Ja Morant

And-Ones: Exum, Thomas, Doncic, Tatum, Yabusele

Former NBA guard Dante Exum plans to return to the NBA when his three-month contract with Barcelona expires, according to Emiliano Carchia of Sportando. Exum is averaging just 4.4 PPG in the EuroLeague after signing with the Spanish team early last month.

Exum was waived by the Rockets during training camp. He signed a three-year deal with Houston in September but the contract was non-guaranteed and Houston had 15 other players with guaranteed deals.

We have more from around the basketball world:

  • Khyri Thomas has officially signed with Maccabi Tel Aviv, according to a team press release. A report surfaced over the weekend that Maccabi was interested in the former NBA guard. Thomas, a 2018 second-round pick, played in Spain last month before suffering an injury. He saw action in five games with Houston last season and came off the bench in 34 games for Detroit during the previous two seasons.
  • Luka Doncic and Jayson Tatum remain the two players under 25 years old that NBA talent evaluators would want to build their teams around, according to an annual poll conducted by Michael Scotto of Hoops Hype. Ja Morant, LaMelo Ball and Trae Young round out the top five.
  • Guerschon Yabusele has agreed to a contract extension with Real Madrid, according to a team press release. The three-year extension runs through June 2025. Yabusele, a first-round pick by the Celtics in 2016, last appeared in the NBA during the 2018/19 season when he saw action in 41 games for Boston.

Ja Morant, Fred VanVleet Named Players Of The Week

A pair of point guards have been named the NBA’s Players of the Week, with Ja Morant of the Grizzlies winning the Western Conference award and Fred VanVleet of the Raptors earning the honor in the East (Twitter link).

It’s the second time in a row that Morant has won the award. He only appeared in four of the Grizzlies’ five games from January 3-9, but played a key role in spearheading a 5-0 week, averaging 25.0 PPG, 6.8 APG, and 6.3 RPG in 30.8 minutes per contest. He also made a series of highlight plays, including a two-handed block an Avery Bradley shot (video link) that became an immediate contender for play of the year.

Like Morant, VanVleet continued to build his case for an All-Star spot by leading his team to an undefeated week. The 27-year-old put up 30.3 PPG, 6.5 APG, and 4.8 RPG with a .453 3PT% (6.0 made threes per game) in four games (36.5 MPG), all Toronto wins.

The other nominees for Player of the Week were Desmond Bane, Jaren Jackson Jr., Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, LeBron James, and Anfernee Simons in the West, along with Joel Embiid, Darius Garland, Tyler Herro, Zach LaVine, and Domantas Sabonis in the East (Twitter link).

Southwest Notes: Morant, Porter, Pelicans, James, Chriss

While there has been some debate this season about whether Grizzlies guard Ja Morant will make his first All-Star team, teammate Desmond Bane believes the answer to that question is obvious. In Bane’s view, Morant should be the subject of another discussion, as Tim Bontemps of ESPN writes.

“People debate whether or not he should be an All-Star, but I think we should be debating whether he’s the best point guard in the league,” Bane said. “I don’t think it’s any question he’s an All-Star. The real conversation is, ‘Is he the best point guard in the league?'”

While it may be premature to place Morant above the likes of Stephen Curry and Luka Doncic, he matches up favorably with the Western Conference’s star point guards this season — and he looks like a good bet to join them on this year’s All-Star team. In 27 games (32.5 MPG), Morant is averaging a career-high 25.1 PPG on .489/.400/.772 shooting while also contributing 6.7 APG, 5.7 RPG, and 1.4 SPG.

Here’s more from around the Southwest:

  • Rockets guard Kevin Porter Jr. said on Tuesday that he apologized both “to the group” and “individually” following the locker-room incident that resulted in him being suspended for Monday’s game, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. “I think just as a man and as a human, that’s the right thing to do,” Porter said. “Even if you feel like you’re in the right, there’s ways to approach things in situations, and I felt as a man, I didn’t approach it the right way. So I apologize. I feel like that’s just something you need to do as a principled thing.” Porter added that he still feels supported by the organization.
  • The Pelicans don’t plan to re-sign Justin James, whose 10-day contract expired overnight, sources tell Andrew Lopez of ESPN (Twitter link). With the team getting healthier, there wasn’t an immediate need to retain James, Lopez explains.
  • Marquese Chriss, currently on his second 10-day contract with the Mavericks, would love to remain in Dallas beyond the expiration of his current deal on January 9, writes Dwain Price of Mavs.com. However, even if he isn’t retained, the big man is happy to be back in action after losing nearly an entire season due to a broken leg. “Being able to be back on the court, I’m just thankful for that,” Chriss said. “And I’m just trying to make the most out of the opportunity that I can. Hopefully it’s here (in Dallas).”

Ja Morant, DeMar DeRozan Named Players Of The Week

Grizzlies guard Ja Morant and Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan have been named the NBA’s Players of the Week for the Western Conference and Eastern Conference, respectively, the league announced today (via Twitter).

Morant led the Grizzlies to three consecutive victories during the week of December 27 – January 2, including an impressive road win in Phoenix, plus home wins over the Lakers and Spurs. He had a 41-point, 10-rebound double-double in the win over the Lakers last Wednesday and averaged 34.7 PPG, 6.7 RPG, and 4.7 APG for the week. Incredibly, he also shot 80.0% on three-pointers (12-for-15).

While DeRozan’s per-game numbers (27.8 PPG, 7.3 APG, 5.3 RPG) perhaps weren’t quite as impressive as Morant’s, the Bulls star had the more memorable week, capped by game-winning shots on Friday and Saturday. DeRozan’s Bulls had a 4-0 week, as he became the first player in NBA history to hit buzzer-beating game-winners on back-to-back nights.

It’s the second time this season DeRozan has been named the East’s Player of the Week. He beat out fellow nominees Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler, Kevin Love, and Pascal Siakam to earn the award. The other nominees in the West were LeBron James, Eric Bledsoe, and Jordan Clarkson (Twitter link).

Western Notes: Reed, Morant, Bane, Mathews, Chriss

The Nuggets are exploring ways to keep Davon Reed beyond his second 10-day contract, Mike Singer of the Denver Post reports. Coach Michael Malone confirmed Singer’s report on Tuesday, Harrison Wind of DNVR Sports tweets.

“Hopefully there’s a way we keep Davon in a Nuggets uniform for a while moving forward,” Malone said.

Reed has appeared in eight games since joining the Nuggets, averaging 5.1 PPG and 3.6 RPG in 17.0 MPG. His second 10-day deal expires on Tuesday night.

We have more from the Western Conference:

  • The Grizzlies’ backcourt of Ja Morant and Desmond Bane is quickly developing into one of the league’s best, Damichael Cole of the Memphis Commercial Appeal writes. “He’s a professional scorer,” Morant said of Bane. The second-year shooting guard has lifted his scoring average from 9.2 PPG during his rookie campaign to 17.2 this season, putting him in the discussion for the league’s Most Improved Player.
  • Garrison Mathews was grateful to receive a four-year contract from the Rockets after fighting for years to earn an NBA job, he told Kelly Iko of The Athletic. “Those two-way contracts, they’re hard to get out of. Because with two-way contracts, there’s not a lot of opportunities,” he said. “Then you’re in restricted free agency. It’s just tough, man. A lot of people go through it, and it’s hard. So, a lot of relief, a lot of thankfulness, honestly.” Mathews’ four-year contract is worth $8.2MM, with a $2MM guaranteed salary this season.
  • Marquese Chriss worked out for the Mavericks a couple of weeks before they signed him to a 10-day contract under the hardship exemption, Callie Caplan of the Dallas Morning News tweets. At the time, there was no roster spot open for Chriss, who has averaged 6.3 PPG and 4.8 RPG in four games.

Western Notes: Morant, Rockets, Zeller, Bazley

After going 10-2 while Ja Morant was out due to a knee sprain, the Grizzlies lost at home in Morant’s return on Monday. The defeat came at the hands of an Oklahoma City team that Memphis had beaten by 73 points earlier in the month.

Morant, who had 16 points and eight assists in 28 minutes, was happy to be back on the court, but he admitted after the game that the reaction from the fans in Memphis was a far cry from the “MVP” chants he heard earlier in the season.

“Running down the court, I heard some of our fans courtside tell me I need to sit back out,” Morant said, per Evan Barnes of The Memphis Commercial Appeal. “I just want to know what they wanted me to get out of that. I feel like that just makes it worse.”

Although the Grizzlies are just 9-11 with Morant in the lineup this season, the general consensus is that they benefited from a favorable schedule and some good luck during his absence. As Barnes relays, teammate Desmond Bane scoffed at the idea that the team was better off without its star point guard.

“That’s nonsense. Nonsense,” Bane said. “People just want something to talk about. Ja’s an easy target because he’s the best player on the team. He’s an All-Star in his third year and we happened to win some games and guys were out with teams we were playing. … There was something that popped up on my phone talking about trading Ja Morant. He’ll be in Memphis as long as he wants to be in Memphis. He’s our franchise, for sure.”

Here are a few more notes from around the Western Conference:

  • Rockets head coach Stephen Silas is hopeful that Jalen Green (hamstring), who has been out since November 24, will be back in the lineup before Christmas, but said Kevin Porter Jr. (thigh), who last played on December 3, will remain sidelined through the Christmas break, tweets Mark Berman of Fox 26 Houston. The Rockets are in action on Wednesday in Milwaukee and Thursday in Indiana, then will resume play next Monday in Charlotte.
  • The Trail Blazers announced on Sunday in a press release that Cody Zeller (small fracture of right patella) is making progress in his recovery and increasing his on-court activity. However, he’s still unavailable for the time being and will be reevaluated in a week.
  • Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman explores how and why the Thunder decided to move Darius Bazley to the bench after he had started his last 82 games across two seasons. Head coach Mark Daigneault talked to general manager Sam Presti before making the move, as Mussatto writes.

Ja Morant Returns For Grizzlies

6:34pm: Morant is available to play tonight, the team’s PR department tweets.

1:48pm: Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant has been upgraded to questionable for the team’s game on Monday vs. Oklahoma City (Twitter link).

While that doesn’t mean Morant is a lock to be active tonight, Evan Barnes of The Memphis Commercial Appeal notes (via Twitter) that players listed as questionable by the Grizzlies typically end up playing.

Morant, who exited the health and safety protocols over the weekend, has been on the shelf since November 26 due to a left knee sprain. Before he went down, the 22-year-old was enjoying his best NBA season to date, averaging 24.1 PPG, 6.8 APG, 5.6 RPG, and 1.6 SPG on .476/.356/.777 shooting through 19 games (32.6 MPG).

Oddly, the Grizzlies were just 9-10 with Morant in the lineup and have gone 10-2 without him. However, as Kevin Pelton of ESPN outlined in an Insider-only story, the Grizzlies have benefited from a favorable schedule and poor opponent shooting during their last dozen games — there’s obviously no reason to believe Memphis is a better team without its star guard.

After hosting the Thunder tonight, the Grizzlies have road games on tap in Golden State (Thursday), Sacramento (Sunday), and Phoenix (Monday).

COVID Updates: Josh Green, Ziaire Williams, Okogie, Morant, Carlisle

Mavericks second-year wing Josh Green has entered the league’s health and safety protocols, per Tim MacMahon of ESPN (Twitter link). Green, the 18th overall pick of the 2020 draft, hasn’t seen much action so far this season, appearing in 17 games for a total of 125 minutes (7.4 MPG). He’s averaging 2.4 PPG and 1.5 RPG.

Rookie Ziaire Williams has entered the protocols for the Grizzlies, writes Evan Barnes of the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Williams, the 10th overall pick of the 2021 draft, has also been dealing with an ankle sprain that has sidelined him for the past six games. Through 19 games (17.8 MPG), the 20-year-old is averaging 4.7 PPG and 1.5 RPG.

Timberwolves wing Josh Okogie has entered the protocols as well, the team announced (via Twitter). In 20 contests this season (13.9 MPG), Okogie is averaging 2.6 PPG and 2.2 RPG.

If the three players tested positive, they will need to isolate for at least 10 days or until they return two consecutive negative PCR tests a minimum of 24 hours apart.

Here are a couple more COVID-19 related updates:

  • Grizzlies star Ja Morant has exited the health and safety protocols, Barnes writes in a separate piece. Memphis is taking a “wait and see” approach with its star point guard, as he’s still dealing with a knee sprain suffered in late November. However, Morant is back with the team and will likely be on the bench tonight against Portland, Barnes tweets. The Grizzlies have surprisingly gone 10-1 without Morant and currently hold the fourth seed in the West with a 19-11 record.
  • Head coach Rick Carlisle is back with the Pacers after exiting the health and safety protocols, according to James Boyd of the Indianapolis Star (via Twitter). Carlisle led Indiana’s practice Sunday and is expected to coach the team Tuesday at Miami, Boyd relays.

Southwest Notes: Zion, Ingram, Morant, Primo

New concerns have emerged about Zion Williamson‘s weight after a photo was tweeted from the Pelicans‘ game last week in Houston in which he looked larger than usual, writes Jenna Lemoncelli of The New York Post. Williamson hasn’t played yet this season while recovering from foot surgery, and he suffered another setback last week when soreness in the foot further delayed his return.

Meanwhile, there has been increased speculation about his bulkiness, which has been an issue dating back to his time in college. On Tuesday’s “Lowe Post” podcast with Zach Lowe, ESPN’s Tim MacMahon said sources have told him that Williamson’s weight has ballooned to 330 pounds, well above his listed playing weight of 284.

In response to last week’s photo, a friend of Williamson tweeted out a different picture today at a youth basketball event in which the Pelicans star looks much lighter and called the weight controversy “fake news.”

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Brandon Ingram has been putting up big numbers over the Pelicans‘ last seven games, and he and new coach Willie Green agree it’s because they’ve figured out the best way to use him, per William Guillory of The Athletic. Despite being double teamed more frequently, Ingram is averaging 25.4 PPG over that stretch. “He’s just been playing at a higher level, playing faster, more aware of what’s going on around him,” Green said. “Really, there are times when he’s just taking over the game, which I love to see from him.”
  • Injured Grizzlies star Ja Morant was placed into the league’s health and safety protocols today, but coach Taylor Jenkins isn’t worried about Morant’s health, according to Evan Barnes of The Memphis Commercial Appeal. Jenkins didn’t reveal if Morant tested positive for the virus, but said he recently got a booster shot and is feeling fine. “There’s still more testing to be done so it’s too early to know exactly how that’s going to impact timelines and all that stuff but there’s definitely rules,” Jenkins said. “That’s why fortunately he’s fully vaccinated and has his booster so whatever comes, hopefully there’s more positive for us, not testing wise.”
  • Spurs guard Joshua Primo has seen some NBA action lately with Devin Vassell injured, but the organization plans to have him return to the G League, states Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express News. “We want him to have more time in Austin for obvious reasons,” coach Gregg Popovich said of the 18-year-old rookie. “He needs to mature in every way, shape and form because of his age. But, having said that, he has a confidence that belies his age. He’s pretty steady in his emotions, shows a great affinity for the game, understands what is going on better than most people, and he is willing to stick his nose in.”

Ja Morant Enters Health And Safety Protocols

Grizzlies star Ja Morant, who’s currently sidelined with a sprained knee, has entered the league’s health and safety protocols, the team announced (Twitter link). Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN tweets that Morant is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and has received a booster shot.

It’s not clear if Morant tested positive or not, but if he did, he will be out for at least 10 days or until he returns two consecutive negative tests a minimum of 24 hours apart. Being in the protocols could impact his rehab process, but since he was already sidelined, he’s unlikely to miss any extra games.

Morant was in the midst of an outstanding season before the injury, averaging 24.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game on 48% shooting. Despite Morant being sidelined, the Grizzlies have won five games in a row, including a record-breaking 73-point victory over the Thunder.

Memphis faces Dallas Wednesday night. In addition to Morant, the team also listed Brandon Clarke (sore knee), Sam Merrill (ankle sprain), and rookie Ziaire Williams (ankle sprain) as out, with Kyle Anderson (back) doubtful.