Jon Evans

In one corner, there’s Eddie House. The fiery back up Celtics guard who will spin 180 degrees for effect just to emphasize throwing what was otherwise a pretty pedestrian pick-and-roll entry pass to Glen Davis. In the other there’s the rookie point guard for Memphis. The one who calmly hits jumpers from deep and floaters from close to give his team early control of the game. The one who works to get the ball to his teammates in the best position for them to shine. Mike Conley doesn’t make the overtly flashy play, but he makes the smart play. Whether it’s knowing when to look for his own shot, or set up for his sharp shooting teammates, Friday night in Boston, Conley showed he knows how to run a team.

Now that he’s returned from a shoulder injury that kept him on the shelf for six weeks, Grizzles coach Marc Iavaroni is throwing him right into the fire, giving the 4th overall pick the lion’s share of minutes at the one, over Kyle Lowry, Juan Carlos Navarro, and the artist formerly known as Damon Stoudamire.

“He’s very patient and very poised,” Iavaroni said to the Memphis Commercial Appeal. “He’s all the things you heard about him at Ohio State and more.”

Making only his second NBA start, Conley proved more than ready for the challenge, finishing with 10 points, four assists and nearly an upset victory. The rookie proved adept at the tempo and style of an NBA offense and unflappable in the face of a hostile Boston crowd. Matched up against the speedy Rondo, Conley managed to stay in front of him and force him into a 2-for-9 shooting night with six turnovers. Though in the end, despite a solid effort from Conley’s squad, the Celtics squeezed out the four point win.

“We played a great first half,” Conley said after the game. “We were aggressive on the offensive and defensive ends of the court. But in the second half they out-executed us.”

Granted, at just eight games, the sample size is minuscule, but Conley’s 4.12 assist-to-turnover ratio is nothing to sneeze at. That ratio – better than Nash, Billups, and a host of others including House – shows that there wont be a prolonged learning curve for this Buckeye. He can make the smart play now.

It’s probably not just a coincidence that when Conley got his first NBA start against the Pacers, the Grizzles went out and got their first ever win in the Hoosier state. His seven dimes helped spur them to the win at Indiana, and the next night his team gave the much-ballyhooed Celtics more than a run for their money. Still, there is a work to be done for this rookie to get the best out of his teammates.

“It was a little tough being injured and missing 20 games,” Conley said of his rookie season so far. “It was tough to go back to square one and re-establish the relationship with everyone on the court. I’m learning more and more as each game goes.”

Of course, a conversation with Mike Conley can’t go without a mention of a certain former teammate. “He’s doing real well,” Conley said of recovering Trailblazer center Greg Oden. “He’s anxious to get back out there and show them what he can do.”

If it’s anything like what his former running mate is doing, Trailiblazer fans, like those in Memphis, may have a lot to cheer about real soon.