Any day now, the NBA will announce the opening of All-Star voting. A multiyear agreement with Google likely means that fans can vote on their favorite players on Christmas Day, when five games will be played.
Here in Memphis, All-Star voting has largely been an exercise in futility. Last season, of course the Grizzlies were going to push Mike Conley and Marc Gasol – two well-respected players who would never be All-Star starters even if all of Memphis voted for them. Coaches voted Gasol an All-Star reserve twice, while Conley continues his reign as this generation’s “best player never to be an All-Star.” (Honorable mention: Serge Ibaka; Jamal Crawford; Josh Smith.)
Now in Utah, Conley’s fortunes won’t change this season either. Despite adding player and media ballots to the process, All-Star voting rewards popular players – and there’s always been a Kobe, a Curry or a Westbrook in Conley’s way.
Now, there’s another player who’s going to make the All-Star team before Conley, maybe even as a starter. And he plays in Memphis.
His name is Ja Morant.
Morant returned from a four-game absence on Monday night, a thrilling win over the post-dynasty Golden State Warriors. Morant, who had been sidelined with back spasms, picked up where he left off, scoring 26 for Memphis in the win, including 13 in the fourth quarter. And he had 13 points and six assists – and a “Ja-dropping” fourth quarter dunk – in the Grizzlies 115-108 win at Phoenix on Wednesday.
If healthy, Ja Morant will eventually be an All-Star starter, most likely within the next three years. Honestly, I won’t be at all surprised if it’s this season.
Put simply, he fits the profile – an electrifying player to watch who has already made game-winning buckets and plays. His handles are ridiculous and many of his passes are as jaw-dropping as his ankle-breaking rim runs.
Morant is that rare rookie who has actually backed up his swagger. He’s already leading the Rookie-of-the-Year debate, and arguably would be doing so even if New Orleans’ Zion Williamson was healthy.
Morant’s game is big enough to transcend the miniscule TV market of Memphis, but he’ll need a slot to open up for him to be in Chicago in February – and there may be one.
Both Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are injured at Golden State. Houston stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook may suffer from the Rockets’ strained relations with China.
Luka Doncic is making a case for MVP in Dallas, so it’s hard to leave him off the list. Sooner or later, it’ll be Morant and Doncic starting together.
This season? Watch and see.