyes. It’s the type of look that someone gives you when they know something that you don’t.
“He’s amazing,” Brooks says with a grin and a slight shake of his head. “He looks like Derrick Rose.”
The same Derrick Rose that captivated both the city of Memphis and the nation as a whole with his incredible play for the University of Memphis?
The same Derrick Rose that was the youngest MVP in NBA history at the age of 22?
The same Derrick Rose that many think would have indisputably been the league’s best player if not for his injury issues?
That’s quite the comparison to make for a rookie point guard that hasn’t played in a single NBA game yet. And yet, it’s a comparison that may make Dillon Brooks look like a prophet when we all have the benefit of hindsight.
That probably won’t be the case, however.
To be sure, there isn’t much more to be said about Morant’s current individual game until he actually begins his NBA career. His celebrated cerebral nature, jaw-dropping athleticism, and general excellence as a basketball player have all been well-documented.
The month before the season begins is not so dry news-wise that I have to repeat myself ad nauseam.
Yet the question remains: What exactly will Ja Morant be?
Of course, there are the comparisons to Russell Westbrook, De’Aaron Fox, and now even Derrick Rose. Morant’s combination of skill and vertical explosiveness is reflective of many of the modern NBA’s elite point guards.
But the comparisons are somewhat lazy. Ja Morant will not be any of these three players.
With his fusion of strength, size, and sheer angry explosiveness, Westbrook is a transcendent athlete at the point guard position that the NBA will likely never see again. If the NBA were the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Westbrook is the Hulk, an overpowering mess of dumb, overwhelming rage. Morant is more of a Professor Hulk—a more cerebral and intelligent version of the character that also doesn’t possess quite the same amount of raw power and strength.
Morant also doesn’t possess the top-end speed of Fox or Rose. Rose in particular was a different type of athletic animal at his peak, which is why he’s still revered by his peers.
However, for all of the misplaced concerns about his shooting, Morant is a potentially better shooter than each of these three players, with the possible exception of Fox who managed to shoot 37% from three on a relatively meager 2.9 attempts last year. Morant shot 36% from three on 4.8 attempts at Murray State last year, showcasing a stable spot-up game as well as an ability to consistently pull up off the dribble.
He also is a better passer than Fox and Rose, and he could very well become a more cerebral playmaker than the occasionally erratic Westbrook.
Make no mistake about it: Ja Morant is completely his own player. There is no comparison that properly does him justice, nor should there be one for a player as uniquely talented as him. And if there is no complete comparison, then there isn’t a discernible endgame either.
That should be celebrated.
There is a thrill in the unknown because the unknown possibly contains something greater than anything that has come before. With his alluring and borderline unprecedented skill-set, Ja Morant is that dream exemplified for the Memphis Grizzlies.
No one knows where the Memphis Grizzlies will go in the coming years. They could find themselves in championship bliss or in a stagnant abyss. But what is certain is who will lead them to their final destination in the coming years.
If Ja Morant rises, the Grizzlies will as well. And if he falls, so will they.
Oh the places that Ja Morant will go? Dr. Seuss was not a Grizzlies fan, and he almost certainly never envisioned any NBA player as he crafted his childrens’ novels. But fans of the Memphis Grizzlies should find encouragement in the final words of Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
“Oh the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done! There are points to be scored. There are games to be won. And the magical things you can do with that ball will make you the winning-est winner of all.”
How far will Ja Morant—and by extension, the Memphis Grizzlies—go?
No one knows. So just sit back and enjoy the ride. And embrace the magic of this Memphis moment and the promise of a greater tomorrow.