Allen Iverson needs no introduction among NBA circles; nor does Ja Morant.
A former MVP, 75th-anniversary top-75 member, and unstoppable scorer, Iverson is in the ranks of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, LeBron James, and Steph Curry for his impact on the game of basketball.
The Hampton, Virginia native also transcended the world of professional sports with flashy style and memorable moments in interviews (we talkin’ practice?) and is one of the most beloved superstars in NBA history— and he has anointed Morant as his successor.
“Big” Shoes to Fill
Part of what made Iverson so likable was his fearlessness for a player that was listed at six feet tall but probably more in the region of 5-foot-10; the longtime Philadelphia 76er was relentless in his attacks of guards on the perimeter or swoops to the hoop, oftentimes absorbing contact from players a foot taller than him, if not just jumping right over them.
Players with Iverson’s handles, mid-range shooting, and finishing ability have come into the league since he first entered, but no player has combined his entire package of moves with unwavering mental fortitude and leadership— that is, until Ja Morant entered the league.
Morant, the 2020 Rookie of the Year that is now in his third season, is averaging 27.6 points, 6.6 assists, and 5.9 rebounds per game on 49.8% shooting, a ridiculous standard for an undersized (6-foot-3, 174 pounds) guard that spends a majority of his time in the paint.
For Comparison, Iverson averaged 31.1 points, 4.6 assists, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.5 steals during his MVP 2000-01 season, playing nearly 10 more minutes per game but in an era where points were harder to come by.
Passing the Torch
Morant has put the NBA on notice after impressing in his first two years, leading his Memphis Grizzlies to the third-best record (43-20) in the Western Conference and NBA, trailing only the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors. He has accomplished this with a 37-year-old Head Coach, the second-youngest roster in the NBA, and without teaming up with another current or former All-Star.
The Murray State product has been a regular in the highlight reel for his entire career, coming up with jaw-dropping dunks and game-saving shots with great regularity.
On Saturday, February 26, Morant set the Grizzlies’ franchise record with a career-high 46 points in a narrow win over the Chicago Bulls, two days later on the 28th, the young phenom one-upped this performance and dropped 52 points on 73.3% shooting in a win against the San Antonio Spurs that came with a half-court three, ridiculous poster dunk, and absurd buzzer-beater.
These performances combined with his track record prompted “The Answer,” Allen Iverson, himself to tweet out a picture of Morant’s jersey hanging over his MVP trophy with the caption “Sooner or Later!!!”
— Allen Iverson (@alleniverson) March 1, 2022
Building a Legacy
Morant made his first All-Star team this season and was a starter; he also has the fourth-best odds to win MVP at +130 according to several sportsbooks at the time of publication, so an MVP seems to be the next logical step.
Memphis’ favorite point guard also has a chance to do something that the great Iverson never got to do himself: win an NBA Championship.
AI’s best attempt came in his MVP season when his 76ers— often considered the worst team to reach an NBA Finals— fell to the Shaq and Kobe Lakers in five games. Iverson averaged 35.6 points per game and scored 48 in Game One, Phili’s only win of the series.
If the Grizzlies’ young star is willing to accept the pressure of leading his team to such heights, he seems to have the resiliency to put up with the expectations. What remains to be seen will determine where he falls among the all-time greats, a list that he is currently headed towards.
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