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How Does Ja Morant’s Season-Ending Shoulder Injury Impact the Wolves?

The Grizzlies star suffered a torn labrum in his right shoulder and will undergo season-ending surgery before making a full recovery ahead of the 2024-25 season.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

The Memphis Grizzlies on Monday evening announced that superstar point guard Ja Morant suffered a torn labrum in his right shoulder and will undergo season-ending surgery.

Morant played in nine games after serving a 25-game suspension to start the season. Memphis started the season 0-6 before ultimately going 6-19 in the two-time All-Star’s absence. Despite the playoffs odds stacked against the Grizzlies, Morant’s return (which also coincided with getting several rotation players back from injury) breathed life back into a team that missed its heart and soul. So much so that it almost felt likely that Morant would put the team on his back and lead them back to the playoffs after the team went 4-0 in his first four games back.

The former Murray State star hit a game-winner in his first game back — a 24-point comeback win over the New Orleans Pelicans — and put up monster numbers in his nine outings. Morant averaged 25.1 points on 47.1/27.5/81.3 shooting splits, 8.1 assists, 5.6 rebounds, 0.8 steals, and 0.6 blocks across 35.3 minutes per game.

Now, the Grizzlies will have to navigate the remainder of their season without Morant, one of the game’s top point guards and most difficult covers. Getting Marcus Smart back from a foot sprain helps, as does both All-Star big man Jaren Jackson Jr. and sharpshooting wing Desmond Bane taking major steps forward this season. But missing Morant ultimately puts a hard cap on what Memphis can do in the postseason, should they make up the 4.5-game gap to climb out of the No. 13 seed and get back into the Play-In Tournament.

Morant’s injury has ripple effects that will impact the Wolves beyond the reduced likelihood of another Minnesota/Memphis postseason matchup, as well.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

2024 NBA Draft

The trade that President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly and the Wolves front office executed to bring in Mike Conley and Nickeil Alexander-Walker for D’Angelo Russell will be talked about for a long time in Minnesota, especially if the Timberwolves are able to make a deep run in the postseason. While the deal is already enough of a success if you just focus on the players involved, it becomes even more impressive when you consider that the Wolves also received three second-round picks in the transaction.

Two of the three are Utah Jazz’s second-round picks in 2025 and 2026 with no protections; the 2026 pick was packaged with the Wolves’ 2028 selection to land Leonard Miller on draft night last year. The first pick to convey is a 2024 second-round pick — the less favorable selection between the Grizzlies and Washington Wizards. Put differently, whichever of those two teams finishes with the better record (and thus has a second-round pick later in the draft) will turn their pick over to Minnesota. Given that Wizards are a ghastly 6-30, the 13-23 Grizzlies are much more likely to finish with the better record and ultimately lose their selection to the Wolves.

Should the pick land in the 31-40 range (one through 10 in the second round), it will hold some real value as a vehicle not only for selecting a talented player with real upside, but also for potentially making a move ahead of the NBA Trade Deadline on Thursday, February 8. Keep in mind that Miller, viewed among many draft experts leading into the draft as a first-round pick, was selected No. 33 overall in the 2023 NBA Draft — prime range for selected a high-upside player who fell out of the first round.

But given that the Wolves will face a serious financial crunch beyond this season, getting as many swings at landing a legitimate rotation player on a typical second-round rookie contract is certainly appealing, too.

Memphis Grizzlies v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

A Potential Trade Target

It is no secret that the Timberwolves have needs ahead of next month’s trade deadline. Playmaking behind Conley, bench scoring and a talented shooting specialist are among the prominent areas Minnesota may look to address.

Given the Morant news, it is plausible to think the Grizzlies could pivot to selling at the deadline and prioritize more developmental minutes for G.G. Jackson, Vince Williams Jr. and Jake LaRavia. If that ends up being the case, Memphis guard Luke Kennard could very well become a trade candidate. Kennard is on the books for $14,763,636 this season and has a club option for the same figure next season. Given his salary cap figure, Minnesota would need to move Kyle Anderson ($9.2 million) and one of Shake Milton ($5.0 million) or Troy Brown Jr. ($4.0 million) to make the money work. That is, of course, simply a hypothetical for this exercise.

The Grizzlies acquired Kennard at the deadline last season, but he has played in just 42 games since then due to various injuries (most recently a bone bruise in his left knee). But when he has played, his production from deep has been excellent. Kennard, 27, has led the NBA in 3-point percentage in each of the last two seasons (49.4% and 44.9%, respectively), and is shooting 39.5% from deep this season (albeit on just 71 attempts).

Since entering the league in 2017, Kennard has the third-highest catch-and-shoot 3-point percentage (45.7%) among the 171 players with at least 750 attempts, trailing only Seth Curry (46.3%) and Joe Harris (45.9%). The former Duke stand-out has shot 42.0% on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers in each season as a pro, and his 52.6% mark on 213 catch-and-shoot triples last season was a career-high.

Beyond his obvious shooting talent, he is a capable second-side playmaker off the catch as well. Kennard averages 2.0 assists per game for his career and has held an assist-to-turnover ratio north of 1.7 in every year of his career, including a 2.0 or better ratio four of his six NBA seasons (4.67 this season). He doesn’t initiate at a level close to what Anderson does, but is better than your average playmaker in spot-up situations, especially for a dynamic shooter.

Whether Kennard becomes a legitimate target for the Wolves or not, he does fit some of what the team may look to add at the trade deadline or in the subsequent buyout market, and is worth a look.