Greg Oden was the man while at Ohio State. He was strong, athletic and had lots of upside. Oden’s college teammate Mike Conley—who led the Big Ten in assists—was viewed as a talented beneficiary.
Things didn’t change much after Memphis drafted Conley with the fourth overall pick in 2007. Conley sat on the bench and endured various injuries during his first two seasons in the League. It wasn’t until his third season when he was finally able to assume the role of full-time starter under new Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins. Even then, Conley was overshadowed by the bruising bigs, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
Despite being 26 years old, Conley is now entering his eighth NBA season. He has seen a lot of NBA minutes, and has ever so gradually stepped up as the leader of Grizzlies heading into the 2014-15 season.
Playing in coach David Joerger’s up-tempo offensive scheme last season, Conley improved statistically across the board, averaging a career-high 17.2 ppg while shooting 45 percent from the field. Despite the uptick in offensive usage (24.6, also a career-high), Conley remained steady on offense, dropping his turnover percentage to a career-best 11.5 percent.
He had his best offensive season to date, and continued to spearhead Memphis’ vaunted defense. The scrappy ballhawk averaged close to 2 steals per game last year. He’s quick in the passing lanes and just as dominant on the ball.
Everything is in place for Conley with the newly installed fast-pace offensive scheme. With Gasol in his prime and Randolph in his twilight years, the Grizzlies will lean heavily on Conley to score the ball and keep the offense fluid.
To remain steady in regards to percentages, Conley will need to live in the lane getting more high-percentage shots and free-throw attempts. The only issue will be can Conley, at 6-1 and 185 pounds, take the beating the game will place on his body night in and night out.
It’s time for people to start seeing Mike Conley for what he is despite what is around him: a top notch basketball player.
|#SLAMTop50 Players 2014|
Rankings are based on expected contribution in ’14-15—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.