With 12 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and the Memphis Grizzlies trailing the Brooklyn Nets by two points, rookie Ja Morant had the ball in his hands to try and tie the game up and send it to overtime. Morant's guarded by Spencer Dinwiddie, but uses a screen set by Jaren Jackson Jr. to drive to the basket, putting the ball high enough on the glass just out of reach of Jarrett Allen's 7'6" wingspan to tie the game at 120 apiece.
On the next play, theBrooklyn Nets had seven seconds to try and win the game and avoid a disappointing loss to a winless Grizzlies team. They went to their star, Kyrie Irving, who had Morant defending him just inside the arc. He faced him up, took one dribble to the left, pump faked -- which didn't fool Morant -- gathered to his right and pulled up for a jumper. Only Morant was with him every step of the way and got enough of the ball to swat it away right as Irving released it. The game went to overtime, where Morant got off a last-second pass to Jae Crowder who nailed the 3-point shot at the buzzer to give Memphis their first win of the season.
Morant finished that game with 30 points, nine assists and four rebounds while shooting nearly 60 percent from the field. It was his "welcome to the NBA" moment, and through 10 games, he leads all rookies in points per game (17.8) and assists (5.2). While the Grizzlies haven't shown much in the way of wins, Morant's play has been one of the few bright spots for Memphis. He's shown unabashed confidence when attacking the rim, hasn't shied away from the big moments and only knows one speed: fast.
Coming out of Murray State, Morant was touted for his athleticism, playmaking ability and his competitive edge, all of which have translated pretty well to the NBA. His speed has the Grizzlies playing at one of the fastest paces in the league, and it allows him to get to the rim at will, where nearly 50 percent of Morant's shots come from, per Synergy Sports.
He's shown good court vision to start the season, setting up his teammates for easy shots, or lobbing up the ball perfectly for a cutting Jaren Jackson Jr. or Brandon Clarke. Morant comes at you full steam ahead, and because the defense is so concerned with stopping him, he uses his quickness to dizzy opponents before finding an open teammate for an assist. Like this play below against the Phoenix Suns.
Morant gets the ball and immediately attacks Ricky Rubio who is trying to backpedal fast enough to stay in front of the speedy guard. The rookie is met at the rim by Aron Baynes and Kelly Oubre Jr. who are ready to contest whatever shot he decides to throw up. Except Morant dribbles the ball back out and makes a hard cut toward the rim again, confusing Baynes and Oubre just enough to find an open Clarke underneath the rim for an easy bucket.
The Suns played it perfectly, they knew Morant likes to go right at the heart of the defense in the paint, but Morant switched it up on them and found the open man for an assist. That's something you can't gameplan for. He's full of little plays like this, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. That's to be expected with a rookie.
His first 10 games haven't been without the typical rookie growing pains. Just like with any young point guard, Morant has issues with turnovers, averaging four a night which is most among rookies, and ninth-most in the league. That shouldn't be alarming as he finds his feeling for the game at the NBA level, and most of his turnovers happen because he tries to be a little too fancy with passes to his teammates who weren't even expecting them. Once he builds chemistry with his teammates, they'll know to expect a pass from him without any notice.
Something else that stands out is how infrequent Morant takes 3s or mid-range jumpers. In his shot chart below, he's attempting more shots around the basket than all of his shots from mid-range and from beyond the arc combined.
It's something that, when he was entering the 2019 draft, was one of the few areas of improvement for him, developing a consistent jumper, but when he's taking 3s so far this season he's knocking them down at a 43.8 percent clip. Granted, he's only attempting 1.8 per game, which is fewer than Joel Embiid, Mo Bamba and even Jaren Jackson Jr., but in order for him to become a more dynamic player on offense, he'll need to start expanding his game out further than just around the basket.
It's a small sample size to go off of, however, Morant has gotten off to an impressive start in his rookie campaign. If he continues this pace, he'll be in the running, if not the favorite, for Rookie of the Year at the end of the season. Memphis might lose a lot more games this year, but it'll give Morant the space to develop and hone his skills on a team that is a few years away from fighting for a playoff spot in the west.