What's next for Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies after star guard's injury?
This was supposed to be a week celebrating Ja Morant moving closer to superstar status and becoming a bigger household name. That was the goal with him being the first Memphis Grizzlies player with a Nike commercial.
The celebration is on pause with Morant expected to miss a couple of weeks with a sprained left knee.
The Grizzlies (10-10) will try to manage without him, hard as it may be. Morant is off to a career-best start. His usage rate — the percentage of offensive plays where he shoots, assists or turns the ball over — is 34.7% in non-garbage time possessions, according to Cleaning the Glass, an NBA advanced statistics website.
That’s higher than his first two seasons – 29.5% as a rookie, 30.4% last season – and third among point guards behind Luka Doncic and Trae Young. It’s also sixth overall in the league, which means Morant has carried the Grizzlies’ offense even more than usual.
With him on the court, the Grizzlies are scoring 112.3 points per 100 possessions and 103.5 points without him. In other words, they go from a top-six offense to a bottom-six offense.
Ironically, the Grizzlies are a slightly better defensive team with Morant off the floor than on it. They’re allowing 117.9 points per 100 possessions with him and 115.8 points without him.
In short, one player can’t replace Morant. The Grizzlies will try to fill the void with Tyus Jones and Desmond Bane being the primary ballhandlers and De'Anthony Melton and Kyle Anderson.
What does the schedule look like?
The Grizzlies might be able to survive Morant’s loss the next two games – at the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday, hosting the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday. But the next four games will be trouble.
There’s a two-game road trip at the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday and Miami Heat next Monday. After that, a back-to-back at home with Dallas and the Lakers on Dec. 8-9. Given the Miami Heat won easily at FedExForum, that could easily be an 0-4 stretch before a reprieve at home against the Houston Rockets on Dec. 11.
Assuming Morant misses two weeks, perhaps he could return Dec. 13 at home against the Philadelphia 76ers. If not, the Grizzlies have a two-game road trip at the Portland Trail Blazers and the Kings, then return home on Dec. 19 against Portland.
That’s 11 games on a three-week estimate for Morant, and the Grizzlies could probably go 4-7 at best.
Morant remains fourth in the NBA in paint points per game (14.1) and is tied for seventh in fastbreak points (3.7). Ironically, the league leader in fastbreak points is Dillon Brooks at 4.7, just ahead of Stephen Curry (4.6)
An easy choice this week. It’s Morant’s 32-point game against the Jazz where made three free throws, had a steal and then the game-winning assist to Jaren Jackson Jr. all in the final 1:09 of the fourth quarter.
Morant did his best "Air Canada" impression on Wednesday by getting past a Steven Adams screen then going downhill for a one-handed dunk in front of Raptors forward Chris Boucher.
To be fair, Boucher wisely moved out of the way to avoid being posterized but he did put his hands up to slow down Morant. That counts as being dunked on for the sake of this play.
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