Mike Conley has been in Memphis his whole career. Undoubtedly, Memphis considers Mike Conley one of its own. Marc Gasol resigned last summer with the Grizzlies for a max contract, and entering this season, I think it's safe to assume that we all expected Mike Conley to follow suit this summer. And while that will still likely be the case, it's also safe to say that this season has presented some unexpected obstacles. Mike Conley has been inconsistent for much of this year, and Marc Gasol's devastating injury right before the All-Star break meant that the Grizzlies' championship hopes for this season (that were already slim) were all but dashed.
But now, Mike Conley is presented with both a great opportunity and a daunting challenge.
Now, this Grizzlies team is all his without Marc Gasol, and time is ticking before the summer arrives. In the month of December, Conley averaged only 14.6 PPG, and in January he averaged only 11.6 (in 8 games). However, his statistics surged in the month of February when Gasol went down with his injury. He averaged 17.1 PPG and 6.4 assists.
Conley needs to sustain his recent success if he wants the Grizzlies to have a shot at good playoff seeding. Too often this season, we have seen only flashes of the All-Star snub Mike Conley and seen in long stretches instead a more average point guard leading the Grizzlies. Perhaps, the Gasol injury was the boost that Conley needed.
In order to take that next step, Mike needs to improve from beyond the arc. This season, he's shooting 35.7% from three, versus 38.6% last season. As this season has progressed, his stroke from three has improved. In February, he shot 36.6% from three. In December, he was shooting merely 33.3%.
But as of late, things have been turning around for Conley. Although he's still been dealing with injuries some this season, he seems overall to be more healthy right now than he has been in a while. In addition, he seems to be playing with more confidence on the offensive end. Perhaps, this is partially due to his improved health, and also might be due to the fact that he knows with Marc out he has to step up and lead this team for Memphis to have a chance at decent playoff seeding. Because while Memphis currently has a lot of great role players, Mike Conley is undoubtedly the leader that must lead Memphis to the promised land.
As Joe Mullinax pointed out in his article last week, while Mike Conley has struggled with his shot overall this season, his assist numbers are extremely high (6.1 per game). When his shot hasn't fallen, he has done a great job at creating shot opportunities for his teammates.
Undoubtedly, Mike Conley's offensive bread and butter continues to be around the basket:
At the beginning of the season, it seemed like Mike Conley was still adjusting to life after his face injury. As this season has progressed, it looks like Mike Conley is regaining confidence in himself. His shooting percentage from the field in February jumped up 7.6% since December. So far, he's shooting over 50% from the field in March. Mike Conley is the master of the floater, and his ambidexterity is one of his secret weapons.
In wins this year, Conley has an offensive rating of 111.4. In losses, he has a rating of 95.6. Also, he has a PIE rating of 15.0 in wins and 9.4 in losses. On the defensive end, Conley has a defensive rating of 99.0 in wins and 109.3 in losses. The fact is, Mike Conley's numbers are fantastic in wins and horrendous in losses. That's why his inconsistency this season has really hurt the Grizzlies, because much of Memphis' offense relies on him.
If Conley wants to solidify himself as one of the league's elite point guards, he's going to have to string together multiple All-Star-esque performances in multiple stretches during these last couple months of the regular season. When the summer comes, Mike will undoubtedly receive offers from other teams. However, Mike has previously expressed his desire to stay with the Grizzlies. And while it is definitely in the Grizzlies' best interest regardless to resign their point guard this offseason, it is important to make sure Memphis is getting a fair deal. Mike Conley can't just assume he'll get offered a 100 million dollar max contract. His performance these next few months might largely determine his next five years in the league, and it might determine how much Memphis offers him this summer.
So, now is Mike Conley's time to shine. He's been labeled Clutch Conley in the past, and now his leadership skills will truly get put to the test the rest of this season. While all Memphians believe in Conley's potential, Mike has to believe in himself. And with Marc Gasol on the sidelines, it's now up to Mike to show everyone why he is one of the elite point guards in the NBA and can lead the Grizzlies to success.