With the blast of Grizzlies news that has been filtering in throughout the summer, almost lost in the shuffle was Mike Conley’s participation among the Team USA hopefuls in Las Vegas last week. Compliments of our friends and TrueHoop brethren over at the excellent Cowbell Kingdom (you’re seriously doing yourself a disservice if you have not checked out the work that they do unraveling the Kings), 3 Shades of Blue was able to get a handle of some perspective from Conley at the camp.
Conley was part of a large group of young point guards out to prove themselves at the camp; a group that brought him together with the likes of Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Ty Lawson, Damian Lillard, Kemba Walker, and Jrue Holiday.
Regarding the massive glut of players at his position Conley’s outlook was that, “when you get to compete against some of the best point guards out there, especially the young point guards, you learn about their game and you learn a lot about your game. You learn a lot about their habits, their work ethic, and things that you can take away and try to put into your game.”
At 25 years of age, entering his seventh season as a pro, the Grizzlies’ point guards was the most seasoned player in attendance, and in the culminating event of the week, the USA Basketball Showcase, he showed just that.
Sharing point guard duties with the Nuggets’ standout Lawson, Conley shined playing the role of “poised veteran,” in a game that was more so governed by a playground feel, where the young American-born studs of the game were looking to show off their talents.
Conley’s line for the night was solid, as he pitched in 11 points on 4-9 shooting, sinking a trio of attempts from downtown. He also registered 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and a steal for the White team, as they plowed on to victory, defeating the Blue Team by a score of 128-106. The three-point shooting display will certainly inspire Grizzlies fans, who are famously starved for some offensive perimeter prowess at this juncture. A great part of the allure of bringing in another reliable ball-handler is that it would allow Conley to showcase his skills off the ball a bit more, and he made a strong case for the front office to do so, in the game.
He also caught the eye of team executive, John Hollinger:
Like this No. 20 in white. Think he’s got a chance.
— John Hollinger (@johnhollinger) July 26, 2013
As an overall draw, Conley was appreciative of the experience, and believes that it will help everyone involved improve on their game. “Well obviously it’s a great honor to be a part of this young group of talent here. It’s a great opportunity for all of us to showcase our talents and compete against all the best in the world. Hopefully we’ll all get something out of this — I know I will — and we’ll all be better from it.”
Cowbell Kingdom also asked Conley about a couple of former teammates of his.
The Kings recently acquired Greivis Vasquez, who spent his rookie season with the Grizzlies. Vasquez was traded to New Orleans after the lockout ended for swingman Quincy Pondexter. After ranking third in the league in assists per game last season (9.0 per game), while starting for the temporarily-defunct “Hornets,” he was packaged in a deal for Tyreke Evans, as a side-effect of New Orleans’s acquisition of Holiday to man their point on draft night.
Conley had nothing but good things to say about his former backup. He said,
“I played one year with Greivis, and he was a great teammate. I sing his praises every time I get a chance. He’s a great guy, a hard worker, and a great teammate. I think all of his teammates on his past teams and his present teams realize what he’s putting into his game. Understanding that he’s not the most athletic or fast guy out there, but he uses every bit of his size, every bit of his strength, his court vision, his ability to score, in a variety of different ways. He doesn’t let anything limit him, and I think that’s what makes him a very good player.
When questioned about what it was like to match up with him in practice, Conley added that, “he pushed me a lot [in practice]. There were many times where he was pushing me: he would score, he would pick me up full court, and it would make me want to do the same thing… make me want to play harder, and that’s what you want out of a young player.”
The other guy that CK pressed Mike on is somebody that he’s surely used to answering questions about — his childhood friend, Greg Oden.
Oden has been linked to various teams since expressing his desire to return to basketball after missing upwards of three seasons since setting foot on an NBA court. He is reportedly nearing a decision on where he will sign, and has drawn interest from various suitors. He has been loosely linked to the Grizzlies, but they have not often been mentioned among the front-runners for his services, as they already sport a crowded rotation in the front-court.
Few are closer to the situation, however, than Conley, who said that, “Greg, obviously is real close with me, so we’ll work out every now and then in Ohio. I’ve gotten to see him, you know, he looks a lot better. Looks like he’s getting into shape. Hopefully this will be the year that he gets the opportunity to come back.”
Regarding specifics of how far along Oden is in his progress, Conley stated that, “Well, obviously, I don’t think that he’s all the way back to being used to being on the court. I think his explosiveness and his agility have looked better and better as the weeks have went on. I think it will only continue to get better as he gets more acclimated to the game again. Obviously he hadn’t played in so many years, so we’ll just have to wait and see if he can reach that full potential. It’s tough to watch him sitting on the sidelines and not being able to be a part of the game he loves. I just wish him the best every time I get a chance and I’m sure this year will be one year he will remember for the rest of his life and he’ll be able to get back on the court.”
But he thinks that his fellow Ohio State alum is ready to jump back into the grind of an NBA season: “Yes I’d say he’s mentally ready. Physically he’s getting there, but mentally he’s never been more prepared and ready to go.”