Ja Morant Scores 34 Hits Game-Winning Floater At The Buzzer In His Return, What Does This Mean For Him And The Grizzlies?

The Memphis Grizzlies were down 24 points to the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night, in All-Star Ja Morant’s first game back. Morant delivered, scoring 34 points, including a game-winning floater at the buzzer. He missed the team’s first 25 games while serving a suspension for detrimental conduct, including playing with guns on social media. All eyes will be on the Grizzlies and Morant to see if he has made significant changes in his decision-making and if he can lift the Grizzlies back into playoff contention.

Horrible Off Court Decisions

First, we can’t draw any conclusions or make any definitive statements about Morant after Tuesday night’s game in New Orleans. It is one game, one postgame, one overnight, etc., in a season-long grind. A great way to return, but still just one game.

Also, conclusions about Morant and the Grizzlies won’t be made based on what anyone says. It will be about individual and collective action, something Morant noted last week in his first media appearance since the suspension.

“I can’t make nobody believe me outside of my actions,” Morant said when asked why things will be different going forward. “So me answering this question with just words probably won’t mean nothing to nobody.”

He’s 100 percent correct.

As far as his off-court decision-making over the past two years, it has been horrible. Between the gun incidents, the physical altercation with a teenager at his home (case still pending), the alleged threatening of a Memphis-area mall employee, the confrontation between Morant’s friends and others at a high school volleyball game, the red laser aimed at the Pacers’ team personnel, Morant has not been blameless.

That recklessness cost him eight games last season and 25 games this season and has negatively impacted the Grizzlies on the floor.

The team is currently 13th in the Western Conference, 24th in aNET rating, 28th in aORTG, and 10th in aDRTG.

Morant’s return will lift that putrid offense, as he was one of the most dynamic on-ball players in the league the past two seasons. He’s a two-time All-Star and made his first All-NBA team in 2022.

But the Grizzlies have other issues on the floor. Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke, the starting and backup centers, are out for the season with injuries. Adams’ toughness, rebounding and elite screen-setting can’t be easily replaced. Clarke’s athleticism and interior scoring and defensive ability allow him to be paired with Jaren Jackson Jr. for the team’s “small ball” lineup and create mismatches for an opponent.

Morant can’t make up for all of that by himself. But he will have to show improvements in his game if this team is to start winning.

Injuries have ravaged the Grizzlies, and Morant’s high-flying reckless attacks on the rim, while jaw-dropping and sometimes necessary, place him at a high injury risk, and that’s the last thing he or the team needs.

Morant Needs To Improve His Game

Morant has had all summer and all season to work on the weaknesses in his game. Namely shooting. He is a career 32 percent three-point shooter, 41.6 percent mid-range shooter, and 56 percent shooter at the rim.

He possesses an elite first step and elite quickness. If he becomes a better shooter he really puts defenses in a trick bag. The last time we saw him play, defenses could sag off him and dare him to beat them from deep, limiting his driving opportunities. The absence of Adams creating space with his screens cuts off Morant’s runway.

A 37 percent three-point shooter must be guarded, and if a player gets up on him he can blow right by them.

Hopefully, Morant worked on his floater game and his ability to score in the first and second box (the area from the free throw line to the rim). Having the ability to jump stop, fake and put up a floater or a hook opens up all sorts of possibilities and makes the rim protector have to guess. Is Morant coming in to jam on me? Or is he going to stop and pop the floater?

That little bit of hesitation leads to all kinds of advantages for Morant and the Grizzlies.

Grizzlies fans and NBA fans at large are happy for the return of one of the game’s great young talents.

Morant was asked at his media session what he thought about players like Tyrese Haliburton, Jalen Brunson and De’Aaron Fox being called better players than him.

“Hats off to [Brunson and Haliburton] for leading their teams and playing great. Obviously, the league has a lot of talented players,” Morant said. “I have no say on who’s better than me and who’s not. Obviously, that’s everybody else’s opinion.”

Just by virtue of their availability they are better than Morant. They’ve all been on the floor this season and been productive for their teams.

Morant had a career high +4.3 in offensive EPM in 2022. So far this season, Brunson (+4.4), Fox (+4.8) and Haliburton (+8.0) are all on track to surpass Morant’s best season.

That’s not to say Morant can’t have a career year and reestablish himself as the dominant young lead guard in the league. But he can’t do it with talk, it’s going to have to be with his actions.

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