Let’s take a look back in the past.
It’s October 28th, and the Grizzlies are hosting the Houston Rockets at the Grind House in front of a sold out crowd. The Grizzlies would go on to win that game, starting the season 5-1. That’s not all: that 5-1 record included TWO wins over Houston and one against Golden State. Even more important, in that Houston match-up, Chandler Parsons scored a game high 24 points.
Fast forward to now, the Grizzlies have lost 18 in a row and are 13-48 since that hot start. That record includes a 34-point loss to Dallas and a 26-point loss to Atlanta. (Throw in a few more losses to Phoenix, Orlando, and Chicago and you can call that a beautiful tank.) Parsons is just returning back to the lineup on a 15-minute restriction. Mike Conley is out. Marc Gasol doesn’t play on back-to-backs. And the saving grace all season, named Tyreke Evans, is not playing.
The Grizzlies look, feel, and act, differently than five months ago.
So what changed?
With such a severe drop off, surely there has to be some sort of factor that caused such a drastic tumble? Or maybe it is the first six games of the season that were the outliers. Perhaps the Grizzlies got lucky while other teams were figuring out their chemistry and shaking off rust.
The NBA is more sophisticated than just shelling out luck, especially early in the season. So there has to be a factor that caused the great Grizzlian fall of the 2017-18 season.
What I find most interesting about this season is that aside from Mike Conley’s injury and David Fizdale’s firing, this roster looks like we all thought it would this season. JaMychal Green returned, and though Tyreke Evans played better than expected, we knew he would contribute. Parsons was a question mark, so no one was counting on him to turn the season around; any contribution he gave would just be bonus.
The rest of the roster that includes free agent signee Ben McLemore, Jarell Martin, rookie Dillon Brooks, and sophomores Deyonta Davis, Andrew Harrison, and Wayne Selden were all part of the plan.
Mike Conley sat his first game due to his nagging Achilles injury on November 15th against the Indiana Pacers. He will not return this season. The team was 7-6 in games he played. That’s 11-43 since.
Mike Conley (or lack of) is the x-factor that has been the ultimate downfall of this season.
Of course, I am not blaming him for suffering an injury, or for playing it cautious and sitting for the season. But his true value to this team is more evident now that he is not on the court than when he was. Marc Gasol is a franchise cornerstone, but based on his position and attitude, he can’t put this team on his back consistently anymore. Conley has shown time after time that he can be the leader this team needs on and off the court.
The Grizzlies were 5-1 with this same roster minus JaMychal Green (who suffered an injury just two minutes into the first game, he sat for 12 games), and above .500 through 13 games with Mike Conley. Take Conley out of the equation, and the result is a whole lot of negative.
Below are stats before and after Conley was shut down for the season.
Memphis Grizzlies pre/post Conley injury
|Stat||w/ Conley||w/o Conley|
|Stat||w/ Conley||w/o Conley|
He is affectionately known at the Captain for a reason. Conley has been the floor general that this team has needed for the majority of a decade. Who knows if this team is competitive if Conley was healthy? They definitely would not be this bad. Some blame can be put on the front office for optimistically thinking that Mario Chalmers and Ben McLemore would push them team over the top. More optimism led coaches, fans, and the front office to think that Deyonta Davis and Andrew Harrison had taken leaps to be real NBA players.
A myriad of early season injuries (see Wayne Selden Jr., JaMychal Green, Ben McLemore, Chandler Parsons, and Mike Conley) are part of the problem, which seems to be a common theme for this franchise. But in past seasons, the Conductor has been able to keep this team on track. His consistency, most notably on the offensive end, has been what this could always count on. With his departure so early in the season, there was no second anchor that could provide the leadership and offensive spark to keep this team relevant.
Now that we are snapped back to the sad reality without Mike Conley, the rest of the roster is keeping the Memphis Grizzlies on track, and that track is headed right for the number draft pick.