1-on-1 with Mike Conley Jr., the NBA’s Forgotten All-Star

Dec 07, 2018 11:30 AM EST
  • Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley sat down with Rob Perez (aka @WorldWideWob) in an exclusive interview.
  • The topics include his career-long chase to become an NBA All-Star, the "Grit ’N Grind" brotherhood, playing through gruesome injuries and more.

Sprained ankles, wrist sprains, strained neck, shattered orbital bone, broken back, Achilles strains, season-ending heel surgery.

And those are the only ones we actually know about.

Mike Conley Jr.’s list of injuries throughout his NBA career could barely fit on a CVS receipt. But it’s all fair game, right? Conley is not the first professional athlete to deal with extensive health problems, and he surely won’t be the last.

There is something peculiarly unique to think about when discussing Conley’s story: Does he think all of these setbacks make him … better?

“I really do. I think it changed my game a lot. It changed the way I go out there and perform and the things I do and the way I try and accomplish it. Early on, I was so much of a guy who was trying to get to the basket and just be physical and diving for every loose ball and taking charges … just doing all these things … I still do them, but I pick and choose. I’m smarter with my movements. I’m smarter with not over-exerting myself in situations, and because of that I think I’m able to be more effective in games.”

Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (11) runs into Milwaukee Bucks guard Eric Bledsoe (6).

Just more than one year ago today, Conley played his final game of the 2017-18 campaign against the Bucks, undergoing treatment and eventual surgery for a “golf ball”-sized bone spur in his heel that he had been playing with for “years.”

I mean, come on. This isn’t just bad luck anymore. When the news dropped, it felt like it was his destiny to never be great.

We had to ask the question: Will we ever see Conley play to his full potential before Father Time shuts the door on his prime?

After a decade of speculation, we finally have our answer.

Through 23 games, the Memphis Grizzlies are 14-9, sixth in a Western Conference in which the 14th-ranked team is only 6.5 games back of first place. Conley holds career-high per-game averages in…

  • Points (21.1)
  • Assists (6.5)
  • Field goal attempts (16.7)

When he’s on the floor, the team has a Net Rating of +5.7, and when he’s not, it drops all the way to -4.6 — the highest differential on the team/Conley relationship since 2012-13.

This isn’t happening all of a sudden because the Grizzlies brought in a top free agent to help him, either. As a matter of fact, Conley’s 28.5% usage rate (the percentage of plays used by a player while on the floor) is the highest of his career.

“I think it’s necessary for our team, honestly. I don’t think it was me coming in and just really trying to focus on being that kind of aggressive player. The way we’re built — what coach is asking of me and Marc and a lot of guys on our team — my role was to come in and be that guy. I didn’t expect to play 35 minutes a game or whatever I’m playing, but I’m starting to get used the more and more minutes I play, the more conditioning I get and it allows me to be more assertive when I play.”

He is not only putting additional, extensive miles on those surgically-repaired limbs, he is performing when it matters most — in the clutch.

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