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Ja Morant at 100: The sky is the limit

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Now 100 games into his NBA career, Ja Morant has clearly shown he is a talent and brand never before seen in Memphis.

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NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

There are many dates that are memorable in the history of the Grizzlies’ franchise. However, I feel that as we move further and further into both the short and long-term future, May 19, 2019 may top them all. That is the day we landed the rights to draft Ja Morant. Let’s be honest, it was pure luck that we landed the second overall pick in the 2019 draft. However, our new front office regime was confident enough to keep it simple and take the player they felt would be the best option to lead this team into the future.

Nearly two years later, not only was the right decision made, but expectations have clearly been exceeded since Day 1.

Yes, the front office has made several other moves that have supported both Ja Morant and the rest of the Grizzlies being much more successful than many thought they would be one plus years into a clear rebuild. However, though he has had his struggles this season, this team clearly is at its best when Morant is at his best.

And when the moment calls for it.

Clearly, Morant, as a teammate, a brand, a leader, and a person, has been an incredible addition to both the Grizzlies and the city of Memphis off the court. He also has made the rest of the Memphis roster and himself develop faster than almost anyone expected on the court. However, the quality of his play during games and his efforts outside of the game remain rare for someone his age not just in terms of the Grizzlies, but the NBA as a whole.

In terms of the Grizzlies, many, including myself, felt confident enough to say that Morant was a talent unlike anything that had been seen before in the history of the Grizzlies franchise. Morant’s production through his first 100 games clearly support this statement. In terms of players that played the first 100 games of their career with the Grizzlies, Morant ranks second in points, first in assists, eighth in threes and seventh in steals. He has the same exact Game Score metric measure that future Hall-of-Famer Pau Gasol had in his first 100 games at 14.1. He arguably has made the biggest individual impact any Grizzlies player has generated to begin their career with Memphis. When you then consider how he elevates the games of others, you then understand why this franchise has never had someone like him.

The offensive production that Morant has generated is truly eye-opening, even more so when compared to his peers. Over the past 20 years, the NBA has arguably featured its greatest depth of talent in the history of the league. Among all active players through the first 100 games of their careers, Morant is 13th in points and sixth in assists.

In fact, Morant, Kyrie Irving, and Steph Curry are the only active players to produce 1,800 or more points, 500 or more assists, and a field goal percentage of 46% or higher over this stretch of time in their careers. While Irving and Curry obviously generated more threes, Morant has nearly 200 more assists at this point in their respective careers. As the graphic above shows, Morant is in an elite class when it comes to the players who have produced for themselves and others immediately when entering the league.

Morant’s production continues to stand out when one broadens their view to compare the start of his career to the beginnings of some of the greatest to ever play the game. This graphic above proves that Morant makes a highly significant impact on offense both through his ability to score and enhancing the scoring ability of others. His ability as a scorer and passer has very rarely been seen in NBA history to start a career.

Beyond his individual statistics, there are also the moments he has created. From “The Block” against Kyrie Irving in his third game, to the game winner in Charlotte, to the poster dunk of the year over Aron Baynes, to winning Rookie of the year last year. This year, scoring 44 points on opening night, ending the first half of the season with 35 in back to back games and the game winner just a few nights ago against Miami, Morant has certainly established a growing scrapbook of sensational memories at such a young age.

And that is, at times, what is so easy to forget. Morant is offering all of this production and leadership despite the fact that he does not turn 22 years old until August. To be honest, it’s not all that surprising to see him do what he is doing on the court at this age. He is mature and wise beyond his years, and that has been clear since he arrived at Murray State.

The thing that truly sets Morant apart from other players with his talent at his age is the person that he consistently proves to be off the court. Whether it be his “12 Days of Christmas” campaign or consistently hyping up and showing positivity to younger stars, Morant always promotes everyone else above himself. Whether it be his teammates, future basketball stars, women’s athletics, musicians, or individuals from Murray State or his home in South Carolina, Morant connects with them all because he is so positive and so supportive. He also never seems to forget those that made an effort to support him along the way.

It’s very clear that Morant expects to be given the respect he rightfully deserves. But the reason he expects it is because he goes out of his way to show it to others any chance he gets.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

This is a big reason why you never hear any negativity towards Morant besides the natural observations of where he needs to improve with his game. Teammates love playing with him, and the rest of the league enjoys the chance to interact after playing against him. The fact that Morant has already established this level of respect only 100 games into his career is probably the best proof of how special he is as a player and person.

And to make things even more exciting, he likely is just scratching the surface. There is plenty of room for growth and improvement for Morant to become a significantly better player than he is now. The great thing is that Morant knows that, and embraces and enjoys what it takes to get there. For whatever reason you enjoy him the most, it is very likely the future will only provide more reason to enjoy that aspect of Morant even more in time.

The first 100 games of Morant’s career with the Grizzlies has truly been something to cherish. But the journey has only begun. As her approaches his 200th, 300th, and 400th career games and beyond in the years ahead, the Grizzlies will hopefully continue to get closer to being sustainable winners and possible title contenders. Everyone, including Morant, is ready for that time to come. However, Morant knows better than anyone the journey is even more important that the destination. His goal is simply to put in the work to make the journey as beneficial as possible for him while making it as fun of an experience as possible for everyone else at the same time. Fortunately, the Grizzlies franchise and their fans cannot wait for how exciting the ride will like be.

Morant likes to say “YA HEAR ME” at the end of interviews and exchanges. We certainly do Ja, loud and clear. nd we are all thankful you recognize and hear the support we consistently offer you for being the player and person you are. Thanks for an amazing first 100 games; here is to an even more amazing experience as we all get to witness hundreds more in Memphis.

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