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2015-2016 Memphis Grizzlies Player Preview: Mike Conley

"Captain Clutch" Mike Conley built his legend last season with gritty play while grinding through injuries. How well his off-season recovery from said injuries has gone will have a direct hand in his 2015-2016 season.

The Captain seems poised to have a big-time contract year...if his health will allow it.
The Captain seems poised to have a big-time contract year...if his health will allow it.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Basketball is coming! With only a week to go before the start of Training Camp, today Grizzly Bear Blues begins our annual set of player previews for the 2015-2016 season! Be sure to check in every day this week for in-depth looks at your favorite Grizzlies. We are kicking things off with "Captain Clutch" himself, Mike Conley!

Off-season Mike Conley GBB articles-

The Evolution of Mike Conley

Mary Conley in Memphis Health and Fitness

Mike Conley's Moment Has Arrived

Mike Conley Once Again Invited to Team USA Camp

Mike Conley is not a former All-Star, or an MVP candidate. He will never lead the NBA in scoring, nor is it likely that he'll never lead the Association in assists. He is not capable of dominance like a Russell Westbrook; he's not a future hall-of-famer at this point like Chris Paul. He is under-sized, under the radar...

And under-appreciated. Everywhere but Memphis, of course, where his importance became even more clear last season and post-season when Conley suffered through various ailments that directly impacted the Grizzlies. Between a wrist here, a foot and ankle there, and a broken face, Mike had a lot of issues that made his productivity subside and be less consistent.

Despite these issues, Conley's stock has never been higher than it is heading in to the 2015-2016 campaign. Mike is universally accepted as one of the best players to have never made an All-Star Game, is showing an increased ownership and advancement of his role and skill within the Grizzlies schemes, and is entering the last year of a contract at the perfect time for both him and Memphis. The salary cap is expanding, and between that and an expiring contract here and there, the Grizzlies will have cap space to pay Mike Conley a pretty penny, which he no doubt would command on the open market. Due to the impact he has on this team (which we'll get into more below), he may as well receive his just reward in the city where he has made his NBA home his entire career.

Before we can get to that pay day for Mr. Conley, however, we must first get through the upcoming season. As training camp approaches, there are still some questions with regard to Mike and his health. Conley is still reportedly nursing the injuries from May, as Head Coach Dave Joerger told John Martin and Geoff Calkins on 92.9 ESPN's "The Geoff Calkins Show" recently..

While Conley wearing a mask to start the season would not be the end of the world by any stretch (Richard "Rip" Hamilton comes to mind as a player who had plenty of success rocking a mask long-term), the possibility that the ankle issues remain is cause for concern. Mike Conley is certainly a veteran at this point, and a limited training camp may be a solution to the issue of getting him the treatment and time needed to heal. However, a lack of cohesion to start the season and a slow start for Mike personally would potentially be disastrous for a Memphis team who must start fast against a tough early schedule. Players like Matt Barnes and Brandan Wright, the two most prominent of our new Grizzlies, will be key cogs in the Grizzly machine who no doubt would benefit from minutes with Mike throughout early- to mid-October.

Questions abound due to this interview, questions that hopefully will be cleared up a bit as Mike Conley goes on "The Chris Vernon Show" in Memphis on Monday afternoon. The shroud of uncertainty leads off our "three things to look for" from Mike Conley this season...

  1. HEALTH. Durability is becoming more and more of a issue for Mike. He has battled injuries the past couple of seasons, and, if not handled properly, these issues (especially with the ankles) could be recurring.
  2. REGRESSION. As our own Matt Hrdlicka talked about in his Offseason Opus, the numbers suggest that Mike Conley may be due for a step backward this season. This does not mean Conley isn't worth the money coming his way, or that he will fall off considerably. It is more of an acknowledgement that while Mike can continue to grow as a player, it will only become harder and harder as the years grind along. His prime has arrived; how much higher can Mike Conley climb? The answer will play a big part in the successes and failures of the 2015-2016 Grizzlies
  3. SHOT SELECTION. Conley shot over 76% of his shots last season from either beyond-the-arc or from 4-16 feet away. At the rim? Only 9% of his total attempts. He converted these shots at a 67.5% clip, showing tremendous efficiency getting to the tin. His three point percentage, both of overall attempts (32%) and conversions (38.6%) is fine, but that 44% of shots coming from 4-16 feet could be better distributed. A bit nit-picky, but more efficient scoring from range and at the rim could mean less contact on drives if more threes are hoisted or more free-throw attempts if Conley feels frisky and more able to get to the basket.
  4. This is the most important season of Mike Conley's career. No one knows this better than Mike Conley. If healthy, he will be given every opportunity to continue to expand his game and role not just in the organization but in the NBA at large. Being under-appreciated could very well become a thing of the past if he can remain on the floor and become a force on both ends more consistently.

    Numbers and history are not necessarily on his side. But what else is new? He has had numerous moments of adversity in his time with the Memphis Grizzlies, and the 2015-2016 season will be no exception. He has his limitations with regards to size, and he must be able to get on and remain on the court (which is not all on him, of course; he must be managed well). His experience in the past, however, will better prepare him to rise above and potentially continue to evolve into a truly elite point guard in the NBA.

Conley's 2015-2016 Floor-

An injury-riddled campaign that never fully gets off the ground due to the sins of last season. He plays less than 50 games and Memphis struggles in his absence.

Conley's 2015-2016 Ceiling-

He fights through early season health concerns and gets healthy, playing in 79 games and posting career highs in shooting percentage and points. He makes his first All-Star Game.

Where He Will Wind Up-

Mike's health is certainly a major story line as October draws near. However, there are still 38 days between the time of this posting and Opening Night against the Cavaliers. Conley will likely need to ease into the season, but "Captain Clutch" will continue to be a steadying presence for these Grizzlies. An All-Star Game may not happen for Mike, but he will prove he will be worth every penny of his Summer 2016 extension through his leadership as well as his defensive and offensive contributions...as long as his body does not fail him.

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