Grizzlies' Ja Morant Wins 2021-22 NBA Most Improved Player Award

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured Columnist IVApril 25, 2022

Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant directs teammates during Game 3 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Minnesota Timberwolves Thursday, April 21, 2022, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)
AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King

Nobody in the NBA improved more from last season to this one than Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant in the eyes of the league's award voters.

Morant was named the 2021-22 NBA Most Improved Player on Monday and defeated fellow finalists Darius Garland of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Dejounte Murray of the San Antonio Spurs.

NBA Communications @NBAPR

The 2021-22 Kia NBA Most Improved Player is Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant! <a href="https://t.co/XNLdPFQwFe">pic.twitter.com/XNLdPFQwFe</a>

NBA Communications @NBAPR

Ja Morant is the first player to win the Kia NBA Most Improved Player Award with the Memphis Grizzlies.<br><br>More ➡️ <a href="https://t.co/DGowSmohq5">https://t.co/DGowSmohq5</a><br><br>Voting Results ⬇️ <a href="https://t.co/xRFlJ9dtEW">pic.twitter.com/xRFlJ9dtEW</a>


Memphis Grizzlies Head Coach Taylor Jenkins presents <a href="https://twitter.com/JaMorant?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@JaMorant</a> with his 2021-22 KIA NBA Most Improved Player Award! <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NBAAwards?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NBAAwards</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/KiaMIP?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#KiaMIP</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NBA75?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NBA75</a> <a href="https://t.co/s9024kwNd9">pic.twitter.com/s9024kwNd9</a>

The three guards were named finalists for the award on April 17, which underscored how competitive the race was this season, considering they were each a first-time All-Star.

That Morant was included was notable because he played like someone who was worthy of being included in the MVP discussion instead of the MIP race for much of the season. He elevated the Grizzlies to the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference as they tied the franchise record for wins in a season at 56-26.

Morant was no stranger to the spotlight as the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year, but this season was a different story.

He posted 27.4 points, 6.7 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game while shooting 49.3 percent from the field and 34.4 percent from three-point range. All of those numbers except for the assists represented career-best marks as the Murray State product put on a show of dazzling dunks, clutch plays and unstoppable drives throughout the campaign.

Yet he was not the only Western Conference guard who made a jump in 2021-22.

Murray also stuffed the stat sheet with career-high marks in points (21.1), assists (9.2), rebounds (8.3) and steals (2.0) per game. The 25-year-old has been known for his defense and led the league in steals per game this season.

The 2017-18 All-Defensive selection also took on far more offensive responsibilities as the Spurs' go-to option who was trusted with leading the team as both a scorer and facilitator who could also contribute on the boards from the backcourt.

Murray's improvement was a primary reason San Antonio made the Western Conference play-in tournament despite something of a lackluster roster around him.

Cleveland also made the play-in tournament from the Eastern Conference in large part because of the improvement Garland demonstrated while leading the team through significant injuries to Collin Sexton and Jarrett Allen.

The Vanderbilt product finished with career-high marks in points (21.7), assists (8.6), rebounds (3.3) and steals (1.3) per game while shooting 46.2 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from three-point range.

That Garland is just 22 years old and playing on a team that also includes a young rising star in Evan Mobley means the future is bright in Cleveland, even if it was unable to parlay its quick start to the season into a deep playoff run.

While all three finalists showed drastic improvement while elevating their names into the All-Star echelon of the league, it was Morant who took home the award to commemorate his efforts.