When the Miami Heat visit the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday night, the point guards will be in the spotlight.
Memphis’ Ja Morant, 22, is making the leap to superstardom. The second overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, Morant was the league’s Rookie of the Year in 2020. But after averaging career highs in points (19.1) and assists (7.4) last season, Morant is now playing at an elite level.
He is averaging 30.4 points and 7.8 assists. Morant’s shooting percentages are up across the board from last season: free throws (from .728 to .844); field goals (.449 to .544) and 3-pointers (.303 to .406).
The 3-point rate is crucial because Morant is deadly on drives. Now he has added perimeter shooting and maturing leadership to his game.
“He’s taking huge steps all around,” Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said. “He is finding his voice. His (leadership) resonates throughout the team.”
Morant on Saturday will face Miami point guard Kyle Lowry, who is 13 years his senior.
Lowry, who is new to the Heat this season, is a six-time All-Star who became an NBA champion in 2019 with the Toronto Raptors.
However, Lowry is averaging just 6.8 points this season, shooting just 3-for-21 on 3-pointers.
Even so, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he is pleased with what Lowry is providing this season, including 28 assists and just nine turnovers.
“What you are seeing is remarkable quarterback play,” Spoelstra said of Lowry. “He has been intentional about getting the ball to guys.
“(Lowry) is playing pass first, pass second and pass third. It’s a beautiful quality to allow everyone else to be comfortable, and you can see where that has benefitted us as a team (4-1 start).
“But, at some point, we will need his scoring, and he will provide that. It’s a long season.”
Indeed, Lowry has averaged 14.8 points over his career with a high of 22.4 just five years ago.
But while Lowry finds his scoring touch, the Heat have Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro.
Butler scored 32 points in Miami’s 114-99 win over the visiting Charlotte Hornets on Friday night. Adebayo had 26 points and 19 rebounds, and Herro provided 26 points off the bench.
All three shot a high percentage as Butler went 12-for-19; Adebayo made 10-for-16; and Herro converted on 9-of-13, including 4-of-6 on three-pointers.
“Jimmy is a closer in this league,” Spoelstra said. “Tyler is another guy you can get the ball to, and he will make plays. Bam’s advantage is his strength and force, and he reads things quickly.”
Despite all that, Memphis has beaten Miami the past three times the teams have played.
In addition, Miami will be playing with zero days of rest, and the Heat will have to fly to Tennessee.
Memphis, meanwhile, is 3-2 this season, but that has mostly been on the road. The Grizzlies are 1-0 at home.
Besides Morant, the Grizzlies are getting strong contributions from second-year guard Desmond Bane, who is averaging 19.2 points and making 43.2 percent of his 3-pointers; 6-11 center Steven Adams, who is averaging 11.0 points and a team-high 10.6 rebounds; 6-11 power forward Jaren Jackson Jr., who is an emerging talent at age 22; and 6-2 guard De’Anthony Melton, a 23-year-old who is a dynamic defender with an unusually long wingspan.
–Field Level Media