Grind City Media 2016/17 Exit Interview: Mike Conley pt. 1
Conley 2016/17 Exit Interviews playlist
MikeCheck: Grizzlies Offseason Outlook – Mike Conley
By Michael Wallace
Grind City Media
MEMPHIS – What’s next for the Memphis Grizzlies?
Who stays? Who goes?
How will the Grit’N’Grind era continue to evolve?
Those questions and more face the Grizzlies as they embark on an offseason destined for change after their seventh consecutive playoff trip ended in a six-game series loss to the Spurs in the opening round. There’s plenty of optimism moving forward. There’s also clearly something most fans, players, coaches and executives agree on: 43 wins, a No. 7 seed in the playoffs and a first-round exit aren’t good enough.
Over a stretch of 17 weekdays, we’ll dive into our ‘Offseason Outlook’ series that breaks down my personal analysis as to where each player on the Grizzlies’ roster stands, in addition to coach David Fizdale and general manager Chris Wallace, entering a potentially pivotal offseason.
Player: Mike Conley, 29
Measurables: 6-1, 175 – 10th NBA Season
2016-17 Stats: 20.5ppg (career high), 3.5rpg (career high), 6.3apg, 40.7 3pt-FG% (career high)
Status: Due $28.5 million for 2017-18 salary in second season of five-year deal.
An across-the-board career season for Conley saw the 10-year veteran join Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Reggie Miller, Isiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade and Gary Payton as the only players in NBA history as franchise career leaders in points, assists and steals. Of that list, only Conley, Miller and James also lead their respective franchises in career three-pointers made.
A lot more attention this season (had) a lot to do with the contract, and it set the stage for our team. It set a stage for me to prove and show what I can do. Like I said, I don’t care if I prove if I’m worth this or that. I don’t really care, but I know that people will respect what I do. That’s all I’m out there to do. Earn respect, continue to prove my mom right, continue to prove this organization right, my family, and just always look at the bigger picture.
I could fill up this entire section laying out all of the career-high numbers and impact Conley contributed this season, but let’s skip to the most vital mark he made on this team: Leadership. So much of this season was about establishing Conley’s game as a dominating, elite combo guard who no longer took a backseat to Chris Paul, Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Damian Lillard. With the highest usage and player efficiency rates of his career, Conley not only raised his game but also his voice in the locker room and on the court when needed. The contract put a target on his back, and he delivered everything this team needed in all facets of the game. Then he got even better in the playoffs.
Leave it to Conley to turn a three-week absence to fractured vertebrae in his back into a positive. It’s safe to say he’s the first player in NBA history to essentially break his back midseason and turn in a career year that same season. It’s blasphemy to question Conley’s toughness, but it’s reasonable to have concerns about his durability when he’s battling some issue every year. The back injury cost him what was sure to be his first All-Star appearance. Also, Conley’s take over season made it obvious the Grizzlies lack a perimeter complement for him. They can’t take him off the court. At one stage in the Spurs series, Memphis was outscored by 60 points in 66 minutes Conley was on the bench.
From his meaner mindset to the swagger with which he now attacks the game, Conley certified he’s the player Memphis will bank on these next few seasons. The onus is on the front office and coaching staff to maximize Conley’s peak seasons by surrounding him with the right pieces to lift this team to annual conference title contention. It’ll require good fortune with health (Parsons), hitting on free agency, development breakthroughs from recent draft picks (Deyonta Davis, Wade Baldwin?) and Marc Gasol rekindling the chemistry with Conley that made them the NBA’s best center-point guard duo. One thing’s clear: Those lazy national narratives that Conley is underrated are definitely overstated.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.