Can the Grizzlies Win Without Mike Conley?
When Mike Conley signed the richest contract in NBA history this summer, many were shocked that a player who has never made an All-Star team would be the highest paid player in NBA history.
However, Conley, who has been a part of five Memphis Grizzlies teams that have made the playoffs, was undaunted by his critics.
No, Mike Conley will not be apologizing for getting the largest contract in NBA history. He spoke with SN: https://t.co/WeU95q5REr pic.twitter.com/FVaj06q2re
— Sporting News (@sportingnews) October 31, 2016
Conley certainly had a solid base to lean on as he has been one of the steadiest players in the NBA, and now that he's out six to eight weeks with a back injury, the Grizzlies have a long road ahead.
Coming into this season, Conley had averaged more than 12 points per game in seven straight seasons, posted more than 4.2 assists in each of his nine seasons, and averaged more than 1.0 steal per game in all except his rookie season.
He was exactly what the Grizzlies needed from their point guard who helped them to a 330-186 record since the 2010-11 season.
After 18 games this year, Memphis was at 11-7 and had an 83% chance to make the playoffs according to our algorithm.
That was due -- in large part -- to Conley, who was scoring a career-high 19.2 points per game on 2.5 three-pointers per game, which is also a career high. Along with his improved shooting, Conley was also at his peak on defense with a defensive rating of 103, per Basketball Reference.
Harrison has seen a huge bump in minutes with the recent injuries to James Ennis, Tony Allen, and Chandler Parsons. Despite 25.9 minutes per game, Harrison has only been able to post a per-game line of 5.9 points, 3.4 assists, and 2.2 rebounds while shooting an abysmal 21.7% from the three-point arc.
Baldwin, the 17th overall pick this summer, had a good preseason and solid start to the season, but over the last 12 games, he has only seen time in five games. The Grizzlies will need Baldwin to return to the form he showed at Vanderbilt where he shot 42.2% from the three-point arc while also dishing out 4.8 assists per game.
Memphis will also need to see a bump in production from their aging core of Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, and Vince Carter to continue to stay in the playoff picture, but the biggest need may come from Parsons.
The Grizzlies' new high-priced wing has only played in six game this season due to a variety of injuries, but he has shown the ability to be a key piece in an NBA offense. If he is able to return and provide the 16.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 4.0 assists to go with 2.0 three-pointers made per game he produced in the 2013-14 season, it would be a giant boost to the club.
Overall, it will be nearly impossible to replace the Conley, who is ranked 15th in our player rankings because of his incredible efficiency this season.
However, if new coach David Fizdale can rely on some of his stalwarts, he may be able to keep the team in playoff contention for the next six to eight weeks until Conley can return to the lineup.