The Memphis Grizzlies received horrible news Tuesday morning with the diagnosis of Mike Conley’s back injury. Conley has transverse fractures in his lower back, which could sideline him for two months. The Grizzlies say the timeline is unknown at this point, but that he will re-evaluated in a month.
Conley was playing the best basketball of his career, posting career highs in several major categories, including points (19.2) and rebounds (3.6), as well as being third in the NBA in three-point percentage. Conley was definitely playing his way into early all-star contention. But that talk will be no more this season. And in the world of the NBA, teams must move on quickly from injuries in order to stay afloat. The Grizzlies will explore several options for a new point guard.
The in-house options of Andrew Harrison and Wade Baldwin IV most likely won’t be able to keep the Grizzlies in the playoff hunt. Both are rookies and aren’t ready to be starting point guards for a top five Western Conference team. Baldwin has been up and down between the D-League so far this year and has appeared in 11 of the Grizzlies 18 games. Baldwin has shown serious struggles in the transition to the NBA, but that’s to be expected. Andrew Harrison has been better, settling in nicely to the backup point guard and off ball roles. Harrison benefited from playing 40 plus games in the D-League last year, as he is averaging 6 points and 3.4 assists. But Harrison has had lapses in shot selection and taking care of the ball. He probably isn’t ready for a starting role and big minutes.
The Grizzlies will be bringing in at least three veteran point guards for workouts in the coming days to look at shoring up the position. Tim MacMahon of ESPN reports that Memphis will be taking a look at Kendall Marshall, Toney Douglas and Will Bynum. None of these three have been consistent NBA starters.
Kendall Marshall is the youngest of the three at just 25 years old. The former lottery pick has played for four teams in his four-year NBA career. Outside of starting 45 games for the Lakers in 2013-14, Marshall has started just 12 NBA games. In 160 games, the lefty from North Carolina has career averages of five points and five assists. Marshall hasn’t really proven he is even a backup NBA point guard, much less a starter. If he’s the answer, Harrison might become the starter and Marshall brought off the bench. Marshall also has torn his ACL twice since the start of 2015, which may play into him being out of the league right now, just picked up by the Reno Bighorns of the D-League.
Toney Douglas has bounced around in his seven-year NBA career, playing for six different teams. Most recently, Douglas was in New Orleans the past two seasons. Douglas started 18 games last year and averaged 8.7 points and 2.6 assists. The thing with Douglas, he’s often a guy that teams bring in part way through the season to address injury issues. Douglas has played more than 50 games just three times, with two of those seasons coming his rookie and sophomore years. He doesn’t have injury issues, he just doesn’t stick on a roster for a full season. Douglas, like Marshall, has been more of a backup player to this point of his career. Douglas does have a bit more of a score first mentality, which could be helpful with the Grizzlies missing out on the 19 points from Conley.
Will Bynum spent six of his eight years in the NBA as the backup point guard for the Detroit Pistons. Bynum was out of the League last season and played seven games for the Wizards in 2014-15. Like the other two, Bynum’s role has been a backup, with just 29 starts in 260 games for the vet from Georgia Tech. His career averages of eight points and three assists don’t jump off the page at you, but he’s always been a guy that takes care of the ball with just a 1.6 career turnover average. Playing in just seven games over the past two-plus years probably doesn’t bode well for Bynum to get back into a big time minutes opportunity for the Grizzlies.
Based on buzz from social media, many Grizzlies fans are hoping for a reunion with Mario Chalmers. Chalmers ruptured his Achilles tendon while playing for the Grizzlies last season, but isn’t quite healthy enough for a return. Chalmers tweeted that he is almost ready, but the Grizzlies need someone that is ready immediately. If Conley got injured later in the season, Chalmers would definitely be a top priority, but unfortunately, that’s just not the case.
Another former Miami Heat point guard’s name has been brought up is Norris Cole. Cole played for the Heat for three and a half years, and the New Orleans Pelicans the last year and a half. Cole’s career averages are solid at 10.6 points and 3.7 assists, but he’s already out of the league after just five years. Cole is playing is playing in China, so he might not even be a mid-season option. Cole has experience playing for David Fizdale, so that transition might be a bit smoother than the other guys. Cole also has started 48 games over the past two years so he has experience running a team.
Anyway you look at it, the absence of Mike Conley is huge. It could be devastating if the Grizzlies don’t find a suitable replacement. And really, Memphis just has to keep their heads above water without Conley. Whoever the Grizzlies sign, they won’t produce the same as Conley had been, but they have to run a team efficiently and consistently. The market looks thin, but Memphis has done more with less before.