Inside Grizzlies star Ja Morant’s ‘personal’ drive to be a better NBA defender

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A test was being administered to Ja Morant’s basketball ego.

The two-time all-star for the Memphis Grizzlies was putting up good offensive statistics against the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the 2023 NBA playoffs. However, it was the other side of the court that motivated him throughout the entire season.

In the final minutes of each close game, the Lakers “hunted” the Grizzlies star player. This meant that whoever Morant was guarding was instructed to come set a screen for LeBron James, so that the 6-foot-8, 250-pound forward could attack the thinner point guard.

The approach was successful for the Lakers, as seen by their success in the last minutes of the game against the Grizzlies; yet, Morant has not forgotten about it.
The statement was made by Morant, who stated, “I take (expletive) like that personally.” Because of my athleticism and the fact that I am able to move quickly despite my stature, I believe that I have the potential to be a good defender in this league. As a result, I put a lot of pressure on myself to be consistent in my performance in that area.

Inside Grizzlies star Ja Morant’s ‘personal’ drive to be a better NBA defender

One of the most important aspects of the series was the impact that the Lakers’ attack on Morant had on the outcome of the game. During pick-and-rolls, Memphis moved player positions from two to five.
The Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins did not want to offer the Lakers many Grizzlies defenders to hunt down, despite the fact that fans demanded that Luke Kennard shoot more. Because of this, he chose to play the best defender, Dillon Brooks, rather than Kennard.

It has been reported by Morant’s teammates and coaches on the Grizzlies that he is now taking responsibility for his development as a two-way player himself.

During the 25 games that Morant was suspended for, he was one of the teammates who was the most loud during practices. We were struck by his intensity.
During his first game back, Morant led Memphis to a victory by a score of 115-113 by committing a block and two crucial steals in the last minutes of the game.

It was Jenkins who made the statement that “He has come in with an urgency with his on-ball pressure.” “When he is locked in, he uses his hands and keeps guys in front of him,” the speaker said. Making successful plays away from the ball that might not be reflected in the box score.
Because of the urgency of the circumstance, Morant may have found himself in predicaments that would have caused the Grizzlies’ hearts to miss a beat. In the second game against the Pelicans, Morant attempted to make a change by stepping in front of Jonas Valanciunas, who was 6-11 and weighed 265 pounds.

Inside Grizzlies star Ja Morant’s ‘personal’ drive to be a better NBA defender

Despite the fact that the play was ruled a blocking foul, having Morant’s teammates cheer him on was a very uplifting picture.

“It just shows how relentless we are on that end by sacrificing our body,” Marcus Smart explained to me. “It demonstrates the toughness, it demonstrates the resilience, and it demonstrates that we are not going to back down anymore. “It makes no difference to us how big or small you are.”

In terms of the standings in the Western Conference, Memphis is now playing catch-up. It is possible that Memphis’ lineups will have more versatility than they did throughout the previous season if Morant is able to take the next step as a defender this season.

According to Jenkins, “I believe that he has been taking that to their heart.” “He is aware that this is a domain in which we continue to push him to acquire more expertise. When he is able to set the tone for us and accept the responsibility that comes with it, he transforms into a full player, and the team reacts accordingly.

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