As we all know, Mike Conley is awesome. He’s a shifty, wise floor general that simply puts his team in position to win basketball games. He’s a player that can fill a role, as he was the steady facilitator in the early years of the Memphis Grizzlies’ seven-year playoff run. However, he has also shown he can rise to the occasion and be an bonafide All-Star (see: 2017 playoffs). Conley simply might be one of the best players to never make an All-Star team in NBA history.
As we all know though, Mike Conley was out all of last season, and it was a disaster to say the least. They fell to 15-55 without their star point guard, and the team just looked horrible and lost. There was no flow to the offense, no primary playmaker, and no order on the court.
It brought a dark, terrifying reality: Mike Conley might be a starting point guard next year and the year after. But … his days as a starting-caliber point guard are numbered…and the Grizzlies needed to find his eventual replacement while he’s still here.
What about Andrew Harrison? Did you not see him this year? He was fine and had some great games, but he’s best as a backup combo guard.
What about Kobi Simmons? He has a lot of potential! I’m not buying the notion that a two-way G-League player is the team’s point guard of the future — especially given the league’s depth at this position.
Whether it’s in the draft or the free agency, the Grizzlies need to find Conley’s replacement here soon. The failure to find him an adequate understudy could result in more seasons like this past one — whether it’s in the event that he’s injured for a long period of time or when his contract expires.
This draft isn’t nearly as deep as this past year’s point guard class. It’s not a year where a player like Dennis Smith Jr. (the 9th overall pick) is the fifth point guard taken. However, there are three solid point guards the Grizzlies can target in the lottery.
If the Grizzlies elect to trade down for a later lottery pick and extra assets, there are two solid prospects to look at when searching for Conley’s replacement.
First, there is the “Young Bull” Collin Sexton, the Alabama player that nearly led this team to a win despite playing 3-on-5 for most of the second half. He’s a hyper-aggressive point guard that has been given Russell Westbrook and Eric Bledsoe comparisons. He can also play alongside Conley as a 6’3” point guard. He’s shown that he can be a solid scorer and scary defender at the next level, but can he become a starter-level distributor?
If they elect to trade down, there’s also Kentucky’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The Calipari product really came on at the end of the season, as he averaged 20.7 points on 42.9 percent shooting from deep, 6.3 assists and 5.7 rebounds in the conference and national tournaments. He has unbelievable size for a point guard (6’6” with a 7-foot wingspan), and he’s super crafty getting into the paint and to the free throw line.
The most enticing Conley replacement of all is Trae Young — you know, the first player in NCAA history to lead the country in both points and assists. At the first half of the season, Young lit the country on fire. He was launching deeeeep 3’s and hitting them at a high clip, whipping the ball to his teammates, and possessing a smooth flair (jelly, as the kids say these days) when attacking the rim. He was the closest things to a Steph Curry/Steve Nash combination.
However, in the second half of the season, either reality hit or teams starting gameplanning for him better, as his averages and percentages dipped. He was double-teamed at an obscene rate, and Oklahoma suffered since he was their entire team.
You worried about size? Guess who was also small coming out of college? That’s right, Mike Conley. Worried about his turnovers? He won’t be double-teamed nearly as much and will be playing with much better players.
If Marvin Bagley is off the board, Trae Young needs to be the guy at 4. Plain and simple. He’s a deft playmaker with uncanny shot-creating abilities, which fits today’s NBA. Don’t pass up on potentially the next Steph Curry to fit a “team need.”
The Memphis Grizzlies could obviously go down a different route for the draft, as Marvin Bagley, Michael Porter Jr., and Jaren Jackson Jr. are all enticing options. If they elect to do so, they could either find their Conley replacement in free agency.
This year’s free agency class has two intriguing restricted free agent options with both Dante Exum and Marcus Smart are on the market.
Exum hasn’t been healthy the past few season, missing his sophomore season (ACL injury) and most of this past year (shoulder injury). However, he oozes potential as a two-way menace. At 6’6”, he can guard positions 1-3 quite well, as he showed in the playoffs against Harden. In addition, he’s quick and crafty when attacking the basket. With his size, he can play alongside Conley, but could very well be his replacement down the line
Besides, Exum was compared to Penny Hardaway coming into the draft. Let’s get this Memphis magic working.
Marcus Smart plays more 2-guard in Boston, but was a point guard coming into the league. With his size and aggression, he’s an animal on defense and is an intangibles superstar. His shooting isn’t that good, but he’s a deft playmaker (5.8 assists per 36 minutes). Ideally, you can even slide him in at the starting 2-guard spot. However, if Conley goes down or when his contract is up, Smart could prove himself to be a worthy predecessor to his spot.
They could always elect to wait until 2019 when JaMychal Green, Ben McLemore and potentially Marc Gasol are off the books to find a replacement. In that class, they could find themselves in a market with Malcolm Brogdon, D’Angelo Russell and Terry Rozier are all available.
Yes, Mike Conley has been awesome in Memphis and could very well bounce back to become an All-Star guard next year. However, this season gave us a preview of a gruesome reality if we don’t find his apprentice/predecessor quickly.
Any of these players mentioned above could be a great starting point in preparing for life after Mike Conley.
How should Grizzlies go about finding a Mike Conley replacement?
This poll is closed
Trading back in this year’s draft (Sexton or Gilgeous-Alexander)
With the 4th pick (Trae Young)
2018 Free Agency (Exum or Smart)
2019 Free Agency (DLo, Brogdon, Scary Terry)
Wait until Conley’s contract expires to figure it out.