Ja and Chicago Don’t Mix

Temetrius Jamel Morant, otherwise known as Ja Morant, has the basketball cred to be a 2020 All-Star in Chicago. He is shooting nearly 50% and 40% from three, though to be fair and balanced, he only takes (2) threes a game. He’s averaging 18 points and 7 assists, and for a rookie his defense is what you’d expect. 44% of his shots are at the rim, meaning he’s out-quicking his defender and finishing. He has mad handles. He is a better jump shot shooter than James Harden, 43% to 40 %. He’s money in the 4th quarter.

He has taken more shots in the 4th than any other quarter and is scoring 55% of the time. He’s played 19 different teams. Against 9 of them- Brooklyn, Charlotte, Denver, Clippers, Lakers, Miami, Minnesota, OKC and Phoenix, he is shooting over 50%.

It’s the halfway point in the season and Ja Morant has scored 17 ppg or more in 41% of his games. He and Jaren Jackson are the leading scorers on Memphis.  The Grizzlies have won 8 of their last 10 games including a convincing  Rockets win at home, a Clippers annihilation on the road, and an OKC beating in OKC.

In half a season, Ja Morant is turning the memory of  Mike Conley and Zach Randolph into a historical once upon a time closed chapter. To make it even that much sweeter for the Grizz, Conley has struggled all year in Utah while Ja is excelling in the role he has been thrust into, a 20 year old driving a team to success.

In that vein, because the Grizz have a real shot at  playing the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs as an 8th seed, Ja is not going to participate in the Slam Dunk contest in Chicago, a sad decision for all of us who were looking forward to the Chi-town night shaking as hard as the United Center rims. Ja wants rest and to prepare his game for the crucial second half.

As for the All-Star game itself, it is a long shot for Ja to make the team. Not because he isn’t deserving, or that his 2019-20 achievements don’t meet All-Star criteria. But he’s a rookie. Rookies have a hard time earning favor by coaches who select the reserves. A list of who didn’t make the All-Star game as a rookie is a longer list than who did.

The rejects:

  • Kevin Durant. 20.3 ppg
  • Steph Curry. 17.5 ppg
  • LeBron James. 20.5 ppg
  • Karl-Anthony Towns. 18.3 ppg
  • Damian Lillard. 19.0 ppg
  • Kyrie Irving. 18.5 ppg

The last rookie to make the All-Star game was Blake Griffin in 2011. That year, Blake finished top-10 In MVP voting with a stat line of 22 and 12. The last rookie guard to make the All-Star game was Michael Jordan, 35 years ago. To say the bar is high is a huge understatement. It has nothing to do with talent, nor small market. Established coaches honor players who have paid their dues.

The west pool of guards who are not named James Harden or Luka Doncic is deep. Damian Lillard, Devin Booker, Russell Westbrook, Donovan Mitchell, and Lou Williams are in the pool of veteran players eligible to be selected by the coaches. The coaches do have a wild card vote which is where Morant has to slide in if he is going to make it. With such a deep talent pool in the West, there are going to be a couple of snubs and hurt feelings. It’s a numbers game.

Ja Morant has more All-Star fan votes than Andre Drummond, Domantas Sabonis and Gordon Hayward but trails Fred Van Vleet by nearly 150,000 votes. It’s what happens as a rookie when you are establishing yourself.

The All-Star game is a celebratory vehicle for fans. Rookies haven’t played enough games yet for fans, or coaches for that matter, to be sold. They need more or everything.

And so the long shot All-Star hope for Ja Morant is coming to a conclusion. Yes or no next Thursday. The game is the game. But if Ja isn’t there so what?

My vote is yes for Ja where it counts. Rookie of the Year. All-Star in Indiana 2021.