Player rivalries in the NBA are peppered throughout the league's decorated 75-year history. These rivalries generally fall into two main categories. We have respectful player rivals like Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Then we have a non-respectful rivalry, take Kobe Bryant vs Raja Bell as an often forgotten about example.
These player rivalries provide drama that cannot be scripted, which is what makes them so interesting. If you are lucky, the respect between player rivals can sometimes disappear, be replaced temporarily with disrespect, and even hate, only to eventually fluctuate back to respect for one another later down the road, which makes for a fantastic feel-good storyline.
Add into the fold that these players may even play for teams who set up shop in the same division, which would of course mean more battles for fans to enjoy as division foes play one another more frequently throughout the season. If the stars line up and all these moving parts come into one, you have yourself a well-rounded player rivalry.
The thing is, we don't see this type of hybrid rivalry that often. Typically, the rivals respect each other or they don't, and not many rivalries have real longevity. As a matter of fact, I would debate that a real hybrid division player rivalry has been missing from the game for some time now.
However, every now and again, the basketball gods provide. They give the league what it needs when it needs it most, and right now, what the NBA needs is a new, young, fresh hybrid-style player rivalry. Remember, to be hybrid, we need those ingredients like respect, disrespect, longevity, and even a little bit of hate.
The next great hybrid player rivalry is coming into form folks, shaping up in the Southwest Division resting upon the shoulders of two young superstar guards in Texas and Tennessee who play for teams with a dicey yet competitive past. Those basketball gods we talked about tapped the fountain of youth and used precise placement, added in the discussed ingredients, and created the next great divisional player rivalry.
Ja Morant and Dejounte Murray will be the next big division rivalry
And it's a match made in hoops heaven.
Before we compare the two young guards, let's keep in mind that these two franchises have engaged in some memorable matchups in the past. Sure, these hardwood wars didn’t feature Murray or Morant, but more served as a foundation to this player rivalry.
Memphis and San Antonio don’t necessarily hate one another, and there is mutual respect between the two clubs even when that has had its rough spots in the past. For a player rivalry this special to be born, the same ingredients we keep touching on must be present with the teams as well. In this case, they certainly are, meaning the foundation has been poured and is properly in place.
Memphis and San Antonio play in the same division as well and even met in the 2021 play-in tournament that, at the time, seemed a bit meaningless and soft to a good number of fans in both fanbases. What was most overlooked was that this game served as a preview of playoff battles to come between the guards. There was fierce competitiveness both had toward one another considering it was not a “real” playoff game.
"On the floor, there are no friends. Strictly business," said Murray before the matchup.
The Tale of the Tape is Even
These guys also match up so evenly that not one or the other can really say they have an edge in terms of percentages and stats. I have said it once and I will say it again, data does not lie. Murray has been in the league for five seasons, Morant for three. Neither baller has experienced success in the playoffs yet, so no edge on that front exists either.
Individual accolades are even at one apiece, however, these leaders have both been vocal that these things mean little in comparison to team goals. Averages for rebounds, steals, blocks, and assists are all within three points of the other as well. Field goal, 3-point, and free throw percentages are almost identical. Both men are around the same height and weight. Any rivalry needs to be evenly matched, and these men are.
Most importantly, these flashy guards are both emerging into known leaders of their clubs and becoming perineal All-Star-caliber talent. And they both want one thing above all else. They want to win.
They want division championships. They want Western Conference championships. And both of them dream to one day make it to the pinnacle of the sport known as The NBA Finals.
Wednesday's matchup in the Alamo City will be the second of four meetings between the two rising stars this season and just another chapter in the budding feud.
These two young guns in the West are in a prime position to become a rivalry for the ages that could go down in history. So many of their assets and attributes are the same, which is sure to produce championship banners and parades likely for both pros.
That said, there must be some shared challenges right? Only one comes to mind -- each other.