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NBA Mailbag: Does Ja Morant have shot at Kia Most Improved and MVP?

Taking stock of the rising Grizzlies, Ja Morant's play and more as Mark Medina answers your NBA questions.

Ja Morant and the Grizzlies have turned a lot of heads in the West so far in 2021-22.

No longer are the Memphis Grizzlies an “over-looked team.”

Ja Morant earned his first NBA All-Star appearance. The Memphis Grizzlies (38-15) are third in the Western Conference and, judging by the latest entries for the NBA mailbag, there is far more intrigue about the team outside of Beale Street than even the NBA’s “glamour” franchise in Los Angeles.

That development might also have to do with the fatigue Lakers fans feel about the team’s never-ending injuries and consistency. But it also has to do with the deserved respect the Grizzlies are finally receiving.

So without a delay, here are a few of those Grizzlies-related questions.

For future mailbags, send your question to me through email or Twitter.

Will Ja Morant get serious consideration for Most Improved Player with him also being in the narrative for MVP?

— @arhooptalk

I’ll gladly defer to my colleague, Michael Wright, who tracks the Kia MVP race on a weekly basis. But discount Morant’s candidacy at your own peril. Morant has led the NBA in scoring in a variety of ways, including, first in points in the paint (16.0) and second in fast-break points (4.5) while also being one of four players this season to average at least 25 points, six rebounds and six assists. The others? LeBron James, Nikola Jokic and Luka Doncic.

Of course, those three players are all viable MVP candidates for the same reason. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid are likely staying in the race, as are Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry — assuming Durant returns from injury and Curry ends his poor shooting month.

Check out some of Ja Morant's best plays from the season so far.

For better and for worse, some voters base their evaluation on narratives. Does that help Morant’s case since he is considered a rising star in a small market? Or will that hurt Morant’s case while competing against more familiar candidates? The best way Morant can tilt that narrative in his favor simply entails ensuring that the Grizzlies keep winning. As for the Kia Most Improved Player award? Morant could grab that trophy, too. But I would hedge my bets simply because Morant has already won the NBA’s Kia Rookie of the Year award. It’s not like Morant has come out of nowhere.

What’s your mid-season MVP ballot looking like?

— @seasn3727

Thankfully, I don’t have to submit my vote until the season actually ends. But at this point in time? My top five candidates are Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Ja Morant, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. But this is all very fluid considering we don’t know how much health, slumps or out-break performances will play out among these five players after the All-Star break.

Jared Greenberg, Carlos Boozer and Steve Smith discuss the latest edition of the Kia MVP Ladder.

Memphis has the 6th best strength of schedule and the 3rd best overall record, plus it’s top 10 in offensive and defensive efficiency. Are the Grizzlies legitimate contenders for a Beale Street parade?

— @maddox_barry

Don’t be surprised if the Grizzlies make a championship run. They are not afraid and fully capable of beating the NBA’s other best teams, including the Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors, Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks. But unless either of those teams have dramatic injuries, I still view the Grizzlies more as a “dangerous playoff team” than a “title contender.” I predict the Grizzlies will advance in the playoffs until they have to face the Suns or the Warriors. So, they’ll at least reach the Western Conference semifinals or finals (at best).

Assuming both teams are relatively healthy, I would still give the nod to the Warriors and Suns because they have collective playoff experience as well as amazing talent and depth. The Grizzlies won’t be afraid of the moment and have quality depth themselves. But they don’t have the same institutional knowledge that the Warriors and Suns have with making tactical adjustments in a tough playoff series. Nonetheless, the Grizzlies have a window to win an NBA title within the next five years.

The Grizzlies continue to play for one another and follow Ja Morant's lead.

These Cavs look red hot, and they are impressing me. What do you think? Can they make a championship run

— Charles Jackson

Before the season, I would’ve laughed off the question. I thought the Cavaliers were headed for the NBA lottery. But, they have struck all the right chords and I voted for Jarrett Allen and Darius Garland as All-Star reserves. Evan Mobley deserves Kia Rookie of the Year consideration and veteran Kevin Love has accepted his reduced role admirably. I still favor the Brooklyn Nets and the Milwaukee Bucks out of the East. But, that assumes they’ll have a healthy roster, which isn’t exactly a guarantee (especially during a pandemic season). So, there is a pathway for the Cavaliers to win a title only six years after LeBron James helped them become the only team to overcome a 3-1 Finals series deficit.

The Cavaliers' rebuild is taking off behind Darius Garland's leadership and Evan Mobley's quick adjustment to the NBA.

I’m guessing they keep Frank Vogel for the rest of the year, but do you see the Lakers making a coaching change next year?

— @Sportshabit20

Frank Vogel doesn’t deserve this. He didn’t construct a roster that has 11 new players and few defensive specialists. He didn’t inherit a team that could stay out of the trainer’s room. Still, it seems likely the Lakers will make Vogel the fall guy if they fall short in the playoffs because that’s often what happens in professional sports. The only problem? The Lakers’ issues are their own doing, not the coaching staff’s. The other problem? What’s the better alternative?

Lakers assistant coach David Fizdale went only 1-5 during Vogel’s absence while in the NBA’s Health and Safety Protocols. Though Vogel’s staff is well respected, he doesn’t have any other assistant with NBA head-coaching experience. And there aren’t any elite coaches available that currently catch the Lakers’ interest. Still, plenty of time awaits from now until the end of the season on how well the Lakers turn things around and which candidates might become be on the market.

The Lakers keep sliding down the Western Conference standings and are searching for answers.

Why do you think they shoot 3-pointers and floaters more than mid-rangers?

— @NBAFansTV

The reason is pretty simple. The NBA has an influx of talented shooters. Plenty of the team’s analytics departments have also concluded it’s mathematically more efficient to shoot 3-pointers than mid-range 2-pointers. Some teams make exceptions for some of their elite scorers that have a thriving mid-range game. But unless the NBA makes any drastic rule changes, this style of play is here to stay.

I can’t give away all my secrets!!!

Hoops Around the World

We all know that the NBA has become a global brand and that basketball has become a global game. But what fuels your basketball fandom?

Got a good basketball story to tell? Write it up and send it my way. The best essays will be used in this feature throughout the season. We’d also love to see a photo of the hoop you play on, whether it be in your neighborhood gym or in the backyard of your driveway. Got a good image? Then pass along and we’ll feature it.

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NBA Digital Sr. Analyst Mark Medina will be answering questions each week in his NBA Mailbag.

How can you participate? Simply email your question to Mark here, or use your Twitter account and get your question to him here.