How is an NBA rivalry really formed? Is it head to head competition, division rivalries, or maybe a player leaves a team in limbo and is now hated? There are many ways they start but how many of them last a lifetime?
Larry Bird versus Magic Johnson, the Chicago Bulls Versus New York Knicks, Tim Duncan versus Kobe Bryant: there’s no exact science to how these rivalries are formed but they pop up everywhere.
A new rivalry that’s on the cusp of being very hot early in the process has presented itself to us.
Zion Williamson and Ja Morant were selected back to back at the top of the 2019 NBA draft. Both players have shown great play on the court, proving worthy of their draft status. Now the two players are front and center in the midst of a playoff race and once again one is right in front of the other.
Morant is averaging 17.6 points and 6.9 assists per game, which are both team highs. The Memphis Grizzlies have him paired him with 2018 first round pick Jaren Jackson (16.9 points per game) and the early results are very impressive. The team is currently in the eighth spot in the Western Conference and Morant has firmly planted himself as the leader in the Rookie of the Year race.
Williamson has come into league with the hype of a late 80’s Mike Tyson fight. He’s averaging 23.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per game after sitting out most of the season with an injury. His presence on the court alone has made defenses shift attention, which has made them better overall. The New Orleans Pelicans are sitting a few games back of Memphis but are easily in the hunt for that spot.
Morant and Williamson are both “bringing sexy back” by attacking the basket and making defenders cringe at becoming posterized. Neither takes a ton of threes, which is refreshing in Williamson’s case and surprising in Morant’s. Both have taken the reigns as the face of the franchise and will be looked upon to lead their teams to ultimate glory.
They could be matched up against each other in a possible play-in series if the Pelicans can stay within striking distance. We obviously have no clue how this season will turn out but this feels like the beginning of something great. These two players look like they will be amongst the top performers for the next ten years.
The future looks bright for both franchises and these teams will play each other a bunch of times every year. The amount of playoff and finals wins they accumulate could be a direct result of defeating each other. This is the opening act of what could be a great story line for the next decade.