First time NBA All-Star Mike Conley Jr., that has a pretty nice ring to it, huh? We should be hearing that phrase announced by the NBA in the near future. Conley’s role with the Memphis Grizzlies has been increased since the team traded away his backup, Jerryd Bayless, on Tuesday. Memphis has only played two games since the Bayless trade, but Conley has showed why Bayless was expendable. On Friday night Conley helped lead the Grizzlies back from an early deficit to get a much needed win over the Phoenix Suns 104-99. Games like this are starting to become the norm for Conley, and further proof that he should be an All-Star this season.
Conley, who was once mocked and booed by fans in Memphis, is now the best player on the court for Memphis a lot of nights. Sure, some nights it is Zach Randolph, and when Marc Gasol comes back that might change, but for now Conley is keeping the Grizzlies in the playoff hunt. Memphis was at a crossroads when Quincy Pondexter went down with a stress fracture; should they tank the season since their players were dropping like flies, or should they keep fighting and wait to see what happens when Gasol comes back? The Grizzlies opted to keep pushing for a playoff spot, but they would not have been able to do that without Conley playing as well as he is playing.
You can’t get much smaller of a sample-size than two games, but in the two games without Bayless, Conley is averaging 30.5 points per game, 6.0 assists per game, and is shooting 54.8 percent from the field. It’s not just these two games either, Conley has been playing superbly since Gasol went down and the Grizzlies needed his scoring more.
The problem with Conley making the All-Star team is that there are so many good point guards in the Western Conference, but there are very few good shooting guards, so that will give him a better chance than normal. Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook are both dealing with injuries, and might not be back in time for the All-Star game, or might opt to not risk further injury if they are just getting healthy. Steph Curry, Tony Parker, Damian Lillard and James Harden are the only locks for All Star spots. They typically take six guards for the roster, so that leaves Conley in contention with Ty Lawson, Isaiah Thomas, Monta Ellis and Klay Thompson for the final two spots. The biggest question will be: do the coaches decide to go with four point guards? But, let’s be honest, they don’t really care.
Conley has been the leader of the Grizzlies this season. Until the Bayless trade when Memphis acquired Courtney Lee, the Grizzlies had been without a reliable shooting threat, so defenses could clog the lane, and cut down on the Grizzlies use of Randolph, they have been forced to use Conley more often, and he has responded as well as anyone could. Even though his defensive rating and steal numbers are down, he is still a great defender to go along with what he does on offense. Without Gasol in the paint Conley can’t gamble on steals as often, so the only thing he can do is stay in front of his man and force contested shots. According to 82games.com, Conley has a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 2.2 higher than opposing point guards this season, and that is without a rim-protector behind him.
This season Mike Conley has shown why he was the fourth overall pick in 2007, and why he was invited to workout with Team USA this past summer. I hope that fans and coaches reward him with the All Star nod that he deserves. So, after you get done reading this go over to NBA.com and vote for Conley, or you can jump on Twitter and type in Mike Conley #NBABallot, and send this man to the All Star game; he has earned it.
Follow Robbie on Twitter @rmarbury