Grizzlies' Ja Morant Talks ROY Buzz, Succeeding Mike Conley and Call of Duty

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistOctober 17, 2019

Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant (12) plays in the first half of an exhibition NBA basketball game against the New Zealand Breakers Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
Brandon Dill/Associated Press

Ja Morant has heard the Rookie of the Year buzz.

He just cares more about wins and losses.

"Rookie of the Year is not really my focus right now," the Memphis Grizzlies guard told Bleacher Report. "I'm just trying to be the best player I can be and do whatever I can to help my team win ballgames."

Morant's team-first focus is notable because the Rookie of the Year race figures to be one of the season's most intriguing storylines. The headliners include arguably the most hyped prospect since LeBron James in Zion Williamson, the future of basketball in the Big Apple in RJ Barrett and Morant himself, while the likes of Tyler Herro, Darius Garland and Coby White provide plenty of depth.

The new face of the Grizzlies may not be particularly concerned with beating out Zion and Co. for the individual recognition, but he isn't backing down from the best the NBA has to offer.

"The top players in the league," he said when asked who he is looking forward to going up against in his first season. "Growing up watching a lot of these guys play and now having the opportunity to play against them, I'm very excited."

Morant named LeBron, Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, Stephen Curry, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George as examples, underscoring the daunting reality of playing in the Western Conference.

All except the reigning MVP play in the rookie's conference, meaning he will face an uphill battle while attempting to improve on Memphis' 33-49 record from last season.

It's no surprise he's eyeing the league's best players, though, seeing how he never shied from the top competition at Murray State. Morant played some of the best basketball of his career on the national stage of the NCAA men's tournament when he notched a triple-double in a win over Marquette and poured in 28 points against the ACC's Florida State in the second round.

He shot up draft boards in the process, and the Grizzlies jumped at the chance to take him with the No. 2 pick.

The last time a point guard was a top-five pick and tasked with leading Memphis into contention was 2007, when the team selected Mike Conley No. 4 overall. All Conley did was play 12 seasons as a Grizzlies great, helping lead them to the playoffs seven straight years and to the 2013 Western Conference Finals.

"Obviously, he's a legend in Memphis," Morant said of his point guard predecessor. "So I know I have big shoes to fill, but I'm not going out there and trying to force anything. I'm just continuing to play my game and do whatever I can to help my team out."

Continuing to play his game will work just fine for the Grizzlies seeing how he was a consensus All-American who did a little of everything at Murray State while tallying 24.5 points, 10.0 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game last season.

Basketball is not all Morant will play during his rookie campaign.

He revealed he has been a fan of the Call of Duty franchise since he was a child and is partnering with the game in advance of the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare release on October 25.

"I'm excited to partner with Call of Duty and be able to have the new game coming out and just being able to play it," he said. "I like multiplayer, and I also like the campaign. I'm going to start my own campaign when the game comes out and it's my first time just to get a feel for the game and learn how to play more. And then go to multiplayer and start playing with my friends."

Morant may not be focused on the individual battle for Rookie of the Year, but there's one player he's backing in an NBA-wide Call of Duty tournament.

"I always got confidence in myself, so I'd still take me."

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