Ja Morant was rookie of the year in 2020, vowing he would get better from there.
And he’s done exactly that.
The Memphis Grizzlies guard picked up his second major award in three seasons Monday, getting announced as the NBA’s Most Improved Player. He is the first Grizzlies player to receive the award.
Morant set career bests in scoring (27.4 points per game), rebounds (5.7), steals (1.2) and field-goal shooting (49.3%). His scoring average last season was 19.1 per game, and he made the big jump while playing basically the same amount of minutes.
“Just constant work, putting in work to be better at certain areas of my game each and every day,” Morant said during the televised announcement of him receiving the award, which came a few hours after he was told he had won during Grizzlies practice. “That’s pretty much where all that came from.”
Morant, an All-Star this season for the first time, was hardly a runaway winner. He finished with 221 points from a panel of 100 sportswriters and broadcasters who cover the league, with five points awarded for a first-place vote, three for a second and one for a third.
San Antonio’s Dejounte Murray was second with 183 points, and Cleveland’s Darius Garland was third with 178. Murray appeared on 63 ballots, more than anyone else. Garland appeared on 62 ballots.
Morant appeared on 51 of the 100 ballots — but got far more first-place votes than anyone else. He had 38, while Murray collected 20 and fourth-place finisher Jordan Poole of Golden State got 15.
The 22-year-old Morant said he spent this past offseason working to become more consistent from 3-point range and honing his midrange game.
“Those were pretty much the two main areas I worked on this past summer,” Morant said. “It allowed me to take a big leap in my game, as you can see from my scoring.”
In all, 12 players got votes. Memphis’ Desmond Bane was fifth and had seven first-place votes, Philadelphia’s Tyrese Maxey was sixth and had six first-place votes, Charlotte’s Miles Bridges was seventh and picked up three first-place votes.
Portland’s Anfernee Simons was eighth, followed by Boston’s Robert Williams III, Memphis’ Jaren Jackson Jr., Dallas’ Jalen Brunson and Miami’s Max Strus.