The Memphis Grizzlies have been fortunate to have one of the best point guards in the league over the last few seasons. Early in his career Conley was slow to develop and rough around the edges, but now he's blossomed into the Grizzlies' perfect point guard.
In January, I was able to go to a two-hour basketball session hosted by Mike Conley. It was packed with little kids and adults ready to bother the Grizz guard with a million questions. He had been struggling with an ankle injury at the time and had just returned a game earlier.
I kept my distance from Conley for a variety of reasons, but mainly I was sick and didn't want to be blamed for the Grizzlies' starting point guard being out with the flu he got from me. I knew that he was hurt and that the NBA schedule was picking up. I wasn't sure if he would be engaged or not, and I wouldn't have blamed him. Little kids everywhere, coming off of an injury and having played a game the night before: I would have mailed it in. Instead Conley was engaged, funny and actually taught me a few things about dribbling.
He described the rigors of the NBA season and how difficult every day can be. The travels of the NBA season can wear a player down. The aches and pains of the season and constant travel make fatigue a real problem. When you pile on the injuries that Conley has suffered it makes everything more difficult for him.
On a night where I learned that Mike Conley thought "Chris Paul is tough to like. He does a lot of acting", that Conley says he cannot dunk (*maybe not on his current ankles -CF) and that Conley likes to beat the Clippers the most, it was something Conley kind of slid in as an afterthought that stuck with me the most. The question regarding his ankles popped up, and Conley assured the gathered crowd that he would be fine with a smile and shrug. The point guard started describing the injuries he has played through in his career.
He went on..
I knew Conley was a warrior, but not to that degree. He's played through tears, sprains and breaks. I came in with an incredible respect for Conley, but left knowing he was the toughest point guard in the league. No player has to fight through as much as he does. Injuries, lack of respect from the NBA, being consistently called underrated are things that Conley has to deal with during a season.
Conley has long been the perfect point guard for the Grizzlies. He's calm, cool and collected (only earning one tech in his career and it was rescinded). This is part of what makes him the perfect floor leader for the Grizzlies. Marc Gasol, Tony Allen and Zach Randolph can suffer large swings in emotions. They need someone like Conley on the floor for moments when Gasol rips his jersey, Allen loses his temper or Z-Bo wants to beat some ass. He keeps the team balanced in more ways than one.
The Ohio St. product could easily put up 12.6 shots per game, but that's not in his nature. He moves the ball and shares it with his teammates. Jonathan Abrams wrote an amazing story on Conley back in January called "Stop Calling Mike Conley Jr. Underrated." In it, Conley broke down his philosophy regarding sharing the ball with his teammates.
"It's almost like you have a clock in your head," Conley said to Abrams. "I have a clock in my head for Zach. For Marc. For Courtney [Lee]. For anybody on the court. There's guys that don't need to play with the ball. Tony Allen doesn't need to have the ball to be effective. I say, ‘Zach needs to get the ball. He's working very hard on the defensive end and on the offensive end.' And I can feel four minutes go by, Zach hasn't had the ball and I can see it. He's starting to get a little antsy. OK, now it's time to bang it in to him four straight trips to see if he can get something going."
This is the perfect attitude for the Grizzlies point guard to have. It's the kind of attitude the Grizzlies need their point guard to have. A score-first floor general wouldn't work well with the other Grizzlies. The Grizzlies have proven this more than ever in their last two games against the Portland Trail Blazers. The offense has been clunky and ineffective with Beno Udrih and Nick Calathes at the helm. They aren't Conley, and it killed the Grizzlies offense.
Most importantly, Conley is as tough as nails. When CJ McCollum broke the Grizzlies point guard's face he was already playing on two bad ankles, which he's been struggling with most of the season, and a foot problem that makes Conley feel like "he's walking on a golf ball". He's powered through, but now he may have found an obstacle he can't get through. Playing just a week after his facial surgery may just be too much to ask of the 27-year-old point guard.
It may be too much for him to play after having several facial fractures on two bad ankles and a messed up foot. At this point it may be better in the long run for Conley to sit. It may be better for his future, but Conley is a team guy and the team wants a championship more than anything. They all know that can't happen without Mac-11. Without him the Grizzlies have no chance in this series against the Warriors.
I know Mike Conley looked awful at the last Grizzlies game and is doubtful for Sunday's Game 1, but I would be shocked if we looked up and number 11 wasn't fighting with the rest of his teammates. His shirt half tucked in, a hand on his hip and a smile on his masked face..