Memphis Grizzlies rookie Ja Morant will be listed as week-to-week due to back spasms. Here’s a quick look at the ripple effects of this minor injury.
As if missing the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft wasn’t irritating enough for basketball fans, the No. 2 overall pick will also be sidelined for the time being.
As first reported by The Athletic‘s Shams Charania, Memphis Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant will be listed as “week-to-week” because of aggravated back spasms. Per Charania, a period of “short-term off-loading” was needed.
This is obviously a bummer for Morant, the Grizzlies and the NBA at large. Obviously it’s good this isn’t something more serious, but back injuries can be tricky to manage. Back spasms are typically listed as day-to-day injuries, but as we’ve seen recently with someone like Ricky Rubio, they can stretch into week-long absences in some cases.
Memphis is being upfront about preserving its franchise cornerstone, which makes sense. Morant has been sensational right out of the gates as the early Rookie of the Year favorite, averaging 18.6 points, 6.4 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game on .457/.410/.765 shooting splits. He ranks first among rookies in both scoring and assists. He’s been efficient, hasn’t been afraid of big moments and is the rare exception to the rule that rookie point guards typically struggle.
Being cautious with a player like that makes sense, especially for a Grizzlies team that’s currently 5-13 and most likely heading back to the NBA Draft Lottery next summer. Nobody’s suggesting tanking, or that monitoring Morant closely is even in that vicinity, but keeping an eye on the long-term prize should be Memphis’ focus.
In the meantime, Grizzlies fans should expect more minutes for backup point guard Tyus Jones, who got some experience bouncing back and forth between the starting job and backup duties last year with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He started 23 of his 68 appearances last year, surpassing his grand total of 11 starts over his first three years in the league.
So far this season, Jones is averaging 5.9 points and 4.6 assists in his 19.3 minutes per game. While he’s distributed the ball well, the Grizz will really need him to find his confidence with his shot, as he’s made just 37.4 percent of his field goal attempts and a dreadful 17.9 percent of his 3-pointers.
This may also open up minutes at the backup spot for De’Anthony Melton, who hasn’t gotten significant run since he was traded to Memphis over the summer in the Josh Jackson trade. Though he’s officially listed as a shooting guard, Melton displayed some passing chops during his rookie year with the Phoenix Suns and has the size and wingspan to defend either guard spot. He brings the kind of defensive instincts that fall right in line with the franchise’s Grit-N-Grind principles, so hopefully he capitalizes on the opportunity for more minutes.
So far this season, Melton has appeared in only seven games, averaging 3.0 points and 1.3 assists in 8.1 minutes per game. Morant’s absence will require a big leap in impact for both Jones and Melton alike, while also putting more pressure on Jaren Jackson Jr., Jonas Valanciunas, Dillon Brooks and rookie Brandon Clarke to produce.
Assuming Morant is back within the next 2-3 weeks, this will be a minor blip in an otherwise sterling rookie season. With that being said, if Zion Williamson returns to action in the next two weeks and is as dominant as he looked during preseason, the Rookie of the Year conversation could quickly be blown wide open again, even with the New Orleans Pelicans phenom missing the first two months of the season.
Here’s hoping for a speedy recovery for Morant as the centerpiece of Memphis’ exciting young trio.