Ja Morant is your 2019-2020 rookie of the year. It’s not like we weren’t expecting it, but we never know. People tend to vote for narratives, and Zion was one hell of a narrative, albeit the wrong one. The correct narrative, of course, was always to give the award to the best rookie, and Morant was clearly that.
He averaged 17.8 points and 7.3 assists to go along with almost four rebounds per game. The numbers are outstanding, but it’s the energy he brought to the team which made the biggest difference. Memphis had a reputation for being a grind-it-out team. The last iterations of successful Grizzlies teams were perfect examples of this. With Zebo, Gasol and Conley, its was all about defending the paint and grinding out low scoring games. That is not the case anymore.
With Morant at the helm of the team, Memphis saw the largest uptick in points scored per game this season. Not only did they score more points, but they did it in a different fashion than they team was historically used to. They ran. They used their young legs and outran everyone. It was a truly exciting style of play of which Morant was the primary catalyst. He used his speed and vision to anchor Memphis’ transition offence and it became their most feared weapon.
The raw numbers being tremendous, it’s the on the team’s attitude that Morant had the biggest impact. He brought a swaggy nonchalance to the squad. An I-know-I-belong-here-and-you-better-get-used-to-it attitude that rubbed of on his teammates. Because of Morant’s confident demeanour, fellow rookie Brandon Clarke brought the same fearlessness to the court and had himself a memorable rookie campaign as well.
Valanciunas had perhaps the best season of his career being on the receiving end of countless Morant outlet passes and lay-ups. He displayed vision and leadership seldom seen in players his age. With extraordinary poise he captained the Grizzlies to the brink of the playoffs, but even he couldn’t overcome the injuries Memphis suffered.
Morant brings a combination of athleticism and IQ we don’t usually see at his position. Not since the Derrick Rose glory days have wee seen coaches draw up alley-oops for their point guards of inbound plays. Morant has that type of athleticism. That’s the kind of game-breaking raw physical prowess that Morant brings to the table.
He gets to the rack at will and sees the open man almost every time he gets doubled. When going downhill, he is nearly impossible to defend. His ceiling is scary when you consider that he is still a relatively poor shooter. The notion of him developing his jumper and expanding his range is truly a terrifying proposition who everyone tasked with guarding him next season.