The young, up-and-coming Memphis Grizzlies team was one of the bigger surprises last season, as they played their way to the second-best record in the NBA and all the way to the second round of the playoffs. The main reason for the Grizzlies’ new-found success is their exciting young backcourt, the duo of Ja Morant and Desmond Bane.
Morant is incredibly athletic and almost unstoppable when he moves to the basket. Bane’s game, on the other hand, is much calmer, but he is still one of the best three-point shooters in the league. Due to their differing skillsets, the two young stars display a great combination of drives and shooting.
Between the two, Morant’s rise through the NBA ranks was less of a surprise, as he was the second overall pick in the 2019 draft and won Rookie of the Year. After that, Morant really started lighting the league on fire last season and was voted an All-Star starter in his first ever All-Star game.
Coming into the NBA, Morant already appeared to be a superstar in the making but still improved a lot in his third season and, even though he could have been in an entirely different award conversation had he not missed so many games, he won the Most Improved Player award. Morant, however, went on to bestow this award onto teammate Desmond Bane, who had also been in the running.
Unlike Morant, Bane did not come into the league hailed as a future superstar. Instead, he was a steal in the 2020 draft as the last pick in the 1st round and spent most of his rookie season coming off the bench. He still made the All-Rookie Second Team and then erupted for a breakout season, doubling his point average and growing into a better playmaker and leader for the Grizzlies.
Since his rookie year, Bane also improved a lot defensively and hopefully this trend will continue because the Grizzlies lost some good defenders during the off-season and the remaining players will have to step up their game. On defense, Bane already plays physical and smart and is in the top 25 among guards in defensive rebounds, but he still has room to grow. Morant, too, still has some defensive improvements to go through, but he is already more than capable of using his baffling athleticism to disrupt passing lanes or destroy fast breaks with another highlight chase-down block.
Despite improvements in several areas, Bane’s biggest asset is unquestioningly his incredibly accurate three-point shooting. He can make contested threes in catch-and-shoot situations, off of a handoff, or as a dribble pull-up shot. Bane’s combination of volume and accuracy from the three-point line pairs incredibly well with Morant’s quick and athletic style of play. Morant attracts so much attention when he is flying down the lane to the basket that defenders often leave Bane just open enough for him to hit his trademark three-point shot.
The duo thrives on this kind of play, but Bane can also instigate his own offense, which he proved when Morant missed some games last season and Bane led the team to continuous success. While both players can function fine on their own and lead the young Grizzlies, they still work best together. Last season, in a 114-113 win over the Phoenix Suns, Morant and Bane combined for 65 points, which was the first time in franchise history that both starting guards eclipsed 30 points.
Now, they are showing no signs of slowing down. Bane and Morant scored 38 points each against Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets in just their fourth game of the season. That game marked the first time in 39 years that four players in a game scored more than 35 points each. All four players made history together, but Morant and Bane were the ones leading their team to a win against two proven superstars, flashing their potential once again.
Both are young, confident, and ambitious and have the drive to be the best. While they lead an up-and-coming, motivated squad looking to make some noise in the West and get their much-desired revenge on the reigning champions, Morant is on his way to become the face of this new generation of players and Bane is transforming from one of the best shooters in the league into one of the most talented, all-around guards.
By combining their talents and continuing to grow together, Morant and Bane could become the NBA’s best duo in the future; older combinations like the Splash Brothers in Golden State or the Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, for example, haven taken a step back to give way to the new generation of stars. So far, Morant is averaging 33.3 points on a 55.0 percent field goal percentage, 4.5 rebounds, and 6.3 assists. Bane is following closely, averaging 24.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 5 assists while shooting 44.6 percent on threes. Thanks to their leading duo’s performances, the Grizzlies are off to a decent start this season and will only continue to win more games, wanting to prove that they are truly a force to be reckoned with for years to come
Of course, Bane and Morant have some competition when it comes to who will be the next great NBA duo. The likes of Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland in Cleveland, Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey in Detroit, or Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner in Orlando also have their eyes on the title. Banchero and Wagner are the centerpieces of the Magic’s rebuild, while Banchero is far and away the frontrunner in the Rookie of the Year competition; Cunningham and Ivey just defeated the reigning champions; and just the idea of pairing Mitchell and Garland suddenly put the Cavaliers in the title conversation. Unfortunately, we have not seen much of the latter pair yet due to Garland’s injury, but the way Mitchell has been playing ever since arriving in Cleveland is an indicator of what those two exciting guards will be able to accomplish in the future.
Morant and Bane, however, are one step ahead of these other duos since they have already led their team to both regular season and playoff success and have continually kept improving as they’ve established the Grizzlies as the team of the future in the Western Conference. Memphis’s two young stars are fueled by a winning mentality that will not let them back down from any challenge, and have what it takes to surpass other pairs in the race for who will be the NBA’s next great duo.
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