MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Memphis Grizzlies believe their long search for player to back up point guard Mike Conley finally is over.
The Grizzlies have tried, and failed, many times in recent seasons find a player who could spell Conley effectively. The list of those who have come and gone includes Kyle Lowry, Greivis Vasquez, Jeremy Pargo and Acie Law — along with the Gilbert Arenas failed experiment down the stretch last season.
Memphis went shopping for a veteran to fill the void and signed Jerryd Bayless, the 11th pick overall in 2008. He has 36 starts in his 229 career NBA games. The Grizzlies also drafted Tony Wroten out of Washington, but Bayless is expected to get the most minutes when Conley's not on the court.
"Mike Conley's become one of the top dozen point guards in the league," general manager Chris Wallace said. "We've got more depth now, more outside shooting and hopefully a better grasp on the backup point guard situation than we've had the last few years."
Conley ranked 13th in the NBA last season handing out 6.5 assists per game. Yet he also played an average 35.1 minutes per game in his fifth season, ranking third on the Grizzlies behind only Rudy Gay and Marc Gasol and 27th league-wide. The Grizzlies even tried O.J. Mayo a little at point guard after trying to sharpen his ball-handling skills during summer league play last year.
Once the Grizzlies got to the playoffs as the No. 4 seed in the West, Conley averaged 39.5 minutes in each of Memphis' seven games with the Los Angeles Clippers. He played 40 minutes in Game 7 despite being sick, and he wound up shooting just 2 of 13 from the floor with five assists.
Conley played some pickup games with Bayless the past couple weeks before training camp opened Tuesday and expects his new teammate to allow him to do more than just catch his breath on the bench.
"I think it allows me to play harder for a shorter amount of time," Conley said. "I don't have to try to take certain plays and rest here and there. I can go as hard as I can for as many minutes as I can until I get a break. I think it'll make my game better and make this team better."
The Grizzlies had faith in Conley in November 2010 when they rewarded the fourth overall pick in 2007 with a five-year contract extension worth $40 million. All he has done since coming out of Ohio State is score more each season, and he also has led the team in assists every year too.
Not only does Conley distribute the ball for Memphis, he also plays a key part in coach Lionel Hollins' defense-first approach. Conley had 136 steals last season, including a 14-game stretch between Feb. 15 and March 18 where he had at least two steals a game for the NBA's longest such streak since Rajon Rondo over 14 games between Jan. 31 and March 2, 2010.