Commentary

Rookie Report: Conley enjoying big minutes

Updated: January 9, 2008, 6:27 PM ET
By Keith Lipscomb | ESPN.com

Memphis Grizzlies head coach Marc Iavaroni's New Year's resolution apparently was to get acquainted with his No. 1 draft pick from 2007. He's doing a tremendous job of following through on that thus far.

Mike Conley, after just one game as a reserve in his return from a posterior labral tear in his right (nonshooting) shoulder that shelved him for six weeks, made his first NBA start on Jan. 2 at Indiana.

Thirty-five minutes of stat-sheet stuffing later, Conley's line of 7 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists and 3 steals made fantasy owners everywhere take notice. He's now made four starts and logged at least 35 minutes in each of them, which is why he's being scarfed up on the waiver wire in most leagues.

If he's still available in your league and you intend to do the same, you'd better get a move on. In just one week, Conley's gone from 4 percent owned in ESPN leagues to 66 percent.

We've seen other rookies enjoy bursts of success this season, like Jamario Moon, Sean Williams, Jeff Green and Conley's teammate, Juan Carlos Navarro. None of them have been able to sustain the production that gained them great notice on the waiver wire, so what makes Conley's situation different from the others'?

In three words: commitment, competition and capability.

Commitment

Let's face it, the Grizzlies aren't going anywhere this season. At 10-24, they are already 9é games out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Add to that, the fact the Grizzlies used the No. 4 overall pick to select the now 20-year-old out of Ohio State, and what rationale could Iavaroni possibly come up with not to see what he's got at his disposal in Conley? It's all about opportunity, and Conley is much more likely than the aforementioned rookies to get a nice, long look.

Competition

On the night Conley was inserted into the Grizzlies' starting lineup for the first time, veteran point guard and previous starter, Damon Stoudamire, was placed on the inactive list. Talk about sending a message. So, while the team will attempt to find a suitable trade partner to move Stoudamire, he's not likely to see the court anytime soon, if ever again, with Memphis.

That leaves second-year man Kyle Lowry, who impressed in a few mini-stretches earlier this season, including a near triple-double in his only career start Dec. 7 in New Orleans.

However, if Lowry was truly in the team's plans as a possible solution at the point, Iavaroni wouldn't have wasted his time by starting Stoudamire in the first place. He would have given Lowry 30-plus minutes more regularly and taken the mixed results that come with inexperience. Instead, Iavaroni is taking the plug-and-play approach with his prized early-lottery selection. There may be nights where the minutes are split up evenly between Conley and Lowry, but it's obvious they aren't Nos. 1 and 1a on the depth chart.

Capability

Mike Conley as a starter

Mike Conley, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2007 NBA draft, was handed the keys to the Grizzlies offense on Jan. 2 and is receiving consistent minutes thus far.

OPP
MIN
FG
REB
AST
TO
STL
PTS
@IND
35
3-7
6
8
1
3
7
@BOS
35
4-9
2
4
2
1
10
MIA
35
4-8
5
7
4
2
11
LAL
38
5-15
5
6
2
2
11
While it's all well and good that the team is committed to Conley and that his competition isn't a major threat to his playing time right now, the reason Conley will have an impact in fantasy is because the kid can play and his teammates will help him succeed.

Does he have holes in his game? Oh yeah. But he also has his share of redeeming qualities.

It's no secret that Conley is not going to light anyone up from the perimeter. He couldn't do it in college -- and quite frankly, didn't need to -- from 19 feet, 9 inches, so he won't be much of a factor from four feet farther away. He made only 30 percent of his 3-point attempts during his one season in Columbus.

And although he shot 52 percent from the field for the Buckeyes, a heavy dose of his shots came from in close because of his great quickness in the half court, as well as numerous opportunities on the break.

The most disappointing of Conley's shortcomings in terms of shooting comes at the charity stripe, where he shot only 69 percent in college. For someone whose game is predicated on quickness and penetration, you would hope for better results. Despite the small sample size, his pro career is off to a similar start (16-for-24, 67 percent).

OK, enough bagging on Junior for not being a major scoring threat. The reason you want him on your roster is because he has a high basketball IQ and will find his teammates, which are more talented than the Grizzlies' record would indicate. His value is even higher in leagues in which assist-to-turnover ratio is a category. I know it's only 10 games into his NBA career, but Conley's 46 assists to only 14 turnovers shouldn't be ignored.

Despite his 6-foot-1, 180-pound frame, Conley is very active and will occasionally contribute something meaningful on the glass, as evidenced by his 4.5 rebounds per game in his four starts. His quick feet and hands will make him a nightly threat in steals as well.

So, what can you expect from Conley in his maiden voyage through the Association? He should put up numbers similar to those of Boston point guard Rajon Rondo, so if you value Rondo, you know what to do. I expect averages of 9 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists and 1.5 steals the rest of the way. He'll put up some impressive lines, mixed in with a few duds along the way, and I would be surprised if he put up markedly better numbers than those I listed. There is certainly a ceiling for him this season as he learns the ropes. Conley owners just hope he'll have fewer 5-for-15 shooting nights like he turned in Tuesday and keep his field goal percentage in the 43-44 percent range. That would be more than acceptable for a player filling out the back end of your roster.

Keith Lipscomb is an editor for ESPN Fantasy Games.

Keith Lipscomb is a senior editor for ESPN Fantasy Games.