Mike Conley‘s name hasn’t come up often in discussions about the early frontrunners for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award, but you could make a case that the veteran point guard has been one of the most important players to his team during the season’s first month.
As NBA.com’s advanced data shows, the Grizzlies have had a +6.5 net rating per 100 possessions with Conley on the court, compared to a -13.8 mark when he’s on the bench, a gap of 20.3. As a point of reference, the Rockets have a +6.4 net rating per 100 possessions when James Harden is in the game, as opposed to a -10.4 net rating when he’s not playing — that’s a gap of 16.8.
A glance at Conley’s traditional per-game numbers also reveals the extent to which he has contributed to the Grizzlies’ success this season. Memphis’ floor general is averaging a career-high (and team-high) 19.2 PPG to go along with 5.7 APG, and is shooting an incredible 46.7% from three-point range.
Given how important Conley is to the Grizzlies, it goes without saying that the back injury he suffered on Monday, which is expected to sideline him for at least six weeks, is a major problem for the team. Memphis has a solid 11-7 record so far, but the club is also missing Chandler Parsons, James Ennis, and Brandan Wright, and doesn’t have much point guard depth behind Conley.
After playing in Toronto on Wednesday night, the Grizzlies will face a challenging December schedule that includes two contests apiece against the Cavaliers and Celtics, along with games against the Warriors, Rockets, Jazz, Thunder, and Trail Blazers. Then, to start the new year, they’ll play road games against the Lakers, Clippers, and Warriors within the first week. By that time, Conley may be nearing his return, but it’s possible Memphis will have slipped down the standings in the Western Conference.
Conley’s absence is expected to be measured in weeks rather than months, and the Grizzlies will give up their 2017 first-round pick if it doesn’t land in the top five, so it doesn’t make much sense for the team to try to tank at this point. Memphis will do everything it can to stay in the postseason mix, which may mean adding another point guard to a group that currently features a pair of rookies, Andrew Harrison and Wade Baldwin.
On Tuesday, we learned that the Grizzlies have expressed some interest in Norris Cole, who has a history with head coach David Fizdale, though he’s currently playing in China. Cole is hardly the only potential target for Memphis though — Xavier Munford, Mario Chalmers, Will Bynum, Toney Douglas, and Kendall Marshall have all been cited as possible options, though Chalmers is still recovering from an Achilles injury.
There’s also no shortage of promising point guards in the D-League at the moment. In a list put together this week by NBADL reporter Chris Reichert for Fansided.com, five of the top six candidates for an NBA call-up were point guards, including Briante Weber, Isaiah Taylor, and Spencer Dinwiddie. Of course, the Grizzlies already have two young point guards on their roster, so they may prefer a veteran as a short-term replacement during Conley’s absence.
What do you think? Should the Grizzlies sign a veteran free agent point guard? Should they look harder at D-League options? Or can they survive Conley’s absence with Harrison and Baldwin playing larger roles, treading water until their starting point guard returns? Jump into the comments section below and let us know how you’d handle the situation if you were running the Grizzlies.