Follow the journeys of Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, RJ Barrett and more as they began their pro careers on NBA Rooks, exclusively on ESPN+.
Grizzlies De’Anthony Melton sets the screen. Ja Morant tosses the rock up to 7-footer Jonas Valančiūnas who waits patiently for Morant to get open—which takes no time. In a matter of seconds, it’s as if the basketball IQ gods whispered into Morant’s ear as he breaks away with keen precision around Melton.
Morant defies the iso—then gravity shortly after, taking flight to the rim and sinking the ball single handedly over OKC’s big man, who doesn’t appear to have made a convincing attempt to stop Morant. Tough.
Now ask yourself, is Ja really like that?
The kid who was once deemed underrated with only one college offer came into the league taking names and leading the 2019-20 rookie class in scoring (17.6 ppg) and dimes (7.3) all while shooting 47.7 percent from the field in a matter of 59 games. No other rookie in this century has reached these numbers besides LeBron James and Luka Doncic. Rookie of The Year? Well deserved.
We could go on a tangent listing every single reason why Ja is insane on the hardwood but that would be redundant. Although if we did, it would only be right to discuss his eye-popping athleticism, or how he’s a superb leader in this new era of hoops, or maybe how crafty he is…
On second thought, a little redundancy never hurt nobody.
Anyone that has seen Ja Morant play can’t deny that he’s nearly defined “poetry in motion” since he was a rookie in the League last season. Check out NBA Rooks, now streaming on ESPN+, and you’ll notice that Ja has made a bold impression since he stepped foot on the court. He immediately displayed how versatile his game is, from clean and controlled left-handed layups to unleashing the grizzly inside of him as he soared to the rim.
Call it superstition, but Ja’s career has gotta be a symbol of karma. The good kind of course. The humility that the 6-foot-3 guard has exemplified throughout his career has turned around 10 fold in his game. Morant played the role of underdog playing on an AAU team with Zion Williamson. He went from being the kid with mad talent only lacking in the clout that Williamson had at the time, to almost averaging a triple-double in high school. Morant broke through the shield of being anunderrated asset to nearly doubling his points per game in his last collegiate season at Murray State (24.5).
The second pick in the 2019 NBA Draft was just on a different type of time when he got to the League.
Ja was different from the jump, wrote SLAM’s Lang Whitaker in Ja’s SLAM 227 cover story. For the Grizzlies’ first official public outing with him, the team held an open practice at a local high school. When Ja was announced to the crowd, he stopped and broke into a perfect Milly Rock. Then the games started, and immediately we saw it all: Ja can score, push the tempo and make perfect reads on breaks and in the halfcourt. But what makes him so much fun are all the moves he sprinkles in throughout every game. They are pure jazz, equal parts improvisation and imagination.
Improvisation and imagination. It’s that energy that has truly set Ja apart from the rest, stats and numbers aside. Even as a high-flying rookie, Ja was in his bag all season long while having fun wit’ it, dunking on anybody and everybody (teammates included). The celebrations, the antics, the goggles-brought-up-to-his face every time he dished out a dime to one of his teammates. His pops encouraged him to have fun every time he hit the floor, and it’s a testament to what his game evolved into.
While he has said that a young fan had inspired him to start doing his “joggles” celebration, he’s also admitted that when he competes, he’s serving a bigger purpose:
“I feel like God has a plan for everybody,” Ja said last season. “You can’t put a time on it. It’s his timing. I feel like everything that’s been happening to me and the positions that I’ve been put in is because of my hard work and what God blessed me with, the talents He blessed me with, and just him. So, I’m thankful for everything and I’m just going to keep pushing.”
Objects in motion stay in motion. With his sights set on pure domination, there’s no slowing down Ja Morant. His numbers are even better this season, and the Grizzlies are ranked tenth in the League right now. As Ja continues to ascend to new heights, the question that remains is: who’s gonna stop him?
Follow the journeys of Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, RJ Barrett and more as they begin their pro careers on NBA Rooks, exclusively on ESPN+.