It’s quite unusual for a former Rookie of the Year recipient to become Most Improved Player in just his third season. It’s also quite unusual to give the MIP award to someone who was in MVP conversations throughout the regular season. But Ja Morant is no unusual talent.
Two cases that could be made on why it happened.
The first would be the statistical improvement Morant had this season. Last year, Morant averaged 19.1 points, four rebounds, and 7.4 assists and the Memphis Grizzlies finished with a 38-34 record for ninth in the West. They beat the Golden State Warriors in the Play-In Tournament but got eliminated by the Utah Jazz in the first round.
This season, Memphis finished second not just in the Western Conference, but in the entire league. They had a 56-26 record with a 68.3 percent winning margin. This success is directly related to Morant, who improved in almost every single aspect of his game by averaging 27.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 6.7 assists in the regular season.
He improved on both offense and defense. He shot better this year, making 49.3 percent from the field, and also averaged a career-best 1.2 steals per game. Plus, Morant earned the first All-Star selection of his career. To make the long story short, the Grizzlies improved because Morant improved.
Then there’s his impact on and off the court. When you talk about grit and dedication in the NBA context, you can’t count out Memphis. This team unlocked chemistry to the highest level—whether it be through their passing or postgame interviews, the Grizzlies keep showing how strong their bond has developed over the years.
They used to just be that young core full of potential but now they are a pool of extremely talented players who are making a statement every single game. A season ago, they were celebrating just being in the playoffs. Now, the idea of reaching the Western Conference Finals isn’t so far-fetched.
And at the center of it all is Morant.
Morant has blossomed into not just an excellent player, but a true leader. Whether he’s on the floor or along the sidelines, Morant always makes it a point to make his presence known. He is vocal, proud, and so invested in the growth of his teammates. Just take for example his selfless act of gifting the MIP award to Desmond Bane because he “deserved it more” than Morant did.
Some would argue that Morant has been the team’s franchise player since his arrival, so earning the MIP was unnecessary. If anything, he should have gunned for the MVP trophy instead of this “lesser” award. However, if you look at the total improvement that Morant has put up in just three seasons, then it makes sense.
His statistics have gone up and he has learned to become a great leader. To say Morant has improved is an understatement, but that does not make him any less deserving of the individual accolade.