Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant returned for just nine games after serving a 25 game suspension earlier this season. On Monday, the Grizzlies announced Morant will miss the remainder of the 2023-2024 campaign after he suffered a right shoulder labral tear.
His season was over before it started. After a poor start to the year, Memphis went just 6-19 without their star Ja Morant. Even worse, they had injuries pileup among several players. In fact, they lost their first six games of the season.
Upon Morant's return, the Grizzlies trajectory drastically changed, improving to 6-3 with Morant in the lineup. Winning four consecutive games against the Pelicans (twice), Pacers, and Hawks, their star reminded the Grizzlies just how vital he is to the organization. Just his first game back, No. 12 hit a game-winner to secure the victory over New Orleans.
Ja Morant x Allen Iverson 🔥 pic.twitter.com/FPCQecsq8B— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) January 9, 2024
Their Championship Odds changed drastically following the injury to Morant
In just nine games, he had a colossal impact on his team. With as much athleticism as he has, Morant is able to score and facilitate in various ways. In fact, he's been compared to Allen Iverson several times.
In just a short amount of time, the former Racer averaged 25.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 8.1 assists, on 47.1 percent field goal shooting. He had a season high 31 points in a thrilling 116-115 overtime win against the Pelicans on Dec. 26. Most recently, the Grizzlies guard had a 21 point, one steal, one block, seven rebound, and seven assist night in their victory against the Lakers.
Their Championship hopes seemed far away after Morant was suspended in June, due to detrimental conduct to the league. Prior to the start of the season, Memphis had +2500 odds to win the NBA Title. Now with Steven Adams and Morant out, oddsmakers are seeing the impact of both injuries.
No surprise, Memphis odds to win the Larry O'Brien trophy are currently +40000, which ranks in the bottom third of the NBA.
Along with Adams and Morant, the Grizzlies have one big dilemma. With Brandon Clarke and Derrick Rose out indefinitely, who will be the leader of this team? After trading for Marcus Smart in the offseason, will the Grizzlies retain him?
💙— Ja Morant (@JaMorant) January 9, 2024
Sitting at 13-23, Memphis is coming off a two game win streak, against the Lakers and the Suns. Only halfway into the season, the rest of the season looks rather bleak.
And with the injury, the team announced Morant would undergo surgery to repair the labrum tera in his right shoulder.
While this season is a washout for Morant, the team announced he "is expected to make a full recovery ahead of the 2024-2025 season." Terrible news coming out of the NBA, he will simply have to wait to have his comeback season.
Morant seemingly addressed the injury in a somber social media post on Tuesday morning. Prior to that post, He posted a blue heart on Jan 8.
What does this mean for the Grizzlies moving forward?
While this is a gut punch for Memphis, there may be a silver lining in all of this. If we follow the trajectory before Morant's return, it doesn't look as though Memphis will make a playoff run. However, while the Play-in tournament is still within arms reach, Memphis could end up with a high draft pick. It was just five years ago, Morant was selected by the Grizzlies No. 2 overall in the 2019 NBA Draft.
Currently, Memphis is No 4. in the Southwest Division, and No.13 in the Western Conference. For now, Marcus Smart, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Desmond Bane remain the team's core players. Now in his 4th NBA season, Bane is averaging a career high 24.2 points, and 5.4 assists per game. Jackson Jr., in his 6th year, is putting up a career high 21.6 points.
There's certainly nothing to sniff at when it comes to Jackson Jr. and Bane. Two all-star worthy players, the Grizzlies will see the development and improvement of both while Morant remains sidelined. Behind the trio of Bane, Jackson Jr. and Smart, not one player is averaging points in double figures besides Aldama. Half way through the season, the Grizzlies averaging / least amount of points in the NBA, with 107.8.
Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr. are studs
Known for his defensive prowess, Jackson Jr. has been fairly dominant on the offensive end. Coming off an impressive 28 point performance against the Suns, he's averaging 27.6 points in the last three games, specifically 31 versus the Lakers.
With a tough schedule ahead, 26 of their 46 matchups will come against teams .500 or better. At the end of the month, Memphis will have consecutive challenging matchups against the Heat, Magic, Pacers, Kings, Cavaliers, Warriors, Celtics, and Knicks.
While the Grizzlies finished as the No.2 seed, it's scary to think how dominant this team could end up next year with a healthy roster. Just one season ago, Memphis had 51 wins, second behind the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference.
Just 24 years old, Morant has a career average of 22.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 7.4 assists. While the future is bright, Memphis will soon put this season in their rear view mirror and look to build when their star is healthy again.
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Sara Jane Gamelli is a full-time Sportswriter at Ballislife, and Sports Content Creator on Twitch and TikTok. She has a focus on the NBA, WNBA, NCAA Basketball, and the NFL. Sara Jane currently resides in Connecticut/NYC area with her Cat and Dog. SJ has her undergraduate degree from the University of Connecticut in Economics, with a minor in businessTweets by Ballislife