After missing all of last season, Mike Conley is back on the court. Without him, Memphis struggled, winning just 22 games. Last season contained the lowest win total in the last 10 years for the Grizzlies. Now that he’s back, the Grizzlies are back to their competitive ways. Between the readdition of Conley and the drafting of the rookie Jaren Jackson Jr, the Grizzlies have found themselves atop the challenging West. Jackson has been so good that he landed #3 in my rookie power rankings, but that’s not what this article is about. The focus is on Conley and how he’s turned this team around.
How has Mike Conley Made the Grizzlies Good?
Mike Conley has easily been the Grizzlies’ best player. So far this season he’s averaging 20.2 points, 6.1 assists, and 1.1 steals per game. While 20 points a game might not seem like a lot in today’s NBA, for a team that scores only 103 points per game it’s indispensable. Last season, without Conley, they scored just 99.3 points per game, 29th in the NBA. Also, that was with Tyreke Evans, who averaged 19.4 PPG that season. Almost as bad as their offense, their defense ranked 26th in the league.
Now with their former leading scorer, Evans, gone and Conley back they are scoring more per game and are way better defensively. The Grizzlies are 1st in opponent points per game and 4th in defensive rating. Conley’s on/off numbers reflect just how valuable he is on both ends of the court. When Conley is in the game the Grizzlies’ offensive rating jumps 3.6 points and their defensive rating improves by 5.8 points. For a team with a margin of victory of 2.9, this is a huge swing.
Will the Grizzlies Make the Playoffs?
While it’s impossible to know for sure, there are many promising signs for the Grizzlies. The small margin of victory is somewhat concerning, but they’ve played a lot of tough opponents. They’ve already beaten the Nuggets, 76ers, Bucks, Kings, Spurs, and Jazz. They don’t score a lot of points, but their defense is so good they’re able to pull out close games consistently.
This team may not be the most talented on paper, but they play extremely well together. They are dedicated to their slow style of play and can usually control the pace. Currently, the Grizzlies rank 30th with a pace of 95.1. They have refused to speed up to play the rest of the NBA’s game and it’s paying off. The only teams to score over 105 points against them in regulation are the Bucks, Hawks, and Warriors. Those are some of the most talented offensive teams in the league, so it’s no real surprise. Additionally, they still found a way to beat the Bucks, despite it being a higher scoring game.
So, will they make the playoffs? I fully believe they will, as long as Conley doesn’t suffer another major injury. This veteran team has committed to playing a very disciplined style of basketball. Their two stars, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, have played 10+ years each and set the tone for the rest of the team. While they probably won’t keep the one seed, the Grizzlies should find themselves in the playoffs at the end of the season.
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