Saturday, April 1 2023
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Late in the fourth quarter on Friday night, Jalen Green raced up the floor on a one-man fastbreak and went straight at the backpedaling defenders. Knifing through traffic, he thought he had an impressive layup until Ja Morant appeared out of nowhere to pin the ball against the glass. 

A few minutes later, Morant got into the lane for a floater that effectively sealed the Memphis Grizzlies‘ 129-122 victory over the Houston Rockets and bumped their record up to a perfect 2-0. Though still extremely early, the Grizzlies have picked up where they left off last season, and have done so largely thanks to Morant’s brilliance. 

The reigning Most Improved Player and All-NBA Second Team performer, Morant looks eager to prove that last season was not a fluke — not for himself nor the team. After a stunning 49-point outing in the win over the Rockets, Morant set a new franchise record for points through the first two games of the season with 83. He also now has the five highest single-game scoring performances in Grizzlies history, with his 49 second only to the 52 he put up last season against the San Antonio Spurs.

For the season, Morant already has 83 points, eight rebounds, 17 assists and three blocks, and is shooting 20 of 38 on 2-pointers and 8 of 12 on 3-pointers. There have been all sorts of highlight reel plays, and he’s unlucky not to have a game-winner to his name as well, after his incredible last-second layup at the end of regulation against the New York Knicks was waived off due to a charge call. 

Energy, athleticism and creativity on both ends of the floor are staples of Morant’s game, and it’s no surprise that they’ve been evident so far. Even more encouraging, though, is that Morant has been shooting the ball with supreme confidence and efficiency from behind the arc. 

Entering the season he was a 33.3 percent shooter from 3-point land for his career, averaging 1.2 makes per game. This season he’s already 8 of 12, and while he won’t continue to shoot 66.6 percent, he seems well on his way to a career showing from downtown. 

There’s no secret to the improvement, as Morant credited it to hard work and repetition. 

“Locking myself in the gym,” Morant said. “Just getting as many shots up as I can. I’ve got to keep it going, continue to work even though my shots are falling now.”

As the game becomes more and more perimeter-oriented, having a reliable 3-point shot is important for every player. For someone as dynamic as Morant it essentially becomes a cheat code. He was already difficult to keep out of the lane due to his quickness, and if opposing defenders can no longer sit back and force him to shoot, they have little chance of slowing him down. 

“It changes everything because he’s downhill,” Rockets head coach Stephen Silas said. “You have to honor the 3. When he’s making his 3-point shot he’s very, very hard to guard.”

The Rockets found that out first hand on Friday, and soon the rest of the league will as well. 



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