It’s been an incredible 2+ years for Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies. In just Year 3 of the “rebuild”, the Grizzlies find themselves just a few games back of the Golden State Warriors for the 2-seed in the Western Conference. It’s one of the fastest rebuilds in the NBA, with the Grizzlies quickly turning things around after ending the Grit and Grind era by trading Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. Ja Morant has spearheaded the quick turnaround for Memphis with his stellar play and style.
Ja Morant isn’t the lone factor in the quick turn into contenders. Zach Kleiman has done an excellent job in building the roster around Ja Morant and Taylor Jenkins has done a great job getting the team on the same page and helping build the culture for one of the closest teams in the NBA.
Still, Ja Morant will remain the face of the Memphis Grizzlies and potentially the NBA as a whole. Reggie Miller proclaimed at the beginning of the All Star Game on Sunday that Ja Morant was “the number one box office player” in the NBA.
The rebuild has featured the Grizzlies take 3 giant leaps in the past few seasons. Year 1 saw the Grizzlies jump to a fringe playoff team, slipping in the bubble and losing to the Portland Trail Blazers in the Play-In. Year 2 saw the Grizzlies learn from the battles of Year 1, beating both the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors in the Play-In to make the playoffs before ultimately losing to the Utah Jazz in the first round. Year 3 has seen a new monster as the Grizzlies are almost guaranteed to host a first round series finishing as a top 4 team in the West.
The wins, as well as the many highlight plays, have given the Grizzlies a ton of national attention this season. Desmond Bane was a big name in the Rising Stars Challenge, while also being a participant in the 3-Point Contest. Ja Morant was named an All-Star Starter for his stellar play. Ja got an incredible 3,571,695 votes, nearly $3M more than Marc Gasol got when he was named a starter in 2015 (795,121). Admittedly, voting is different and easier now than it was in 2015, but Ja Morant has put himself and Memphis on the map nationally in the NBA.
Ja’s leap in Year 3 has been great. He’s averaging 26.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game for the Grizzlies. His shooting efficiencies have gone up even with the higher volume. As has been discussed many places, he leads the NBA in points in the paint per game and uses that to shoot an efficient 54.2% from inside the arc. His 3-point shooting has been streaky this season, but his 33% on 4.5 attempts per game forces defenses to respect the 3-point shot and open up driving lanes in the paint. Overall Ja has an excellent 53.2% eFG%, factoring in both 2 and 3 point shots.
All of this attention makes Ja a prime MVP candidate for this year and for years to come. There are plenty of worthy candidates this season, especially with the Eastern Conference so wide open. Joel Embiid (+130) and Nikola Jokic (+290) are the current favorites both betting wise and in the national conversation. However, there is a chance both players slip. Embiid’s usage will likely take a dip as the 76ers get James Harden integrated into the lineup which could also cause them to drop a few games and push them closer towards the Play-In Tournament in the Eastern Conference. The Nuggets are hanging on to the 6-seed in the Western Conference by a thread largely due to Jokic’s production. Even just a bad week or two by Jokic, though, could cause the Nuggets to plummet in the standings and hurt Jokic’s MVP odds.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (+400) is ahead of Morant in the books, but voter fatigue and the tough Eastern Conference could hurt his value going forward unless the Bucks go on a run and finish with the top seed in the conference. Steph Curry (+850) has seen his odds dip recently, as the Warriors have struggled without Draymond Green and Curry’s shooting struggles prior to the All-Star game.
And then there is Ja Morant. Currently at +1100 on DraftKings, Morant is in a sneaky spot in the books. Morant figures to be able to jump Curry in MVP rankings if the Grizzlies are able to jump the Warriors in the Western Conference standings. If you make a $20 bet right now for Ja Morant, it would pay out $220 if Ja winds up winning the MVP award. To make things easy for you, you can place your bet at DraftKings with the click of a few buttons.
Behind Morant in the books, Devin Booker (+1800) can make a run depending on how the Suns do without Chris Paul for the next 6-8 weeks. However, CP3 (+10000) might have too much of an argument for being a fringe MVP candidate prior to his injury for Booker to overcome as it’s difficult to have two candidates on the same team. DeMar DeRozan (+2200) has been fantastic, but will be getting All-Star Zach LaVine back soon as well as the eventual returns of a few other key players in the Bulls rotation. Luka Doncic (+3000) doesn’t pose as much of a threat as long as the Grizzlies hold onto the division lead.
The MVP Award is fairly narrative driven. Teams, typically, have to be very successful and finish high in the standings. Voters also tend to spice things up instead of awarding the same player every season. With Giannis winning in 18-19 and 19-20, I’m not sure he’s primed to win the award despite another excellent season. Jokic winning it last year, and the Nuggets likely finishing as the 5th or 6th seed in the West at best makes Joel Embiid the frontrunner heading into the final 20+ games of the season.
However, don’t count out Ja Morant. The narrative around Ja’s rise has only grown as the Grizzlies winning ways continue. Look for that to continue if the Grizzlies come out hot in the second half and are able to overtake the Warriors. Should the Embiid/Harden duo struggle to coexist, the race could become wide open for Ja Morant to take. Hammering the +1100 odds now, while you can, is a solid bet if you’re looking to win big.
Ultimately, Ja winning MVP isn’t likely this season despite his and the Grizzlies’ success. However, Ja is setting the foundation and narrative for him to be a dark horse candidate this year but a great candidate the next few years. Personally, I’ll be keeping my eye on when DraftKings releases their odds for the 2022-2023 season and checking out Morant’s odds then.