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Mike Conley’s “Ode to Joy”

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Mike Conley may not be quite what he was, but he still has more to give the Memphis Grizzlies.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

There once was a man named Ludwig van Beethoven. For the less musically-inclined among you, think of him as the Clyde Drexler of influential European musical composers to Amadeus Mozart’s Michael Jordan. He may have not been the absolute best in his time period, but he was still pretty incredible.

For decades in the late 1700s, Beethoven created some of the most seminal musical works that you immediately recognize whenever you hear them, such as the “Ode to Joy”. Even if he was not greatest composer of his era, he was still magnificent and memorable in his own right. And that is worth celebrating.

However, as he became an older man, something changed.

His hearing began to rapidly deteriorate to the point where he was completely deaf. To be sure, losing your ability to hear has to be one of the most frightening and debilitating things that can ever happen to a musical composer. And you can only imagine what other people in that period must have said when they heard that Beethoven was deaf.

He will never be what he was. His best music is definitely behind him.

Of course, Beethoven would not allow his disability to prevent him from composing more music. Although he may have not been quite the composer that he once was, he still continued to make mesmerizing music until his death in 1827.

Beethoven left a legacy that a person, even in the midst of their shortcomings and their longing to be what they once were, does not have to go gentle into that good night.

Now here’s the reason why I have a passionate love for history, especially when it comes to figures like Ludwig van Beethoven. History is full of narratives, and these narratives bind us to each other and connect us from one era to the next. Their stories can reflect our stories.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Whenever I watch Mike Conley play, I see an artist in the mold of Beethoven—-two different conductors in two different time periods. For every in-and-out dribble, every right-handed floater, every pull-up three, I see a player that is, in the words of Bobby Joe Hill from the movie Glory Road, “making sweet music with his game”.

I also see in Conley an artist who, with the influence of Father Time, may not quite be who he once was.

When we was at his peak in 2017, he may have not been the best point guard in the NBA, but he took a back seat to absolutely no one. Not to Chris Paul. Not to John Wall. And as we saw in the 2017 playoffs, certainly not to Kawhi Leonard. He was undoubtedly one of the seven or eight greatest point guards of his generation.

However, it now appears that the ravages of age and injury haunt Conley at every turn. Last year, he only played in 12 games before succumbing to injury for the rest of the season. And while there is still plenty of time for him to shake off the rust and turn it around, the early returns of this season have not been promising.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Through 10 games, he is averaging just 16.7 points on a paltry 35% shooting and 28% from three. Over the last three games, he has just 25 points on 33 shot attempts. Now make no mistake: Even if he has lost a step, he won’t continue to shoot like this forever. After all, he’s not Andrew Harrison.

Yet his poor shooting has not been the most concerning aspect of his game. Recently, especially over the last four games, he simply isn’t moving well. Shooting will come and go. Quickness and explosiveness, on the other hand, should be consistent every night. And Conley simply hasn’t looked quick or explosive for the most part.

Even if age and injury haven’t affected him that severely, he may never be able to reach the peak that he did in 2017. He may just simply not quite be that player anymore.

It also may not matter.

While they are certainly not one of the most talented teams in the league, the Memphis Grizzlies have a deep team this year. Conley still has Marc Gasol who has played at a near All-NBA level so far. Jaren Jackson Jr. has had the immediate impact that many believed he would. The Grizzlies’ wing rotation of Garrett Temple, Wayne Selden Jr., and the Brooks brothers have all been impressive. Shelvin Mack has been a revelation as the backup point guard.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Although Conley may not be quite the same player that can carry the Grizzlies offensively every night, he may not need to be “the guy” every night for the Grizzlies to be successful. Obviously, he will have to play better than he is now in order for them to make the playoffs. However, the Grizzlies have enough depth to allow them to compete with even the NBA’s elite when Conley does not look like himself.

If you look at Mike Conley’s whole career, you’ll notice a common theme— a commitment to consistent excellence. Like an artist with a paintbrush, Conley’s career paints a picture of a man who has pursued excellence at every turn. From a struggling, raw young point guard to an unquestionably elite, even feared, talent, he has led the Grizzlies to success through it all.

I expect that to continue.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

This is now the home stretch of Mike Conley’s career. And even if his best days are behind him, there is still a good chance that the conductor of the Memphis Grizzlies still has some music to make with his game—music that I’m sure would please Ludwig van Beethoven.