Ja Morant and the Grizzlies Are Ready for a Deep Playoff Push

Morant and Memphis will open the postseason on Saturday after finishing the regular season with a record of 56-26

April 14, 2022 7:03 am
Ja Morant of the Grizzlies smiles during a game against the Nuggets
Ja Morant of the Grizzlies smiles during a game against the Nuggets.

Temetrius Jamel Morant, who has quickly established himself as an NBA superstar with enough status and swagger that he is most commonly referred to simply as Ja, has a good deal of experience with being overlooked and having to wait.

Unranked by most college basketball recruiting services and overlooked by nearly every high major NCAA Division I school despite being named an All-Region Most Valuable Player three times during his high school career in his home state of South Carolina, Morant was accidentally discovered by an assistant coach at Murray State and committed to the mid-major program. A first-team all-conference player as a freshman, Morant led college hoops in assists as a sophomore and became the first player in NCAA history to average at least 20 points and 10 assists per game for a single season.

In addition to working on his game on the court during his time at Murray State before being selected No. 2 overall by the Memphis Grizzlies in the 2019 NBA Draft, the 22-year-old also sharpened his waiting game while standing in line at Popeye’s after the chicken chain released its game-changing sandwich.

An expert on dunking, Ja Morant was a natural to promote the Most Dunkable Meal.
An expert on dunking, Ja Morant was a natural to promote the Most Dunkable Meal.
Uber Eats x Popeyes

“I was actually visiting my college and they just opened the Popeye’s down there. It’s a spot everybody likes to go to back home in South Carolina. I think that’s where I became a fan,” Morant, who is partnering with the chicken chain to promote the limited-edition Most Dunkable Meal that will be available exclusively through Uber Eats in honor of the NBA playoffs, tells InsideHook. “It was crazy. Every Popeye’s you passed, there was a line all the way to the road. I was in the line for probably about 30 minutes, but I was able to get the chicken sandwich — spicy —  and I was a fan. It definitely was good, I can tell you that.”

So Morant, on the cusp of NBA stardom and being named Rookie of the Year in 2020, was nonetheless made to wait in line like the rest of us? “I’m still human, man,” he says. Depending on how deep of a playoff run the second-seeded Grizzlies make in the playoffs with the first-time All-Star calling, and making, the shots, that may soon be up for debate.

Set to open the playoffs at home in Memphis on Saturday afternoon against the Timberwolves after finishing the regular season in first place in the Southwest Division with a stellar record of 56-26, the Grizzlies will have their preferred starting lineup of Morant alongside Dillon Brooks, Desmond Bane, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Steven Adams available for just the 12th time this season to begin the postseason. With many starters missing time, Morant himself only played in 57 games this season and the Grizzlies went 20-5 without him in the lineup.

“I honestly feel like I learned more watching than playing. Seeing how my teammates play without me shows me the confidence they have and the different things they can do on the floor. I feel like our organization and our coaches should get a lot of credit for how guys are playing when certain guys are out,” Morant says “Obviously, everybody can see that the starting five didn’t play together a lot this season due to injuries and guys being out. But the chemistry part with those guys, playing off of each other, is always there. We all watch a lot of film of each other and I feel like it won’t be a big problem to get that chemistry.”

In addition to the irreplaceable rapport of the starting five, who scored 119.7 points per 100 possessions while allowing just 94.8 points per 100 possession for a tremendous +24.9 net rating while together this season, the experience the Grizzlies gained from qualifying for the playoffs last season and losing to the Jazz 4-1 in the first round will be an asset in the upcoming postseason for a young Memphis team.

“Coming into that playoff series, we had a lot of guys who haven’t been in the playoffs, ever. It was our first time doing it,” Morant says. “This year, having had that experience from last year of what playoff basketball actually is, it’s taking what we learned from last year and correcting it and continuing to work on ourselves. We need to play how we’ve been playing all season with no pressure, just out there having fun, playing very hard and unselfishly.”

And Morant, who had 21 points and nine assists in a team-high 27 minutes as the Grizzlies blew out the Pelicans 141-114 in the penultimate game of the regular season, will be leading the way.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself because I feel like you have to be a leader if you’re the point guard. You have to lead by example,” Morant says. “I have to call different sets and make sure everybody’s in the right place. From that perspective, I feel like I have to be very engaged and very vocal. Growing up, my parents always told me to be a leader. It’s me taking that into the game and pretty much being me. My teammates have my back and they know I got theirs. We’re hard-working, unselfish guys out there competing and having fun. We all ride for each other.”

Given how the Grizzlies have played collectively as a team this season, that ride could stretch far into the postseason.

“The rest of the world will see how special of a group we are and how deep our roster is from top to bottom. We all have chips on our shoulders and feel like we have something to prove,” Morant says. “I feel like continuing to always want to prove myself got me to where I am today. It’s motivation. I want to prove myself each and every day.”

Get your popcorn Popeye’s ready.

Win the Ultimate Formula 1® Crypto.com Miami Grand Prix Experience

Want the F1 experience of a lifetime? Here’s your chance to win tickets to see Turn 18 Grandstand, one of Ultimate Formula 1® Crypto.com Miami Grand Prix’s most premier grandstands!