When the Grizzlies decided to bless Mike Conley with a 5-year contract worth $153 million in July of 2016, it was the richest contract in NBA history and had the basketball world in a frenzy. Conley is really good, but most casual fans thought, How could the Grizzlies give a second-tier guard all that bread?
Conley responded to the critics by averaging a career-high 20.5 points, a team-high 6.3 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game last year to complement his uncanny toughness, leadership, elite basketball IQ and defensive grit. Conleys style prints are all over the Grizzlies. In Conleys rookie season of 2007-08, the Grizzlies finished 14th in the Western Conference. This season after consecutive wins over the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets, Memphis has the best record in the West.
After dispatching Golden State on Saturday by a score of 111-101, Memphis proved that the win was not a fluke as they came back from a 10-point deficit with 6:22 remaining in their game against Houston on Monday night.
Trailing 88-78, the Grizzlies allowed just two points and ended the game on a 20-2 run. Conley was a huge part of those victories.
Ice. Cold. https://t.co/rbr0mxmc6k
In fact, the past few nights, Conley has not only proved he is worth the money and improving as a player, he outdueled the $200 million dollar guards that he went up against in Steph Curry and James Harden. Theres no better way to elevate your social status in the guard-heavy NBA than to get lit against two Top 5 players on two Top 5 NBA squads.
Those guys are flashy, fancy, multi-faceted and offensively overwhelming with often-ignored defensive flaws. Conley is simply a bulldog who knows how to execute the game of basketball and is highly efficient in every aspect of the game. This season he is averaging 18 points and 4.7 assists as the floor general for the NBAs 3-0 undefeated Grizzlies.
Head coach David Fizdale stepped in and retooled the squad, established leadership and impressed his defensive qualities and the intangibles he brings to the game on his veterans and the new recruits follow. In his first year at the helm in 2016, the Grizzlies earned the No. 7 seed in the Wild West and the elevation of Conley and Marc Gasol were evident.
Gasol is straight killing this season.
Marc Gasol takes it to the RACK! #GrindCity https://t.co/w1QrKW7SeD
I remember a game last January where Grind City gave Golden State all it could handle. It was a foreshadowing of this season where Memphis’ heart doesn’t go pitty-pat for the Superteams of the NBA.
What a win for the @memgrizz!!! Down 24 at Golden State to win in overtime! We paired Mike Conley’s heroics with “My Heart Will Go On!!! https://t.co/TAli7szpKW
This season, Memphis cut some fat when long-time veterans Zach Randolph and Tony Allen departed in free agency to Sacramento and New Orleans. Then they added seven new bodies. Maybe it was time for a team that advanced to the playoffs seven consecutive seasons, the third-longest active streak in the NBA behind only San Antonio and Atlanta, to switch things up.
This season, however, Fizdale, Conley and crew are throwing a wrench in the Western conference predictions. They may not sustain this greatness, but Fizdale is on record as saying his team needs to win 45 games to make the playoffs in the West and those early wins can save your butt when the dog days of the season roll in.
Honestly, I want to get off to a fast start, so Im challenging this team to pick up things quickly… I really thought the front office did a great job of adding some multi-dimensional players. I really feel like were faster. Were definitely more skilled from that standpoint,” Fizdale told reporters.
More focused, more experienced and also more dedicated too. Plus an even angrier Conley, who still has a chip on his shoulder the size of a boulder and continues to fuel the Memphis party-crashing train
“Its part of the process…,” Conley told NBA.com. “Every year, it seems like Ive had a change off the court or on the court. Ive had to adjust my goals and position myself for that. This summer, its about being a different kind of leader for the team. Its about staying angry. Staying focused on that end. Last year, I was angry about all the contract talk. This time, Im just trying to position myself to help every way I can.”
So far he’s doing his job and then some.