Ja Morant, making a triumphant return after a 25-game suspension, served a powerful reminder of his unique and entertaining playing style. The Memphis Grizzlies’ guard, officially ineligible for this season’s NBA Most Valuable Player award due to his suspension, scored 34 points in his season debut against the New Orleans Pelicans. The performance, including a game-winning shot as time expired, showcased Morant’s talent, bringing a bittersweet taste to his comeback.
Morant’s return significantly impacted the game, inspiring momentum shifts for the struggling Grizzlies, who had a five-game losing streak, and the Pelicans, enjoying a four-game winning streak. The stark contrast to Morant’s previous performance eight months earlier, when the Los Angeles Lakers eliminated the Grizzlies from the playoffs, highlighted the ups and downs in his career. A fall from grace occurred following off-court issues, including a suspension for waving a handgun on social media.
Despite being touted as a potential face of the league, Morant faced challenges, overshadowed by No. 1 pick Zion Williamson. Morant’s rise to national attention began with leading Murray State to a March Madness appearance and winning Rookie of the Year. However, reports of off-court incidents, including mall fights and suspension-inducing videos, tarnished his image. The 25-game suspension, coupled with a new rule requiring players to play a minimum of 65 games for award eligibility, eliminated Morant from MVP and All-NBA consideration.
— NBA (@NBA) December 20, 2023
Morant’s remarkable performance in his return featured scoring in the paint against a sizable Pelicans team. He demonstrated a different approach, relying on scoop shots and clever floaters instead of attempting to fly over defenders. The game-winning shot, spun past defenders, and eluded closing opponents, highlighted Morant’s ability to impact the game decisively.
While questions linger about Morant’s growth off the court, his on-court return injected excitement into the Grizzlies and the NBA. The presence of his father, Tee Morant, at the game raised interest, considering previous reports questioning his influence. Morant expressed his excitement about being back, emphasizing basketball as his therapeutic outlet. As time unfolds, Morant’s continued growth, both on and off the court, will shape his narrative in the league.