Ja Morant has taken advantage of the NBA’s hiatus, adding 12 pounds of muscle to help absorb contact when the NBA’s likely rookie of the year fearlessly attacks the basketball.
And the Memphis Grizzlies point guard knows exactly what he wants when he leads his team to Orlando.
“Going out there to win, prove people wrong,” Morant said Thursday in a Zoom video call.
Morant, the No. 2 pick overall in the 2019 draft, already has taken advantage of Zion Williamson missing much of the season to make his case as the league’s top rookie. Morant is the Grizzlies’ leading scorer averaging 17.6 points in 59 games played compared to just 19 for Williamson with the Pelicans.
With Morant leading the way, the Grizzlies won four of their final six before the NBA stopped play March 12. Memphis goes into Orlando’s seeding games sitting in the eighth spot in the Western Conference with a 3 1/2-game lead trying to clinch the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2017.
Morant, who turns 21 on Aug. 10, didn’t just spend his downtime during the coronavirus shutdown spending time with his family and baby daughter waiting to hear when the NBA would resume play.
Nope, Morant said he worked in the weight room and gym adding the 12 pounds of muscle since a loss to Orlando on March 10. That helped fend off worries that the season — and all the work he had put in — was over.
“I just took it as an opportunity to get even better, even though I didn’t know how it would play out,” Morant said.
Morant also has been busy on social media. He reposted a photo Sunday with a four-letter curse word over his No. 12 jersey, a phrase seen as anti-police slang, and wrote “want dat on my jersey fr” on Twitter and Instagram. He deleted the post later that night and apologized.
On Thursday, Morant encouraged other athletes with the same platform to speak out.
“It’s no reason to be silent right now,” Morant said. “We need change.”
The extra pounds not only make Morant stronger, but the guard listed at 6-foot-3 and 174 pounds when play stopped expects he will be able to absorb contact better.
“Able to use my body more, get through different screens,” Morant said. “That’s why I’m just looking to do, go to Orlando to be able to do the things I’ve been doing before but better.”
The added muscle is noticeable, at least to his teammates. Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said a couple Grizzlies were talking about Morant being bigger Wednesday.
“Gaining strength has been a priority of his and continues to maintain his supreme athleticism,” Jenkins said.
Morant went into his rookie season recovering from arthroscopic surgery to clean up his right knee before the 2019 draft. The time off means he has no pain in his knee, which is easy to see when he’s on the floor.
“Feel like I’m actually leaving the floor easier and jumping higher,” Morant said. “I’ve just been taking this time to just focus on my body, make sure everything’s good so when it’s time to go out and play, I’ll be fine.”
Follow Teresa M. Walker at https://twitter.com/TeresaMWalker
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports