The Memphis Grizzlies have relied for what seems like years now on their grit and grind toughness on the defensive end. Offensively, Zach Randolph has carried the team through poor shooting performances and has put the team on his back by getting offensive rebound after offensive rebound and piling up easy points in the paint in order to get the Grizzlies back on defense where the team really shines.
Even Marc Gasol has improved over the past few seasons with his ability to be able to face up and knock down the mid-range jump shot, or play at the high post and utilize his exceptional court vision for a big man to execute a pass to a cutting player or a spot up shooter.
These two big men have been able to carry the Grizzlies on both the offensive and defensive end, but a star has truly emerged at the point guard spot.
His name is Mike Conley.
Conley is currently in his seventh season in the NBA, and he has shown progress every year since coming into the league.
In his rookie season, Conley averaged only 9.4 points per game, while only taking 8.3 shots per game.
The Conley that is not aggressive on offense is no more, especially after his performance so far this season.
Conley is attempting 14.3 shots per game this season, which is six more than he attempted per game during his rookie season, and has shown the ability to knock down shots converting 6.3 shots per game to the tune of 17.1 points per game. Not only have Conley’s shot attempts per game improved, but his free throw attempts per game are up from his rookie season (2.3 compared to 3.7 this season) as well as his free throw percentage (73.2% in comparison to 82.6% this season).
Conley has shown more aggressiveness on offense and a willingness to take the big shot, but where his game has really excelled is in his passing.
Conley has shown great court vision this season, able to find his teammates and set them up for better looks much more consistently than he has been able to previously in his career. Conley is averaging 6.0 assists per game, which shows that Conley has not only gotten better at picking his spots shooting the ball, but he has also made better decisions when passing the ball. Conley only averages 2.1 turnovers per game, which is impressive considering Conley’s major role in handling the ball on offense and making decisions (25.0% usage percentage within the offense this season).
Defensively, Conley has always been a major part of the Grizzlies’ attack on that side of the floor.
For his career, Conley has averaged 1.6 steals per game, including 1.5 per game this season. Conley has quick hands and great lateral quickness which both allow him to smother an opposing ball handler and get the steal necessary to move the ball in transition, which has always been a strength of Conley’s due to his natural speed and quickness.
While Conley has improved in many areas this season compared to the rest of his career, one area he could still make more strides in is his deep ball.
Conley has shown improvement in his three point shooting this season, averaging 36.3% on 4.0 attempted threes per game. These numbers are improved from earlier in his career (33.0% shooting on 1.7 three point attempts per game his rookie season), but Conley could sure up his shooting even more to benefit the rest of the Grizzlies’ offense (only making 35.3% shooting from three as a team this season). The more the Grizzlies can spread the floor and have consistent threats from deep, the more space players like Randolph and Gasol can have down low to get the team more easy buckets.
Conley has shown exceptional work ethic over his time with the Grizzlies, and the additions of shooters like Courtney Lee, Mike Miller and Jon Leuer have take some of the pressure off of Conley to be the Grizzlies’ primary scorer from deep. The things Conley does so well like his taking care of the ball, finding teammates on offense and being a hound on defense make him an indispensable part of this team and ultimately make him a star at the position.
Yes, the Grizzlies have a star in the back court.