Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant was a runaway winner of the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award Wednesday, collecting 99 out of a possible 100 first-place votes to cruise to an easy victory.
Morant, who was the second overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft out of Murray State, finished with 498 points and was miles ahead of Miami Heat guard Kendrick Nunn, who placed second with 204 points. New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson, the top pick in last year’s draft out of Duke University, received the one remaining first-place vote, and was third with 140 points.
“Man, it’s a blessing,” Morant said on TNT’s “Inside The NBA” pregame show Wednesday night before the Boston Celtics played the Toronto Raptors. “I’m definitely honored. I put a lot of work in, day in and day out. This journey has been rough but, you know, in the end it’s all paying off. I still have a lot more work to do, but for guys, kids who are not heavily recruited right now, this gives them hope.”
Morant also had a message to send to the one voter who didn’t have him first.
“I want to shoot a direct message to them and thank them for motivating me even more to do more on the floor and be better and do whatever I can to help my team in a basketball game,” Morant said. “So if anyone knows who that is, let me know.”
Becoming the face of a Grizzlies team that traded away franchise icons Marc Gasol and Mike Conley during and after last season, Morant helped Memphis go from being projected to finish among the worst teams in the NBA to finding itself in the league’s first-ever play-in game inside the bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort last month. Memphis lost to the Portland Trail Blazers to come up short of making the postseason.
The electrifying guard led all qualifying rookies in points (17.8) and assists (7.3) per game, and shot 47.7% from the field. He becomes the second player in Grizzlies history to win the Rookie of the Year award, joining Pau Gasol in 2002.
Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins told Morant to soak in and celebrate the first of many individual and team accomplishments to come.
“The sky’s the limit for you,” Jenkins said.
Because of the disruption to the schedule due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the NBA is not having its usual awards show this season, but instead is handing out awards periodically during the playoffs as it did previously.
So far, the league has handed out four: Coach of the Year, won by Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse; Most Improved Player, won by Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram; Defensive Player of the Year, won by Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo; and Rookie of the Year.
The remaining two awards to be handed out are Sixth Man of the Year and the Most Valuable Player award.