Ja Morant returns redeemed and with the best level

NEW ORLEANS-. The return of Ja Morant to play in the NBA has the Memphis Grizzlies facing a new set of questions.

Mainly, did they reasonably expect their All-Pro guard to be as productive this quickly?

Or did they suspect that having Morant back in the lineup would make winning, and contending, achievable for a team that only recorded six wins in its first 25 games?

“You have a player like that, who makes everyone around him better, from our best men to those who fill a role,” guard Desmond Bane said. “So you can’t overestimate how good it is and how big of an impact it has.”

Morant has averaged 28.8 points in the first four games since his return from an NBA suspension for his appearance in social media videos involving firearms. Memphis has won all four games and improved to 10-19, leaving them just 4 1/2 games out of a Western Conference play-in berth with 53 games left.

“I really don’t see where we are in the standings right now with so many games left,” Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said. “I’m focused on the momentum we’ve built in the last week and I’m getting it.”

There is no denying that impulse or who is primarily responsible for it.

Hours before his 31-point performance in a 116-115 overtime victory at New Orleans on Tuesday night, Morant had been named Western Conference Player of the Week for his first week back on the court. .

“It was incredible that he was recognized for his outstanding play, for the stellar level with the team in the previous week,” admitted Jenkins. “But he didn’t come back focused on trying to win Player of the Week. He simply wanted to return to be with his teammates and compete in the sport he loves.

“Obviously I think he’s had a lot of fun during the process, as difficult as it was when he was gone for 25 games,” Jenkins added. “But then they saw how much he enjoyed that first game when he came back… and we expected nothing less.”

Morant scored 34 points, capping his performance with the game-winning basket as time expired, in his first game back, which was also held in New Orleans on December 19. He recorded 20 points in a home win over Indiana and then had 30 points and 11 assists in a win at Atlanta.

“The biggest thing is he provides a level of confidence for his team that they were expecting and a motivation for the group,” said Pelicans coach Willie Green, whose team won in Memphis in October, when Morant’s suspension was just beginning. .

“That’s what makes them dangerous, now that they have their leader and best player on the floor, they are playing with a lot more confidence,” Green continued. “They are a better defensive team. They’re getting into the paint and they’re attacking. “He allows others to be in the right place and that makes them better.”

If there is any aspect of Morant’s game that looks rusty, it has been his outside shooting. He has only made 3 of 18 3-pointers and joked Tuesday that his points-per-game average would be closer to 40 if he had been a better long-distance shooter.