PORTLAND—Ja Morant is making the superstar leap in front of the world.
Every six months or so, Morant sends a reminder that he should be getting anointed as one of the next faces of the NBA. Drafted No. 2 overall in 2019 behind the much more hyped Zion Williamson, Morant won Rookie of the Year and drew comparisons to MVP-era Derrick Rose for his explosive, can't-take-your-eyes-off-him play style.
Last spring, Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies upset the Golden State Warriors in the play-in tournament, then won the first game of their first-round series against the top-seeded Utah Jazz. They put up a fight during the rest of the series, well ahead of when most people thought they'd be a playoff team.
A week into his third season, Morant has been the story. He scored 37 points in Memphis' season-opening win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, then put up 40 points and 10 assists in a close loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday.
Morant had a case to be an All-Star in his second season. With the cred that comes from having led the Grizzlies to the playoffs and some big performances against marquee teams early in the year, it feels inevitable that he'll make that jump this season.
On the surface, Morant appears unaffected by all of this newfound attention and doesn't seem to have much interest in feeding the hype machine. He's been vocal about his dislike for social media, even though he's one of the most engaged young stars on it.
Morant's less-is-more approach to NBA stardom suits a Grizzlies team that's progressing much faster than anyone anticipated. He let his play speak for itself at Murray State, a mid-major, and he's doing the same in Memphis.
Bleacher Report caught up with Morant at the Grizzlies' shootaround on Wednesday morning, ahead of their 116-96 loss against the Portland Trail Blazers, to discuss his hot start to the year, his dislike of social media and his expectations for a young team that may be ahead of schedule.
Bleacher Report: What has this week been like for you? Going off against the Lakers and then being a guest on ESPN's NBA Today, it feels like you're the talk of the entire league right now.
Ja Morant: Me personally, I don't really pay too much mind to it. I'm locked in on what I have to do with my team. Next game, next practice, whatever it is. To be prepared to go get a win.
B/R: You don't feel any of that attention when you're the guy everyone is focusing on?
Morant: I mean, I see it, but I don't really pay too much mind to it. I should have been getting that recognition already. But the way I'm playing right now is the reason I'm getting it.
B/R: You obviously work on everything, but is the shooting something you're focusing on this year? You hit five three-pointers in the Lakers game. Is that going to be a more regular part of your game now?
Morant: I just take what the defense was giving me. In the Laker game, they were sagging off me, and I was shooting the ball with confidence.
B/R: Something else I wanted to ask you about—you're really good at social media, but you tweeted in July that if you didn't have to be on there, you'd get rid of it. Is that still how you feel?
Morant: That's still my attitude. I just do stuff on there to engage with my fans on Twitter, Instagram, whatever it is. That's pretty much what I do. I don't really care for it too much.
B/R: You're really savvy on it, though. I remember when you got in a little back-and-forth with Stephen Curry and people tried to make it into a big thing, and you pulled up screenshots of your own tweets from when you were a kid about what a big fan of his you were, having fun with it.
Morant: It's not real life. People just hide behind keyboards and say whatever they want. I just do it because that's what the world runs through right now.
B/R: What are your overall expectations for this team this year and how good do you think you can be?
Morant: Championship. That's our main goal.
B/R: I look at a team like last year's Hawks, who were a young team that people thought could maybe make the playoffs, and out of nowhere they made the conference finals. Is that the kind of team you look to and say, 'Why can't that be us?'
Morant: Nah. I just focus on us. I don't base our expectations off other teams. We've just got to focus on us. I feel like that's what got us to the point we got to last year. We were able to get some experience against a good Utah team in the playoffs. We've just got to take that into this season and play together.
B/R: What's the biggest difference between last year's team and this year's team?
Morant: Chemistry and experience. That's probably the biggest thing.
B/R: How has Steven Adams fit in?
Morant: You see it on the floor. He's scoring for us inside and rebounding, and also his passing ability is big-time. He's averaging four or five assists for us right now. You don't really see that from a center.
B/R: Having Jaren Jackson Jr. back is also going to be huge for you guys. He played in only 11 games last year. How much better can you be if he stays healthy all year?
Morant: He just makes us better. All the stuff he's able to do—he can space the floor, score inside, post up smaller bigs, attack the bigger bigs, block shots, rebound. He does a lot of stuff on the floor. He makes us a better team overall.
B/R: Finally, are there any guys around the league, maybe in your age group, that you measure yourself against when you look at where you are and how good you want to be?
Morant: Ja Morant.
B/R: That's it? Nobody else?
Morant: That's my answer. That's the only one. I don't compare myself to nobody else in this league. I just focus on me. You see where that's gotten me?
Sean Highkin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. He is a graduate of the University of Oregon and lives in Portland. His work has been honored by the Pro Basketball Writers' Association. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and in the B/R App.