Site Manager note - Welcome to our 2016-2017 Memphis Grizzlies Player Grade series. Throughout the next two weeks, we will be grading the 17 players who played for the Grizzlies this season, in addition to Head Coach David Fizdale and his staff, General Manager Chris Wallace and the Front Office, and the Grizzlies organization at large.
Our first entry is “The Conductor” himself, Mike Conley. Stats are provided by basketball-reference.com and media.nba.com/stats.
|Points Per Game||20.5|
|Assists Per Game||6.3|
|3-point shooting percentage||40.70%|
|Player Efficiency Rating||23.2|
|Win Shares Per 48 Minutes||0.209|
Mike Conley was his very best self over the course of the 2016-2017 season. He posted career highs in almost every category listed above, and even in the category in which he wasn’t his career best, he improved from his 2015-2016 performance (108 defensive rating in 2016-2017, 110 in 2015-2016.). He meant what he said when he stated that he wanted to prove he was worth the 5-year, $153 million contract he signed last offseason.
He did that, and then some.
Despite suffering a broken back early in the campaign, he was able to thrive in the new system that coach David Fizdale brought with him from Miami. Conley dominated from range, showed an improved handle, and took the Grizzlies for his own post All-Star Game. In 23 games after the break, Conley shot almost 50% from the field (49.5%), and while the rest of the Grizzlies struggled, he flourished.
And then the playoffs happened. And somehow Conley rose even above what he’d done through the final two months of the regular season. A 28.2 PER, a massive 60.2% True Shooting percentage, and a run of success in Game Four against the San Antonio Spurs for the ages. 35 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, and one game-tying floater to send the game to overtime after a back-and-forth showdown with Kawhi Leonard.
The Grizzlies of course fell short in that series, but in that moment Mike Conley was not just a captain, or conductor. He was one of the absolute best basketball players in the world. He stood up to the greatest the NBA had to offer and he led his team to victory. No disrespect to Kawhi, whose Spurs are still playing while Memphis is not, but in that sequence above, Mike was able to be for his team what the 2nd best player in the NBA could not.
That is quite a jumping-off point for next season for Conley. This Grizzlies team is his to lead.
Outside of Game Four against the Spurs? Give me his game against the Clippers on November 16th - 30 points on 9-12 shooting, 7-of-9 from beyond the arc, 8 assists, 5 rebounds, and a big-time win against an L.A. team that was considered the best in the league at that particular point of the season.
Way to Improve His Game
Initiating contact and drawing fouls at and around the rim. He has become a master of the drawing-a-foul-off-of-a-pick move, and especially against the Spurs he showed some nifty new moves to get to the basket and finish around the rim. He also shot over 60% at or around the rim this season, well above his career average of 57.9%. Where he could get better is making teams pay the price for the physicality they have shown him at times around the rim.
Of course, part of this is just how games and players are officiated. Perhaps Mike will get the benefit of calls more often after his run of post All-Star and playoff success. But there’s something to the game of James Harden, who attempted double-digit free throws 50 (!!!!) times over the course of the regular season. It’s a skill - taking on contact from a defender, contorting your body into the player, and forcing him to take on more of the drive than he wanted to.
Kawhi Leonard, Conley’s 2017 NBA Playoff foil, attempted double-digit free throws 19 times. Conley did so only seven times. It would be a way to keep his point totals up and contribute as a scorer more efficiently, and more consistently.
2016-2017 Overall Grade
Durability remained a concern this season, as Mike once again missed an extended stretch of games due to injury, and defensively he would get lost on the perimeter in rotations at times. But when Mike was on the floor and at his best, he has a career-best season, embracing David Fizdale’s schemes and philosophies on his way to showing he was worth every penny of his extension. This off-season, there is one truly untouchable Memphis Grizzly in trade talks, and that is Mike Conley. That is a testament to the growth and development he showed over the course of the regular and postseason.