Following a season undercut by Grizzlies stars missing significant time, the injury bug has returned to Memphis.
Point guard Mike Conley suffered a fractured vertebrae against the Charlotte Hornets, which will cause him to miss at least six weeks. Conley, who is playing at an All-Star level in a loaded Western Conference field, suffered a traverse process fracture in his lower back when he was involved in a third-quarter collision on Monday night. The injury is not expected to require surgery. (The news was first reported by The Vertical.)
Memphis’ star point guard signed a five-year, $153 million contract — the largest contract in NBA history — this past offseason after playing in just 56 games during the 2015-16 season.
The 29-year-old has responded with a career-best start, averaging career highs in points per game (19.2), effective field goal percentage (53 percent), rebounds (3.6) and win shares per 48 minutes in new coach David Fizdale’s system. He ranks eighth among NBA point guards in player efficiency rating.
Conley’s untimely setback renews the focus on rookie point guard Wade Baldwin, the franchise’s first-round pick. The Vanderbilt product can fill up box scores when playing well, but his inexperience and relative inefficiency will be a substantial downgrade from Conley and his shooting could limit the effectiveness of Memphis’ new offense. Baldwin is averaging 3.5 points and 2.3 assists through the first 11 games of his career.
Given their lack of point guard depth behind Conley and Baldwin, the Grizzlies (11-7) could look to make a move in the coming days.
Conley joins Chandler Parsons, Brandan Wright and James Ennis as key Grizzlies pieces missing time due to injury.
Grizzlies would be eligible to apply for the hardship exception after the 12/3 LAL game. Exception would grant a 16th roster spot.