I’d like to formally apologize to the Memphis Grizzlies organization, players, fans and minority owner Justin Timberlake. I was completely wrong about you. I was adamant your grit n’ grind playing style wouldn’t survive any longer in the fast pace Western Conference. That San Antonio, Golden State, Dallas and everybody else had too much firepower for you to keep up with.
I ranked you to finish 9th at the beginning of the year, behind Phoenix whom I was drinking all the orange and purple Kool-Aid I could find in the preseason. After the convincing 105-98 victory against the hottest team in the league last Tuesday night, then following it up with a triple-overtime thriller of a victory over the Spurs the next night,I hereby declare officially a part of the Grizz bandwagon.
Maybe I enjoy watching this team play because they resemble the Bulls in a lot of ways. Defense first, punish teams in the paint, solid bench and coaching, but most of all, lay it on the line every night. David Joerger is the leading Coach of the Year candidate, not Steve Kerr, who while has also done a phenomenal job with the Warriors, but even he has admitted that there wasn’t much to do when he got there, 100% true and props to him for admitting it.
At 21-6, the Grizzlies are as good as anyone in the league and while it’s easy to say that big man duo Marc Gasol and Zac Randolph have been the engine behind it all, the real engine is the little man supplying them, forget most under-rated point guard, most under-rated, under-appreciated player period. Mike Conley Jr.
When Derrick Rose was drafted number one overall in 2008, he became the start of the point guard revolution. Where if you wanted to succeed, having an uber-athletic and/or score-first mentality for a point guard was the vogue thing to do. John Wall, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving followed in Rose’s foot steps and inevitable changed the way teams build themselves from the ground up.
Mike Conley was drafted a year before Rose, 7th overall. There was nothing in Conley’s game that made you get up out your seat like Rose and Westbrook driving through an entire defense and dunking on all of them. At Ohio State, he wasn’t the go-to guy on their Final Four run, Greg Oden was. Conley was just the guy feeding him and occasionally knocking down big shot after big shot.
In his 7th year in the NBA, in essence, Mike Conley is still doing what he did in college, only this time he is feeding the best big-man duo in the league, and taking it to point guards who are deemed better than him. He averages a respectable 17.8 PPG and 6.2 APG this season, but Conley is remarkably efficient with his chances. On a team that doesn’t value the 3-point shot among others in the league (28th in the league with only 15.5 attempts a game) Conley is shooting a career high 42% from behind the arc, better than Curry, Irving and Lillard.
Still, stats do not define Conley’s effectiveness and value to the Grizzlies. At 6’1″ he is small nowadays for the position, but his game his virtually impossible to completely stop. He has an arsenal of crossovers and stop n’ go moves that leave defenders in the dust and finishes at the rim as well as anyone his size with floaters and high-arcing touch lay-ups. Throw in the fact he is left-handed and a reliable pull-up shooter, Memphis pick n’ roll has been dominant all year long due in large to Conley having the option to throw it off to either Gasol or Z-Bo for an easy bucket or settle for the mid-range jumper where he is shooting 47%.
He leads by example, humble yes, but his game speaks volumes to the Grizzlies success. He does what is asked of him and never pushes past beyond what he can do, averaging only 2.3 turnovers a game. He is far from flashy, but his game is so smooth and effortless it looks that way. A gritty defender that doesn’t reach for steals, he is a hassle for bigger and faster guards like Westbrook and Wall on both ends regardless. Most of all, Conley gets it done in crunch time, more so this season than anytime in his career.
Sadly though, odds are he will be jockeyed out of an All-Star spot once again this season. With Curry, Ellis, Paul and Westbrook all having stellar years so far, Conley doesn’t do anything that stands out enough (In one of the smaller markets in the league) to get voted in by the fans, and having six guards on an All-Star team is unprecedented, and simply won’t happen.
But Conley is deserving in every way, he leads one of the best teams in the league every night and puts in work on both ends of the floor for all 48 minutes. People love picking the guys who are regulars on the highlight reel and SportCenter’s Top 10 plays. Conley isn’t one of those guys, but watch ten minutes of basketball of him and you’ll concur.
Mike Conley is an All-Star, and much more.