The 23-year-old star point guard put together another All-Star campaign despite navigating through fines and an eight-game suspension, and now it appears he will likely start next season watching his teammates. The NBA is reviewing a video in which Morant appeared to brandish a gun in an Instagram Live video that surfaced on May 14. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said an announcement on Morant’s discipline will come after the NBA Finals.
Along with the potential luxury tax implications, Morant’s missed time could have a major impact as the Grizzlies enter the next phase of their window of contention.
Morant averaged 26.2 points and 8.1 assists in 61 games this season. Off-the-court problems factored into the two-time all-star narrowly missing being named to an All-NBA team.
While a lot of talk was made about the Grizzlies’ record with Morant two seasons ago, Memphis was a much better team with its All-Star point guard healthy. Nagging injuries and the March suspension hurt Morant’s chancesof playing at a peak level.
A pending suspension and other decisions around the Grizzlies mean Memphis is now in a position in which it must figure out how to navigate through a potential Morant absence.
Who plays point guard?
The most obvious question comes at the point guard position. Tyus Jones is the easy answer to fill in for Morant, but his playoff performances in the past two seasons have caused enough concern to where he may be the best trade asset to help the Grizzlies secure a starting small forward. Getting a high-quality starting small forward should be a higher priority than surviving a stretch of games without Morant, so that means a potential suspension should not affect whether Memphis decides to shop Jones or not. If Jones is traded, the Grizzlies could pursue a point guard for the mid-level exception, which is expected to be around $12 million this offseason. Patrick Beverley, Dennis Schroder, Reggie Jackson, Gabe Vincent and Dennis Smith Jr. are among the free agent point guards who could fill in as starters and come off the bench when Morant returns.
Now on to basketball performance. The NBA started a Clutch Player of the Year award this season. If it had been introduced two years ago, Morant would have likely won it. Somehow, Morant went from likely winning the awardtwo seasons ago to not even being listed as a candidate this year. Morant shot 37.2% from the field and 18.2% on 3-pointers in the fourth quarter this season. His free-throw shooting was also below average at 67.4%, and that resulted in him being minus-46. The Grizzlies struggled a lot in fourth quarters because of their inability to score in late-game situations, and those issues are even more evident when Morant doesn’t play. Since teams often loaded up in the paint to take away Morant’s drives late in fourth quarters, the addition of a knockdown shooter at small forward should create more spacing and eventually lead to more success in this area, but the struggles from last season will likely carry over without Morant.
Morant’s assists jumped from 6.7 per game to a career-high 8.1 while keeping his turnovers average at 3.4 like the previous season. NBA players and Grizzlies teammates often talk about Morant’s smarts, and that was showcased by his ability to break down defenses while playing in pick-and-roll. Teams threw every defensive look imaginable at Morant, but there was hardly ever a consistent answer to stop him from flying to the rim or finding an open teammate. Desmond Bane has become a solid secondary facilitator, and he’s likely to keep making strides. When Jones starts, the offense moves the ball better overall, but his inability to create for himself shows up late when the game slows down and offensive players must perform in one-on-one situations. Pick-and-roll is a go-to for Morant to create for himself and teammates.