What is it about basketball that brings you the most joy?
For some people, it’s their favorite team or players. It could be those moments that capture the magic (not the one in Orlando) of this sport — the buzzer-beaters to win a game, poster dunks, alley oops, or the moment where a certain team or player reaches immortality to win a championship. A basketball savant might appreciate a good ATO play, a crisp defensive rotations, or the role player or young guy they’ve held stock puts things together and shows some cool stuff on the floor.
Memphis Grizzlies’ franchise cornerstone, and one of the NBA’s most must-see superstars Ja Morant, brings a lot of joy to the game of basketball. It resonates in this city and stretches to a global level. He’s one of the few players in this league who could go viral at a moment’s notice — a thunderous dunk, shifty ball-handling, acrobatic finishes, a magnificent dime, or even an almost-dunk. The aura of Ja Morant has grown every year, as these highlights parlay into improvements in his game and wins for the Grizzlies.
Simply put, his style of play is what draws people in and gives them a joyous watching experience, but how it impacts winning just makes it extra sweet for Grizzlies’ fans and for Memphis.
For Ja Morant, his joy on the basketball court comes from setting up his teammates.
“Share the ball, and everybody is out there happy and playing with joy. For me, that is the number one thing,” Morant said.
His top-tier athleticism and his electrifying scoring attack often weigh the heaviest in the public perception of his game, but his passing chops slide under the radar in his arsenal. Recently, Charles Barkley said Morant needs to make his teammates better — since then, he’s averaging 9 assists per game (6th in the league). This stretch of play has been a reminder of how lethal he is as a playmaker, and how that’s his bread and butter.
“I felt like I’ve been saying it since coming out of the draft, I love to pass the ball,” Morant said. “I always say, ‘Points don’t really matter for me’. If I’m going out there and getting my teammates involved, and we win the game, I’m happy.”
Coming into the league, Morant was one of the best playmaking prospects in recent years — becoming the only college player in the player in the last 20 years to average at least 20 points and 10 assists. In his career, he’s averaging 7.2 assists — ranking in the top 11th among all players who've played at least 100 games over the past 4 seasons.
It’s the aspect of his game that makes him virtually unguardable.
“When he is just unlocking everything from a playmaking and scoring standpoint, he is pretty un-guardable and that just only impacts our ability to be the best offense that we can be,” Jenkins said.
Morant’s playmaking can come in a variety of ways. Time and time again, he’s dished out those highlight-reel dimes, followed by his signature “Ja-ggles” celebration. Over the years, he’s grown as a floor general, manipulating the defense with the threat of his scoring to find looks for open teammates. It puts defenses in a bind.
“He’s an athletic star point guard who’s really pass-first minded. He just shows that in every way on the court by finding us and keeping himself and everybody motivated,” Jaren Jackson Jr. said of Ja. “People don’t know what he’s going to do, but he’s very effective out there. So defenses play his game, it’s tough.”
That’s what gives Morant joy on the basketball floor. Sure, he probably likes scoring the basketball a decent bit, but setting his teammates up for success to win games drives him as a point guard.
“Setting up his teammates I think is the thing that gives him the most joy,” head coach Taylor Jenkins said of his point guard.
Morant’s joy in setting up his teammates trickles down with the rest of the team in countless ways.
Taylor Jenkins empowers his players to be playmakers and to make decisions on the floor. Though the assist average has slipped to 12th this season, they’ve ranked in the top-10 in assists each season since this iteration of Grizzlies basketball started — including a second-place finish in Morant’s rookie season. Morant sets a tone to keep the ball with his infectious playmaking and his affinity for getting his teammates involved. It’s a foundation for a Grizzlies team with championship goals in their sights.
“You just see a team out there playing with such joy, and you see how contagious it is when the ball moves around the court and the open looks we get,” Morant said. “That’s pretty much what the great teams do, everybody is very unselfish. Share the ball, and everybody is out there happy and playing with joy.”
Morant’s joy in getting his teammates going goes hand-in-hand with Taylor Jenkins’ confidence in his player. Each player on the team has the green light with the coaching staff, and it shines just as bright from their point guard. You can see him talking to his teammates on the floor, communicating his confidence with the team at all times. It’s translated to a high-powered offense, as the Grizzlies have trended towards the top-10 in offense in each of the past two seasons.
“He talks about it all the time in film sessions, in timeouts, in practices. ‘Be ready to shoot, I need you here. I want to hit you guys’,” Jenkins said.
It also spreads with the team’s culture. You can see this joyous synergy with the Grizzlies, one that has captivated the city and fanbase. From a passing standpoint, they audaciously look for alley oops within the halfcourt and out in transition, and they sprinkle some pizzazz when finding cutters or rollers. Their style of play creates a winning formula that amplifies the moxie they play with — an attitude carried with Ja Morant, the head of the snake for the Memphis Grizzlies. They mob the postgame interview to celebrate each other’s success, their dances — either pregame or postgame — are enjoyable viral moments, and they collectively raise hell to their opponents with their trash talk.
It all starts with the joy Ja Morant plays with — and it all stems from setting his teammates up for success.
Basketball is supposed to bring a lot of fun and joy.
This truth is hidden in today’s coverage and discourse. It’s overshadowed by people preferring to push agenda, pray on downfalls, or compare players by putting another one down. It could often drain a person and stray them away from a game designed to bring a lot of fun and joy.
There are so many riveting elements of the game that could get someone absolutely pumped and excited about basketball – highlight reel dunks or alley oops, shifty ball-handling, pristine ball movement with a gorgeous dish and score to cap it off, defensive shifts, the crafted play design for a big bucket, and how all those things can get thousands of people rocking all in one place. Those moments are just some of the many things I’d found so fun about basketball, whether it’s watching or playing it.
Ja Morant is a reminder of the joy from the game of basketball — whether it’s his show-stopping buckets, his celebrations during or after games, and more importantly his selflessness for his teammates. His joy has also spread through this young Grizzlies’ squad, this fanbase, and the city of Memphis — making their quest to NBA immortality an enjoyable experience.