On one hand, Mike Conley had a hell of a year.
Before the All-Star break, in 49 games played, Mike Conley put up an All-Star stat line. 45.5% overall shooting, an obscene 40.1% three-point shooting, 16.9 points per game, dominating stretches of games in ways that Memphis Grizzlies fans had never seen him do before. Mike continued to evolve, continued to grow in to his larger role with the Bears of Beale Street. His offensive and defensive ratings bear this out:
- Offensive Rating: 106.7
- Defensive Rating: 101.7
- Net Rating: 5
A 5 net rating is darn good. Unfortunately for Mike, the Western Conference has so many good Point Guards that despite great play and leading a Grizzlies team that was 39-14 heading in to the All-Star break he was "snubbed" for selection on the team. Still, Mike was expected to continue this sustained level of high play all through the rest of the season. It was hoped/believed that despite the "snub", the rest would do him good.
On the other hand, Mike Conley had a hell of a year.
The post All-Star slate was not as friendly to Mike for a variety of reasons. Shooting percentages dropped considerably (41.9% overall, 35 % from beyond the arc) and the two shot charts show that Conley had issues.
Conley Before the All-Star Break-
Conley After the All-Star Break-
The major difference? Struggles finishing in the lane. While the Grizzlies (and Conley) as a whole did better shutting down opposing teams defensively, Conley's offensive woes were noticeable. His post-break offensive and net ratings also reflect that.
- Offensive Rating: 101.7
- Defensive Rating: 100.8
- Net Rating: 0.9
Just not the player he or any one would expect him to be for the Grizzlies to have sustained success. Perhaps Conley's issues do not get enough attention when it comes to Memphis' 16-13 post All-Star slate of games- Mike was not quite himself.
A major reason for that? Injury. Conley sat out eight of the last fifteen games of the season for the Grizzlies due to a foot issue that Mike compared to "walking on top of a golf ball", with Memphis going 4-4 in those games. Conley was playing through other issues as well; ankles, wrists, etc., and after the foot problem couldn't do much more than hope for the best as he watched his teammates do their best to hold on to the second seed in the Western Conference, only to see it slip away.
Then? The playoffs.
In the first three games of the Grizzlies' first round series against the Portland Trail Blazers, Conley returned from the foot problem and was a revelation. 50% from the field, 16 points a game, moving well defensively and outplaying one of those Western Conference point guards who made the Western Conference All-Star Team instead of him in Damian Lillard. Memphis was up 2-0 in the series, winning in Game Three and hoping to ride Conley and company to a series sweep.
Then? The tough 2015 continued.
Facial fractures at the hand (or elbow) or C.J. McCollum of the Trail Blazers. Surgery. Out for the foreseeable future. Memphis despaired heading in to their series with the Golden State Warriors after wrapping up Portland in five at home. Despite great moments like this...
...Memphis would need Mike Conley in uniform, not pointing from the stands triumphantly, if they were to have any hope of pulling off the tremendous upset.
Game One in Oakland? No Conley. 101-86 loss. Game Two? Conley triumphantly returns just days after having surgery to have metal inserted via surgery to fix his broken face and puts on one of the greatest playoff performances in Memphis Grizzlies history.
Mike Conley was 8-12 shooting on this night, 3-6 from three, scoring 22 points in 27 minutes and providing needed stability and poise in the face of supposedly insurmountable odds. It led in to a Game Three win for the Grizzlies in Memphis in which it was truly "Memphis vs. Errrbody", and the Grizzlies had everything they needed because they had themselves, their fans...
...and even with his injury limiting him, they had their captain.
The end of the story is known. Golden State is still playing. Memphis' season is done. Mike was spent and struggled for much of the rest of the series, understandably so. For one night in California though, Mike Conley was better than the MVP of the NBA Stephen Curry. He did all this while playing with a variety of ailments, as detailed by Peter Edmiston of the Memphis Commercial Appeal & Sports 56 WHBQ Memphis from the end-of-season media availability here...
Asked Mike Conley his full injury list: Broken face Strained neck L wrist sprain R wrist sprain Lower back tightness R foot sprain— Peter Edmiston (@peteredmiston) May 18, 2015
...and yet, he was still out there, playing his tail off for his teammates, taking charges with a broken face, driving to the rim with a sprained foot, hitting three pointers and chasing around Golden State's wings with bad wrists and ankles. Sometimes you can ask/wonder if a player gave their everything.
This is not one of those times.
Mike Conley needs to be more consistent. If Memphis is going to win a championship with this core he must ascend to an even higher level of scoring and facilitating production. He also needs to continue to find ways to be more durable; this is two seasons in a row now that Conley has missed significant time with injury. Is it a run of bad luck? Perhaps. Is it possible that Mike can be better managed by the Grizzlies with regard to rest? Sure.
It also could be a smaller Point Guard beginning to show early signs of wear and tear, a veteran 27 year old who has played a combined 631 games including the regular and post-seasons in eight seasons. Conley's next contract will be decided at the end of 2015-2016 if an extension cannot be reached anytime soon, and while Mike importance to Memphis is unquestioned, health is a growing concern for "Captain Clutch."
Growing, but nowhere near the dominant part of the conversation.
The dominant part? Just how important Conley is to this team. He is the arrow, the oar, the Grizzlies' North Star. He is everything with regard to leadership, to toughness, to influence. The Grizzlies and their fans want him on that court. The Grizzlies and their fans need him on that court. His continued growth and presence in Memphis will make all of the difference for a team that still holds on to "Greater" aspirations.
Mike Conley had a hell of a year, for better and for worse. Through it all, many around the country found out what most Grizzlies fans already knew; when it comes to Mike Conley, he isn't underrated. He isn't under-appreciated, not in Memphis. He is the backbone of the "Grit and Grind Era" who found another level mentally and physically that will serve him well moving forward. His teammates followed, and responded, to his leadership.
That is what is most important about Mike Conley. He doesn't need to be an All-Star. He is, and will continue to be, something much more important to the Memphis Grizzlies and their fans...