Basketball diehards shared a collective smile when Mike Conley was named to last season's All-Defensive second team. Finally, the most overlooked player on the league's most overlooked contender enjoyed a little individual recognition. Since coming into the league six years ago, Conley has not only developed into a top defensive point guard but also a reliable offensive threat. Still, he has been overshadowed in Memphis by Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and even Tony Allen, a treasure on Twitter and an unyielding force in perimeter defense.
The Grizzlies had their most successful season in '12--13, winning 56 games and advancing to the Western Conference finals. They did so despite trading Rudy Gay, the team's leading scorer, at the end of January. Conley's unflappability, and his practiced capacity to control the point of attack, deserve a lot of the credit. But there are reasons to expect even more from the 26-year-old, who averaged a career-high 14.6 points (including 16.7 after the All-Star break) and had his alltime bests in Players Efficiency Rating and Win Shares, among other advanced metrics. Memphis, meanwhile, brings back all of the major pieces that powered its second-ranked defense, and its offensive efficiency numbers spiked after the Gay trade. Will 2013--14 be the season that Conley & Co. catch the basketball world by surprise ... yet again?
COACH DAVID JOERGER (1ST SEASON WITH GRIZZLIES)
2012--13 RECORD 56--26 (2ND IN SOUTHWEST)
WHAT'S NEW After the team decided not to bring back Lionel Hollins, assistant Joerger takes over a familiar group.
PROJECTED LINEUP (2012--13 STATS)
PG MIKE CONLEY
14.6 PPG; 6.1 APG; 44.0 FG%; 36.2 3FG%
SG TONY ALLEN
8.9 PPG; 4.6 RPG; 1.2 APG; 44.5 FG%
SF TAYSHAUN PRINCE
10.4 PPG; 4.4 RPG; 43.8 FG%; 40.4 3FG%
PF ZACH RANDOLPH
15.4 PPG; 11.2 RPG; 0.8 SPG; 46.0 FG%
C MARC GASOL
14.1 PPG; 7.8 RPG; 1.7 BPG; 49.4 FG%
PG JERRYD BAYLESS
8.7 PPG; 3.3 APG; 41.9 FG%; 35.3 3FG%
LEAGUE RANK of the Grizzlies in three-pointers made (382) and attempted (1,107) last year, the third time in the past four seasons that Memphis finished last in the NBA in both categories.
A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP THE GRIZZLIES
I feel bad for Dave Joerger. The reason he's the coach is because Lionel Hollins didn't pay enough attention to analytics. Lionel did a phenomenal job. He didn't take crap from the players, he held them accountable. But now, when Joerger is sitting a guy like Zach Randolph because the front office says the numbers dictate it, it's going to be a tough way for him to coach.... Marc Gasol cares only about winning. As a defender he does a good job on his own man, but he also doesn't care if his guy scores because he's focused on helping his teammates. They run the offense through Gasol. The main thing they do is post up Zach, and when teams front Zach, Memphis brings Gasol up to the high area for a high-low. As a passer he works so well with Zach.... Randolph is 32 but he's as good as ever. Before he came to Memphis he was such a black hole that it was disgusting. Now he will pass, and he passes well. Everybody loves him and Al Jefferson because there are no other low-post scorers like them anymore.... I didn't think Mike Conley would be this good. He does everything pretty well and he's a big-time leader. If for some reason the Grizzlies called the Nets and said they'd trade Conley for Deron Williams, the Nets would do it in a heartbeat.... Tony Allen gets into guys and uses his athleticism to stay in front of them. He can definitely guard point guards and smaller guys, and he's O.K. on the bigger threes. He can't shoot, but sometimes it's good to have guys who don't need the ball. He doesn't hurt them offensively because he's a great cutter.
ROBERT BECK/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (CONLEY)
CONLEY ON THE RISE
GREG NELSON FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (RANDOLPH)