Grizzlies’ Combo Cubs Growing Together
Posted Jul 14 2008 12:44AM
Midway through the fourth quarter of the Memphis Grizzlies' 88-75 Summer League victory against the New Orleans Hornets on Friday, point guard Mike Conley dribbled toward the left corner, spotted rookie O.J. Mayo cutting toward the top of the key and hit him mid-stride. Mayo took two dribbles and whipped a backdoor pass to Javaris Crittenton, who caught the pass while crossing underneath the basket, finishing the play with a reverse layup that drew a respectful "Oooh!" from the Cox Pavilion crowd.
"That was a nice play," allowed Crittenton, who totaled 11 points. "We all shared the ball: Mike passed to O.J., he hit me. That was a play showing what the future can be, us moving the ball to each other and playing together."
That bodes well for the Grizzlies, who have a backcourt crowded with young talent, including 2006 first-rounder Kyle Lowry. With Conley drafted in 2007 and Crittenton added in last season's Pau Gasol trade, 2008 No. 3 pick Mayo is the newest blue-chipper, arriving in a draft-night trade that sent No. 5 pick Kevin Love and Mike Miller to Minnesota.
The best of a slew of combo guards to be drafted in 2008, Mayo can finish -- just ask Hilton Armstrong, who was on the receiving end of a wicked one-handed slam in the second quarter -- and can run the point. Coach Marc Iavaroni noted that it's on Conley to begin assuming more of a leadership role as the primary point guard, and part of that will involve learning how to play alongside another capable ballhandler.
"It's a little different," Conley said. "I'm running to the corners and spotting up, looking for opportunities to score off the ball. It's a different game for me, but I'm learning how to play that role because I'm going to have to if we play together and he brings the ball up. It's helping me grow."
After an injury-plagued start to the 2007 season, Conley finished the year averaging 9.4 points and 4.2 assists per game (against 1.7 turnovers) in 26.1 minutes. It's safe to expect those numbers to improve, especially if his outside shot looks as smooth as it did against New Orleans (2-3 3Ps). He finished with 14 points and six assists, though he fumbled the ball four times. Turnovers were an issue for all three Memphis guards, with an admittedly jittery Mayo offering up eight, and Crittenton five.
Conley, who has known Mayo since before they were teens, has been offering guidance where he can, notably trying to help Mayo (15 points, five assists) slow down instead of playing while stuck in overdrive. Mayo's turnovers tended to be ones of aggression rather than carelessness, of attempting to do too much rather than accept the easy alternative. But his determination to develop further as a player will likely result in an improved ratio over time.
"His best quality, it's an intangible: his drive, his desire to be a great player," Iavaroni said. "You can sense it. And now we just have to teach him to channel that drive in an NBA setting. That's the way you want it to be. That's the first thing you look for in a player after talent, the drive. He has both."
That's also evident on defense, where Mayo racked up three steals and a block, helping the Grizzlies frustrate the Hornets into .359 shooting from the floor (.278 from three) and 25 turnovers. While Memphis turned the ball over 24 times, their guard trio of Crittenton, Conley and Mayo keyed a 19-assist performance, setting up enough easy shots that the team finished shooting .552 (32-58). And each of the three showed an ability to play off the ball, shooting better than 50 percent from the field.
"We'll push each other, get each other better at the one and the two," Crittenton said. "In practices, we've been going hard -- we've got scratches all over our bodies -- and I think that shows out here. We scrapped it up and got the win today."