Breaking Down the Grizzlies: Point Guard
This is the beginning of a five-part series on the position battles on the Grizzlies. We will address all five positions over the week to determine the team’s strengths and weaknesses heading into the season.
The Grizzlies point guard position has been a cause of concern over the last few years as Mike Conley was slow developing his game and the backup role has been a whirlwind of change as player after player came and failed to play well enough to give Conley much-needed rest.
Last season Mike Conley took a major step forward in his career. He had shown steady development over the years but after the Rudy Gay trade Conley emerged as a far more effective scorer and play-maker. The glimpses of brilliance were suddenly the norm and opponents who took him lightly were punished. Conley improved his scoring to a career best 14.6 PPG while still dishing out over 6 assists a game. Defensively he was named to the 2nd team All NBA Defensive team creating while stealing the ball as a career high 2.2 steals a game and leading the league in total steals with 174.
Conley averaged 34.5 MPG last season and that number went up to 38.3 MPG in the playoffs. Compare that to Tony Parker (32.9 and 36.4 MPG respectively) and you see why Conley appeared tired in the conference finals. Conley hit a respectable 44% from the field last season but dropped to below 39% in the playoffs and only 28.1% from the arc. Conley did improve his assist numbers to 7.1 a game in the playoffs and was still one of the most effective scorers for the Grizzlies in the playoffs but his lack of efficiency hurt the team especially against the Spurs.
The Grizzlies signed Jerryd Bayless in the 2012 off-season to help give Conley rest at the point but that experiment, like so many others before him, failed to develop. Bayless did earn a valuable role as the primary bench scorer on the team but at SG more than PG. Bayless struggled under Head Coach Lionel Hollins controlling style so much that the Grizzlies reached out for retired PG Keyon Dooling at the end of the season in a desperate attempt to find someone to give Conley rest. The Grizzlies also used Tayshaun Prince in a point forward role to try to give Conley rest.
Tony Wroten, the former first round draft pick and point guard of the future, failed to show sufficient development over his rookie season and after a disappointing summer league performance was traded to Philadelphia in July.
This season Conley is back to lead the team. While it is likely Conley is closer to his maximum potential than at any time in the past there are still areas he can improve on and will be counted on to improve. His perimeter shooting is considered average around the league but he needs to hit at a higher percentage than 36.1% to be considered a threat from the arc. Part of Conley’s perimeter shooting woes stemmed from the offense which often bogged down under Hollins inside first attack leaving Conley forced to shoot late in the clock from the perimeter.
The more up-tempo offense should also help Conley improve on his assist numbers. Conley has always been considered a floor general that passes first but his assist numbers have rarely supported that belief. The lack of an up-tempo style and few spot and shoot scorers took its toll on Conley’s assists.
The Grizzlies added Mike Miller, a pure stop and pop shooter from the perimeter, and with a healthy Quincy Pondexter, the Grizzlies should have more scorers who create assists for the man passing the ball. Just getting an assist or two more a game will greatly increase Conley’s visibility and acclaim around the league.
Bayless surprised a lot of people when he opted to stay with the Grizzlies in the off-season. His problems with Hollins were very visible on the bench but when the Grizzlies made the coaching move Bayless immediately stood up in support of the move by exercising his option. Bayless has gotten work as the backup PG in the pre-season and should be expected to play there more at the beginning of the season than anyone else but it appears that Joerger prefers him as the off guard rather than running the offense.
So who will be Conley’s main backup? The Grizzlies made a trade in the off-season for former John Hollinger favorite Nick Calathes. Calathes, 24, has spent the last four seasons overseas in Greece and Russia so he is not without professional experience but as with all NBA rookies a learning curve should be expected. So far in the pre-season Calathes has shown flashes of brilliance but has also appeared lost at times as well. As the season progresses it is assumed Calathes will take on more and more responsibility running the offense with Bayless taking on a greater bench scoring role.
So the Grizzlies point guard position hasn’t changed much from last season. Conley is the starter and expected to log significant minutes at the start of the season. Bayless is the primary backup at this point and will likely struggle running the offense despite the change in offense. Calathes is the rookie point guard with promise but a large learning curve ahead of him.
What to Expect/What Can Go Wrong:
If the Grizzlies are going to improve on last season’s performance they will need to see improvement at the PG position. Conley needs to improve his perimeter shooting and keep the offense moving at the quicker pace while continuing to be a ball hound defensively. Bayless will need to run the offense better and control his shoot first mentality while running the point. Calathes will need to catch up to the pace of the NBA and control his turnovers as well.
It is our opinion that Conley will continue to develop his outside shot and will not struggle with the quicker offensive pace. Calathes will assume the primary backup PG role by the New Year and that Bayless will continue to provide solid scoring off the bench but more as the backup SG than PG. This will also enable Conley to be more rested during the season and that much more productive in the off-season.
If Calathes fails to earn the coaching staff’s confidence then the Grizzlies will likely see their hopes of a deep playoff run dashed by the fatigue in Conley’s legs. If Conley doesn’t remain healthy then the Grizzlies will likely struggle to get out of the first round much less advance to the Conference Finals. If Calathes or Bayless develop into solid backup point guards under Joerger’s quicker system then the Grizzlies could be a scary team next spring.