Point guard Ja Morant — who joined the Memphis Grizzlies this season as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft — was officially honored as the association’s best first-year player on Thursday. Per an announcement from the league, the 21-year-old has been named Rookie of the Year for 2019-20.
While New Orleans Pelicans forward and No. 1 overall selection Zion Williamson was the heavy favorite to capture the award before the campaign began, Morant ultimately won the trophy running away.
Memphis’ young floor general snagged 99 first-place votes from a global panel of 100 sportswriters, earning 498 total points in the vote. Meanwhile, Miami Heat guard Kendrick Nunn came in second with 204 and Williamson finished in third place with 140. The Pelicans star also received the sole dissenting first-place vote.
Although Williamson was great during his injury-shorted season in New Orleans and had already become a basketball phenomenon and media darling during his lone collegiate year with the Duke Blue Devils, he may have had a difficult time beating out Morant for the award even if he had remained healthy.
The former Murray State standout appeared in 67 games for the Grizzlies during his rookie season (all of which were starts) and averaged 17.8 points, 7.3 assists and nearly one steal per contest. Moreover, he boasted an effective field goal percentage over 50, which can be rarefied air for an NBA rookie.
As impressive as he was, though, it was his ability to play winning basketball and lead a surprising run that nearly resulted in a playoff berth for Memphis that set Morant apart from other well-performing rookies.
Before the year, the Grizzlies made the move to trade beloved longtime franchise cornerstone Mike Conley — a high-level point-man and borderline All-Star in his own right — to the Utah Jazz in order to make room for Durant. And while the idea behind such moves is to allow young players an opportunity to develop and build toward future success, the organization nonetheless managed more than its share of success straight away.
Heading into play in the league’s Orlando, Florida bubble environment, the Grizz were in sole possession of the eighth and final playoff seed in the Western Conference. It took an incredible run from a veteran-laden Portland Trail Blazers squad, led by backcourt superstars Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum — as well as a tough loss in the conference’s postseason play-in game — for the team’s impressive run to come to an end.
As shared by The Inquisitr, Portland had been widely expected to win the West’s No. 8 seed via the play-in as a veteran crew facing a relatively inexperienced one. Even so, Morant nearly led his team to its unlikely playoff berth in that final bout with the Blazers, scoring 35 points and dishing out eight assists.