I Morant shows how much better it can be


The ball found Ja Moranta behind the 3-point line in the third quarter of Sunday afternoon’s game against Golden State. Recognizing that his closest quarterback was positioned in color and didn’t seem in a hurry to throw his hand in his face, Morant, a Memphis Grizzlies second-year spitz, launched 29 bases that caromed the back edge.

Morant got a second look a few seconds later after an offensive jump, but with roughly the same result: another wrong three-pointer, another missed opportunity, another tangled expression.

“I have to be better as a player,” Morant said after losing to the Grizzlies 113-101.

Second-year players are sometimes overlooked by basketball-watching audiences. Gone is the news that greeted them as beginners. (Remember when Zion Williamson’s games were meeting review?) At the same time, they are evaluated on a sharper scale: Are they improved? And if not, why not? The honeymoon is over. It’s time to produce.

But the lessons never stop, even for the gifted. Morant’s instructor over the weekend was none other than Stephen Curry of Golden State, who seemed to make an effort to illustrate the gap that exists between the prodigy and potential by securing a league point title with another tournament power: 46 points, nine 3-pointers and a win that is She gave the Warriors 8th place in the Western Conference playoffs.

With the loss, the Grizzlies were sent to the brink of elimination. As the No. 9 seed, Memphis will need to win a couple of games in the playoffs, starting Wednesday night against the San Antonio Spurs, to advance to meet the first seed of the Utah Jazz in the first round. playoffs. There is no margin for error, no more, and the spotlight – for better or worse – will return to Morant, rookie of the season last year.

“We hope we all come out fresh, ready to go,” he said.

Some players say they ignore their critics. And there’s Morant, 21, who not only acknowledges his Twitter critics, but sometimes he answers them. Last season, after the Grizzlies broke a string of defeats, Morant famously called out “this guy who tweeted” a few harsh words about him. “That game was just for him,” Morant said in an interview after the game.

But Morant is too demanding of himself, and after Sunday’s game he glanced at the box and noticed that he shot 7 of 21 from the field, including 1 of 6 from a 3-point range. “Very unacceptable,” he said.

It was the last game of the regular season in which Morant was the focus of each opponent’s defensive play plan. Jaren Jackson Jr., the Grizzlies’ starting center, was on the sidelines until April 21 after knee surgery, and his absence meant that opposing teams could pay even more attention to Morant. Morant saw waves of defensive players every night, and continued to create at a high level, averaging 19.1 points and 7.4 assists per game as Memphis led to 38-34.

“If you watch clips only on social media and the most interesting parts they show on TV, you’ll have a narrow range of what kind of player he is,” said Brevin Knight, a former spitz who now works as an analyst for Grizzly TV shows. “But for those of us who watch it regularly, the question before the season was: How much better can you do for everyone else?” You already knew he was faster and sportier than most people. ”

Knight saw an improvement in Morant’s readiness to penetrate, then stopped and knocked down the short jumpers. Last season, Knight said, Morant seemed to attack the edge whenever possible, rise above the postal veterans fleet and knock (or at least try to knock) over their top. In fact, 45.5 percent his attempts to shoot last season came from a limited area of ​​color. Knight said Morant absorbed a lot of contacts in the process.

“You start introducing an injury into the game every time you try to get all the way to the basket,” Knight said.

Morant has since become more selective when he raises for potential dramas with prominent reels. More modest this season 38 percent his shooting attempts came from a restricted area. And Morant’s ability to get into the lane and then exercise greater discretion about what he wants to do with the ball has created a more nuanced set of problems for the defenders.

“They don’t know if it’s going to go all the way to the basket or it’s going to stop briefly,” Knight said. “If the guys move up the stairs to defend him, he can explode now.”

Or drop a pass to a teammate. When Morant put together one of the best games of his career earlier this month, finishing with 37 points and 10 assists in a 139-135 Minnesota Timberwolves win, he practically lived in color, trying only three shots over 10 feet. In the sign of the times, he was still a little superior to one of the most interesting rookies this season, Anthony Edwards, who had 42 points while shooting 17 of 22 from the field.

Morant recently described himself as one of the top five points in the league. It has a lot of competition. He does not lack self-confidence.

There’s also room for growth, especially in defense, Knight said, where he strives to look for a window to catch his breath – a common tendency of any young player to bear the bulk of his team’s offensive burden.

But the biggest hole in Morant’s game remains his outside jumper. He was a slightly worse scorer this season with 3 points (30.3 percent) than last season (33.5 percent). And while he managed to make up, to some extent, for his struggles on the periphery, imagine the possibilities if he didn’t have to make up for them at all. He could pass defenders who pressed him and shoot over those who gave him too much space. He just needs to get a little more skilled.

There is only one Stephen Curry in the world, but Morant saw for a moment what it looks like when opponents have no choice but to follow the world scorer from the moment he crosses the field.

After Sunday’s game, Morant returned to Twitter – this time campaigning for Curry as the league’s most respected player.

“No discussion,” he wrote.

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