Mike Conley enters the defining season of his Memphis Grizzlies career with plenty of help behind him at the point guard position. Each Grizzlies reserve has tangible talents. Jerryd Bayless acts as Conley's sidekick. Nick Calathes will be Memphis' version of a pure point guard. Josh Akognon can pop shots.
This gives Dave Joerger greater depth than last season, when Bayless was looking to show himself after an injury-riddled year and Tony Wroten was far from ready.
Here's a breakdown of each Grizz point man and the expectations that await him.
Conley turns 26 in a couple of weeks and has yet to lock into the type of player he'll be for the rest of his career. After having barely improved as a passer in his first three seasons, Conley made long strides in the past three years.
Under Lionel Hollins, he improved greatly on defense.
For five-and-a-half years, he was thought of as a caretaker who took a limited number of shots as a No. 4 option. After the Rudy Gay trade, he suddenly became the leading scorer. From that point, he averaged 16.9 points per game and had 17 20-point performances.
Now, it will be a telling moment when he has a full season as the leading scorer. Conley must prove that he's a capable lead guard. Better three-point attempts and inside drives are required. 54 percent at the rim is unacceptable for a leading scorer.
His defense is certainly top-notch. With two seasons at No. 4 in steals rate and a title in steals, he's one of the most voracious point men on the ball. A second straight All-Defensive Team selection should be in line.
Unless Bayless is awarded with a starting spot in front of Tony Allen, he's unlikely to see his role change much. He's the flighty copilot for the controlled Conley. He helps distribute and takes shots that no one else wants to take.
That leads him to shoot worse than he should. By taking inopportune three-pointers and mid-range shots, he hurts his ability to register a field-goal percentage much better than the 41.2 percent he made after the Gay trade.
From February onward, Bayless and Conley played 13.3 minutes per game together. This season, he'll also see most of his court time with the lead man.
Bayless isn't bad on defense, allowing 103 points per 100 possessions last year. But when he enters the lineup for Allen, the lineup allows nine to 15 points more.
The Grizz take what they get from Bayless, who will score double digits.
Calathes was primed for NBA action after leading PBC Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar to a Eurocup championship in April and winning the MVP award.
Calathes is an aggressive player who can get to the basket. He averaged 13.3 points per game on 48.6 percent shooting. The combination of size and speed for the 6'6" 24-year-old gives him a great advantage as he drives inside.
On the other hand, he isn't much of a three-point shooter. He shot 32 percent from long range last season.
Calathes may find his way into the rotation. He has experience leading the offense for a successful team, which would allow him to fill the role of caretaker. In a situation when Dave Joerger wants a reserve other than Bayless taking a high number of shots, Calathes could be the one to guide the second unit.
After impressing observers while playing for the Dallas Mavericks Summer League team, Akognon will become one more star of July set to disappear once the regular season arrives. Besides, a year before averaging 17.5 points in 26.2 minutes per game, he put up 1.8 more points in 18.3 minutes per game and shot 11.5 percent better for the Sacramento Kings Summer League team.
The one-time star of California State University, Fullerton, who went undrafted in 2009 might have the ability to drop quick points. He averaged 28.6 points per game in two seasons in China.
While calling him a "decent bet to make the Grizz roster," the Memphis Flyer's Chris Herrington said:
The Grizzlies don't see Akognon as the answer to the point guard question as much as a value play that could add more shooting at the back end of the roster.
Akgonon should make the roster due to the demands for the backcourt. More will be asked of the guards deep on the bench than the frontcourt players. Since Conley, Bayless and others may not hit enough threes, periodic outside shooting will be more useful than short minutes of rebounding and inside toughness.
Hence, if Akgonon, who hit 39.1 percent from three-point range in the Summer League, can hit a couple of shots in a pinch, he will have helped.
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