Memphis Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant spent countless hours during the offseason working to become a more complete player. His opponents are now paying the price.
Morant is averaging 28.3 points on 52.4 percent along with 7.7 assists and 5.4 rebounds for the Grizzlies, who host the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday.
Memphis opened the two-game set against the Nuggets with a 106-97 victory on Monday, when Morant led the way with 26 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.
The 2020 NBA Rookie of the Year struggled with his shot last season but has been on fire in the Grizzlies’ first seven games. Morant is shooting 38.5 percent from 3-point range and 82.5 percent from the foul line.
“He’s pulling up quick,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said. “He’s finding those windows of opportunity. He’s becoming more lethal all over the floor. The free throws and getting to the line more often, that’s a big emphasis, too. As he continues to evolve his game, he’s going to become unstoppable.”
Morant reached the 1,000-assist mark in his 137th career game on Monday, becoming the sixth-fastest player in NBA history to record 2,500 points and 1,000 assists.
The Grizzlies snapped a three-game losing streak to the Nuggets behind a balanced scoring attack that included reserve guard Tyus Jones, who scored 17 points and grabbed a career-high eight rebounds.
Jones also made five 3-pointers in the contest and played much of the fourth quarter next to Morant.
Denver star Nikola Jokic exited last Tuesday’s game against Utah with a right knee bruise, but the 7-footer has looked fully healthy in his last three games. Jokic recorded 23 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in Monday’s loss.
The Nuggets’ offense understandably revolves around Jokic, who is averaging 23.9 points and 13.7 rebounds.
“I think our plus-minus with Nikola on the floor is spectacular,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “And I don’t want to talk about what it is when he’s off the floor.”
Malone is exercising patience with struggling forward Michael Porter Jr., whose early-season shooting woes continued on Monday.
After averaging 19.0 points last season, the 6-foot-10 Porter is scoring 10.7 points per game this season while shooting 34.5 percent from the field and 23.3 percent from 3-point range.
Porter missed all three of his 3-point attempts on Monday and finished with 10 points in 36 minutes.
“It’s just a matter of time,” Malone said. “Once he sees that ball go in, he’s gonna have a night where he’s just shooting into a big basket. And that’ll allow him to relax, take a deep breath and just play.”
Malone is looking for an improved effort from his entire squad on Wednesday after the Nuggets shot 23.7 percent (9 of 38) from beyond the arc in Monday’s loss.
“I didn’t think we were ready to play,” Malone said. “I think we had some guys that looked like they had no energy out there, just kind of fatigued, tired or whatever you want to call it.”
One possible sparkplug could be rookie point guard Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland, who continues to impress following an impressive preseason. Hyland is averaging 17 minutes off the bench in his last two games and has quickly become a fan favorite in Denver.