Ja Morant is the heavy favorite to take home the Rookie of the Year award after averaging 17.8 points, 7.3 assists, and 3.9 rebounds per game for the surprising Memphis Grizzlies, who fell just short of a stunning postseason appearance.
Morant is now back at home after a month in the Disney Bubble, and while the frustration of being so close to a playoff appearance is very real, the young point guard has a perspective on the season that illustrates what makes him unique among young players. He understands this season was just the beginning for the young Grizzlies, who he’s quick to note were projected to be a bottom five team in the league prior to the season. He also gets that the franchise now has a foundation to build upon for what they hope will be a contender for much more than just an 8-seed in the future.
Like the team as a whole, Morant used this season as a chance to take a major step forward on and off the court as he finds his place in the NBA. He sees plenty of opportunities to get better this offseason to build off his rookie campaign, with a focus both on developing his basketball skill and continuing to develop his body. On Tuesday, Morant spoke with DIME by phone on behalf of BODYARMOR — he’stheir latest athlete partner — about his rookie year, the difference in his focus on training and nutrition in the NBA compared to college, his takeaways from this season, what makes the Grizzlies mesh so well, and the work he does off the court to be a better point guard and know where his teammates are at their best.
To start, how is your thumb doing and how are you feeling?
The thing with my thumb, you know, it’s fine. Still in the healing process, but all good. You know, enjoying the fam, watching the games. So, I’m all good.
Good. Something I’ve talked with a lot of guys about is how much they learn as young players in the NBA about taking care of their bodies, nutrition, and training. What are the things that you learned this year as a rookie that you can build upon as you build your own personal routine for all of that going forward in your career?
Really just eating good, like you said, putting the right stuff in your body is something … after I begin to learn that, my body started feeling way better. I wasn’t as fatigued or sore or anything, and I feel like that’s really the main thing. Just knowing exactly what you’re putting in your body and making sure it’s the right thing.
Was that something you focused on at all in college or was that more of a learning process this year in the league?
I can say before and after college I was big on it, but during college it’s kind of hard. You have to, you know, eat whatever you’ve got out there. College was kind of tough, but my dad, he’s a chef, so he cooks a lot so I rarely eat a lot of junk food or anything like that.
And how did that lead you to this partnership with BODYARMOR?
You know, like I said, just making sure you put the right stuff in your body, staying hydrated. BODYARMOR has a lot of potassium and electrolytes in it, so it definitely is a plus for me.
Obviously things didn’t end as you’d hoped for, but what are your takeaways from your rookie season, both personally and as a team?
For me personally, I always feel like there’s room for improvement. I’m gonna just continue to work this offseason and get ready for next season. As for the team, I feel like we’re in a good position. We were projected to be 27th and ended up being games away from the playoffs. I feel like we love that underdog role and we all have that underdog mentality, but we also know we are a good team when we’re playing together and playing our style of basketball. Now we know what it takes to make the playoffs, so we just gotta build on this past season and continue to get better, and push for the playoffs next season.
You mention the work you’re getting ready to put in this offseason. Is there anything specifically — and I know you want to get better in all facets of your game — but is there anything particularly in your game that you really want to make sure you improve upon for next season?
I would just say, like you said, all areas for me. I don’t just work on one thing. I’m going to continue to get in the weight room and continue to put on weight and be able to absorb contact and finish through contact.
What was the Bubble experience like for you? There’s not a lot of times where the whole league is in one place like that. As a rookie, did that give you an opportunity to get to know some more guys in the league off the court — I don’t know how much time you spent with folks outside of your team — but it is such a unique situation.
I mean it was different. Nobody expected us to be there and finishing the season there. The Bubble was definitely different. It’s just the guys out there, the teams, you know, missing fans, so it definitely was some tough areas, but it also allowed you to focus on what you had to do: Be locked in on the game. I really don’t hang around too many people, so I was just around my teammates.
I know you and Jaren and Dillon and the rest of those guys are all really close. What would you say about how quickly this team really came together for a group of young guys, and how the pieces seemed to fit so well together?
I feel like when we have new people come in or whatever, we try to make them feel as comfortable as possible. When we not on the court, we all be together. Continue to get to know each other outside of basketball, continue to build our bond, and I feel like that is kinda what helps us on the court because we know what to expect from certain players. We know where certain players like to have the ball at and shoot from, and I feel like that kinda helps us.
That’s such a big job of yours as a point guard. What did you learn about being a leader this year and what do you do to learn where those guys want to be and learn your teammates because as the point guard it’s your job to put them in those positions to succeed?
I just watch a lot of my teammates film, watching them in they workouts when I’m not even working out, like after my workouts. Just staying ’round, obviously you can tell where people seem more comfortable at with how they’re playing. So I’m just watching it, studying the stats, and it’s just, you know, me just trying to put them in comfortable positions, the spots they like to be in. So, it’s just easier for them. If I know somebody likes to shoot on that right wing, then I’m going to have them on that right wing [laughs]. I feel like it’s my job as the point guard to be a leader and be vocal, but I took that challenge of learning each one of my teammates spots to be a better player and to help my team.