On Wednesday night, prior to the Grizzlies tipping off against Indiana, David Fizdale and Mike Conley confirmed what many fans had surmised: Mike Conley was not playing at 100%. In an attempt to get healthy, he would be sitting out for an undisclosed amount of time.
Today, there was a little more information released on the issue. Chris Vernon, on his own show as well as the Pick and Popcast with the Commercial Appeal's Chris Herrington, said the issue wasn't Conley's Achilles, as most thought, but his ankle. It was also revealed that the injury hadn't just affected his play, either; it had also kept him out of shootaround, something Conley took very seriously when preparing to face an opponent.
If there's a bright spot from this, it's that at least this isn't the Achilles. We've seen how devastating Achilles injuries can be, and the last thing the Grizzlies need, both short and long term, is their max money point guard to rupture that tendon. At least this injury, based on Conley's comments, will just need a little time off.
It's obvious that this is what's best for Conley and the team. Anyone who's watched Mike over the course of his career could've told you he wasn't right, and the Grizzlies need him performing at a high level if they want to compete even for a playoff spot in the hyper-competitive West.
Of course, the worry is that without Conley, the team will fall apart. Without their floor general, the Grizzlies will be forced to rely on Marc Gasol, Tyreke Evans, and an assortment of players, many of which are just returning from injuries of their own. Surely this is reason for Grizzlies fans to fret, right?
In all honesty, I don't think it's time to panic just yet, Wednesday's disappointing loss notwithstanding.
For one thing, the Grizzlies still have a healthy, engaged Marc Gasol, who was one of the few bright spots—both offensively and defensively—in what was otherwise an underwhelming performance against the Pacers. As frustrating as it can be when Marc is deferential in key moments, in Conley's absence, Big Spain has shown a greater willingness to take games over.
In fact, we've seen this as recently as last year. With Conley sidelined with broken bones in his back, Gasol helped keep the team above water, a feat that earned him All Star recognition.
Even if that was an outlier performance from Gasol, this year's team is better suited to weather a Conley absence. Last year's squad relied on an injury exception to add Toney Douglas to the roster and was giving regular minutes to Andrew Harrison, Troy Daniels, and Troy Williams. Tyreke Evans, healthy Chandler Parsons, a somewhat hot-and-cold Mario Chalmers, Wayne Selden, and Ben McLemore represent a significant upgrade on last year's supporting cast.
The loss to Indiana is concerning, particularly given the defensive effort, but there's reason for optimism even after that showing. For one, Indiana managed to knock down shots at an incredible rate, even given how open they were. For another, the Grizzlies were featuring three key players—Selden, McLemore, Green—that were just returning from injuries. With more practice and game time together, they should be able to solve the communication issues that plagued them on Wednesday, hopefully sooner rather than later.
So, Grizzly fans, take heart. Mike Conley may miss time while he rests his sore ankle, but it will be better for the team in the long run. And in his absence, Marc Gasol has shown he's more than capable of carrying the team.