Grizzlies' Conley has much to prove
Mike Conley, No. 4 pick in the '07 draft, has yet to distinguish himself in the NBA
The 6-1 point guard hasn't nailed down a starting spot with the young Grizzlies
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At his introductory news conference Sunday, new Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins issued a challenge to his starting point guard.
"I want to see if Mike Conley is a basketball player on a high level," Hollins said.
That's open to debate a season and a half into Conley's NBA career. Conley played only 46 games in an injury-shortened rookie year, and this season his production has declined, he temporarily lost his starting job and his name has surfaced in trade rumors.
Is Conley, who teamed with fellow freshman Greg Oden to lead Ohio State to the 2007 NCAA championship game, just a highly touted prospect who is more a product of exposure than promise? Indeed, Memphis' latest coaching change comes at a time when the No. 4 pick in the 2007 draft is trying to prove that he is the point guard to lead the young, rebuilding Grizzlies.
"I've tried not to pay too much attention to what pick I was and what everybody might be expecting right now because I know if I'm not living up to those expectations, it'll make it that much harder on myself," Conley said.
That isn't to say things have been easy in his adjustment to the NBA.
"It's almost like you have to learn a whole new game," said the 6-foot-1 Conley, who is averaging 7.9 points and 3.0 assists in 25.4 minutes this season. "Different speeds, different level of competition. You've got know your spots, where you can score from, and where your teammates like the ball. You also have to know how to defend different players and different schemes and recognize different defenses."
An NBA scout described Conley as having a good court sense but questioned his potential.
"He does nothing exceptional that makes him stand out," the scout said. "He struggles shooting. He's just an average defender. He's not very quick and he's not very strong.
"He's young, so he has time to improve, but I don't know if he's a No. 4 pick. I see him having a solid career, but if you're hanging your future on him as your point guard to win an NBA title, he's not there."
Conley is also only 21, having arrived in the NBA after just 39 games with the Buckeyes.
"It's like that with all young players who are talented," Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace said. "They show you flashes of their ability and now you've got to connect the dots and get the best performances smoothed out and on a more consistent basis. But it's really hard to forecast when that will come."
It hasn't come yet, which, in part, is why former coach Marc Iavaroni pulled Conley from the starting lineup in early December and inserted Kyle Lowry. Conley came off the bench for 21 consecutive games before getting the job back last week. He had 18 points, six rebounds and four assists as a starter against the Knicks last Friday.
"In games [earlier this season] I kind of just sat back and passed the ball around," Conley said. "I've tried hard to be aggressive in practice and translate that to games."
While attempting to solidify his place with the Grizzlies, Conley is also aware of the trade rumors. Portland and Milwaukee are among the teams to reportedly express interest.
"I wouldn't say they're a distraction, but I do notice them because I get asked about it," Conley said. "If I ever did get traded, and it's a better situation for me, I'd be happy wherever it is. But I love my teammates in Memphis, and if I don't get traded, I'd be happy, too. Whatever happens, I'm ready for it."
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