We all knew that Grizzlies star point guard Mike Conley did not look like himself for much of the season. On Friday, it became official. Conley will be out indefinitely tending to a sore Achilles.
“It’s just been a really frustrating, tough process – more for him than anybody else,” said Grizzlies Coach David Fizdale on Thursday following the announcement. “With Mike not being right, it hurts so much of our game from the standpoint of leadership. When he’s not feeling right, it’s hard for him to step up and lead, and do certain things. So we suffer in a lot of other areas when he’s not right. We’ve got to figure this out. We’ve got to get our hands wrapped around this pain and try to get him back as soon as possible.”
Here are my quick reactions:
All-Star plans on hold. I’ve been cheering for Mike to make an All-Star team as long as anyone — mostly because if Mike’s an All-Star — especially considering the names he’d have to beat out to make it (guys like Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson), he would have to be balling out of his mind.
With the team fielding a faster and more perimeter-oriented attack, this was supposed to be the year that Conley finally broke through. But even before this announcement, Conley’s play had been subpar, presumably because of his health. Combine the team struggles with Conley’s absence for who knows how long, and Mike is clearly NOT balling out of his mind. I just don’t see him putting up the stats and the team collecting enough wins to make a case.
Who’s up?: Mario Chalmers will get the start tonight in place of Conley. Chalmers, himself only recently healed up from an Achilles injury, should be serviceable in the role, provided his own injury doesn’t bite him. It also certainly means more minutes for Andrew Harrison, which I don’t think is as bad as it seems. Harrison is a capable defender, and there’s plenty enough ball handling and playmaking around him to negate his liabilities.
But the biggest benefactor of Conley’s absence is probably Tyreke Evans. Evans has more or less been the best Grizz so far this season. Between Evans and Chandler Parsons, they can’t replace Conley’s production, but more minutes on the ball for those two guys should be passable.
Point Center?: It seems like so long ago now, when Lionel Hollins had Marc Gasol zipping passes from the top of the key. As excited as I am that Gasol has finally started taking and making three-point shots, I do miss “point center” Gasol — where he orchestrates the offense. His shooting should only make him more deadly in that role, if Fizdale uses him that way.
I have said before that Gasol has the talent to put himself in the MVP conversation, and indeed he MUST play at that level for the Grizzlies to be more than first-round fodder. He would certainly need his perimeter teammates to make shots and strong cuts to the basket. But Gasol should not be overlooked when looking to replace some of Conley’s playmaking.
We will see what the future holds beginning tonight, when the Grizzlies meet up with a returning Chris Paul and the Houston Rockets tonight. Tip-off is at 7 p.m.