You’ve certainly heard it by now. “The Grizzlies will be much better this season if they can stay healthy, especially Mike Conley.” While it is easy to make claims like that surrounding the upcoming season, they are completely true and valid when discussing the 2018-19 Memphis Grizzlies.
Of course, it’s impossible to predict that the Grizzlies will have better injury luck this season. But what we are able to predict is the fact that the Grizzlies have a more diverse offense heading into the upcoming season as a result of adding playmakers in the offseason. This will allow a healthy Mike Conley to contribute to the offense in different ways, not having to be the primary creator for both himself and others.
First, it must be pointed out that Mike Conley is really friggin’ good. In his last “full” season (2016-17), he averaged 20.5 points and 6.3 assists per game, hitting 40.8 percent of his 3-pointers. During that season he posted several career-highs, from his scoring average and 3-point percentage to advanced metrics such as offensive rating (121), Player Efficiency Rating (23.2), true shooting percentage (60.4), win shares (10.0), box plus-minus (5.7) and Value Over Replacement Player (4.5). Simply put, Mike Conley was awesome two seasons ago, a player deserving of an All-Star selection, and one that continues to be overlooked.
Let’s assume that Conley returns to playing at near that level. That adds a good scoring threat, creator and shooter to the offense, one that now boasts a solid 3 & D wing in Garrett Temple and an unorthodox playmaking wing in Kyle Anderson. Both Temple and Anderson have shown the ability to create quality looks for their teammates, and inserting them in a lineup with Conley and Marc Gasol gives Memphis a plethora of options to initiate the offense and set up scoring opportunities.
However, as stated before, it all starts with a healthy Conley, one that will now be able to help the offense with and without the ball in his ways. Let’s take a closer look as to how Conley can insert himself in the new-look Grizzlies’ offense this season.
Playing as an off-ball threat
This is where Conley’s elite shooting will factor in, as he is clearly the best shooter the Grizzlies will have in the starting lineup (unless, of course, Jaren Jackson Jr. continues to shoot 50 percent from beyond the arc like he did in Summer League, which is totally reasonable and should be expected at this stage, why wouldn’t it be?) While he shot 40.8 percent on 3-pointers two seasons ago, it is more important that Conley has steadily increased his attempts, reaching a career-high of 6.4 per game during his shortened 2017-18 season (he also attempted 6.1 during the 2016-17 campaign). Conley has to be willing to let it fly this season, especially as he takes on more of an off-ball role.
Additionally, Conley is a solid shooter from the corners, hitting 42.4 percent of such shots throughout his career, including 43.8 percent during his impressive 2016-17 season. Again, as he finds himself in the corners and on the wings more with the ball out of his hands, Conley will be spacing the floor and forcing defenders to stay on him as Gasol operates in the post and as Anderson initiates the offense from the top of the key.
Below is a perfect example of a shot that Conley should receive on a consistent basis this season, as he finds himself with an open three as a result of a secondary playmaker (last season it was Tyreke Evans, this season it can be Temple or Anderson) running a pick-and-roll with a treat such as Gasol that keeps the defense honest.
Conley can also use his quickness to get away from defenders, whether it is by running around screens or just creating enough separation to get a quality pass and hoist up a shot, as he does below:
With Anderson, Temple, Gasol, and even Dillon Brooks handling some playmaking from the wing and top of the key, Conley will have plenty of opportunities to cut, run around screens and create separation for open 3-pointers, and his willingness to shoot will keep defenses scrambling and honest in order to ensure they don’t lose him, thereby opening up other lanes and possibilities for the offense.
More pick-and-roll/pop partners
While David Fizdale didn’t last long as the head coach of the Grizzlies, he was able to get to Marc Gasol and implore him to shoot more 3-pointers, which will continue to be key for Gasol as he ages in the modern NBA. As a result of this, Gasol has transformed into an ideal pick-and-roll partner for Conley, a big that can finish in a variety of ways in the paint yet also step out and hit from beyond the arc.
Although Gasol’s 3-point percentage decreased from 38.8 percent in the 2016-17 season to 34.1 percent this past season, Gasol increased his number of attempts, a key way to keep defenses honest when guarding him in the pick-and-pop. It also didn’t help Gasol that Conley missed nearly all of the 2017-18 season, allowing defenses to focus more on the Spanish big man. With a healthy Conley and the addition of Anderson and Temple, Gasol will receive plenty of quality looks, especially when trailing in transition or stepping back behind the arc.
For Conley, the other important addition this summer was that of Jaren Jackson Jr., the raw big man oozing with potential on both ends of the floor. If Jackson Jr. ends up starting alongside Gasol as many expect, it is certainly possible that he translates to a league average shooter at the power forward position, thereby giving Conley another option in the pick-and-pop. Jackson Jr. showed his comfort shooting the 3-ball, attempting them with little hesitation in Summer League. In his debut game, Jackson hit eight 3-pointers, with many of them coming out of the pick-and-pop:
When Conley has the ball, he will be able to use both Jackson Jr. and Gasol as pick-and-roll/pop partners, and the two bigs can get creative in setting off-ball screens for each other, opening up lanes and shots from beyond the arc, which Memphis should be focusing on implementing in their offense this season.
From the addition of a pick-and-roll partner to the increase in playmaking (especially on the wing), a healthy Mike Conley will be able to contribute to the Grizzlies’ offense in a variety of ways this season, from playing off-ball to using improved spacing to create quality looks for his teammates.
Look for Memphis to alter Conley’s role on offense, allowing him to work alongside Kyle Anderson and the two dynamic bigs in the frontcourt.
The more creative the Grizzlies get on offense the better, especially if it translates to more spacing and shooting to support their grit and grind defense as they look to return to the playoffs.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.
Video courtesy of 3ball.io