Brandon Dill/Associated Press
MVP: Ja Morant
The Memphis Grizzlies had a handful of players with better on-off differentials than their rookie point guard, but Ja Morant was a net-positive player in his first year. That’s rare on its own but even more eye-catching in light of his enormous role.
The lead guard and offensive engine from the jump, Morant’s vertigo-inducing athleticism, sui generis ball-handling and advanced vision produced highlights and carried the Grizz into the bubble as the West’s No. 8 seed. He hit the shutdown with averages of 17.6 points and 6.9 assists, both team highs.
That would be fine work coming from a veteran. From a rookie, it’s franchise-altering.
DPOY: De’Anthony Melton
A destructive defensive force who ranked fifth in the NBA in deflections per 36 minutes (among those logging at least 500 total minutes), the 6’2″ De’Anthony Melton harassed ball-handlers, disrupted passing lanes and rebounded like a forward.
Opponent turnover rates spiked with Melton on the floor, and despite his relentless pursuit of basketballs (both possessed by the other team and in loose-ball form), Melton’s foul rate was ridiculously low.
Biggest Surprise: Jaren Jackson Jr.
If you watched Jaren Jackson Jr. as a rookie, you knew he had potential to stretch the floor at the 5. But you probably didn’t envision him becoming one of the league’s most deadly frontcourt shooting threats by his second season.
That transformative step, which saw Jackson go from taking 24.1 percent of his shots from distance as a rookie to 48.9 percent this year, is just as meaningful for Memphis’ future as Morant’s undeniable stardom. In fact, the two are linked; Jackson pulls bigs out of the lane, and Morant, wide-eyed with joy, gets to attack a lightly defended rim.
Jackson canned 39.7 percent of his treys prior to the shutdown, shooting off the catch and on the move like a guard. Don’t be surprised if he spends his third season drilling triples off the bounce once he recovers from his torn meniscus.
Good Luck Guarding That Award: Brandon Clarke (‘s Floater)
Rookie Brandon Clarke’s off-the-charts bounce made him a perfect transition buddy for Morant, but the springy forward’s signature shot is one typically associated with smaller guards or wings who don’t have the lift to score over larger defenders.
Yep, one of the league’s highest risers also owns a feather-soft floater.
It’s a perfect weapon because rim-protectors have to lay back and load up to meet Clarke at the top of what they expect to be a highlight dunk attempt. That gives the 6’8″ forward all the room he needs to stop short, rise up over the top of even the biggest defenders, and flip in a cheapie from 6-10 feet.