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.
Conley said all the failures to find someone to reliably back him up was frustrating at times.
"You felt like you found the right person, they would play so well for such a short period of time," Conley said. "However long it was, it never seemed to work out. It's almost like when are we going to find this right key guy? It was frustrating to not know who's going to back you up, to have a solidified position back there."
On the other hand, Conley also believes the extra work made him a better player.
"I got a lot of experience, a lot of experience you can only learn by playing, so all those minutes helped me regardless of how tired or how beat up I was at the end of the season," Conley said.
Bayless has played with Portland, New Orleans and Toronto. He averaged a career-high 11.4 points in 31 games with Toronto last season, and he handed out an average 3.8 assists too. He sees an opportunity in Memphis and is ready to play on the floor with Conley or without as needed. Bayless hadn't heard of the Grizzlies' history searching for a backup point guard.
"Mike's done a great job," Bayless said. "It's kind of been a situation where Mike's been so good it's tough for other people to get minutes. I'm going to try to take some of the wear and tear off his body and also help him when we're playing at the same time."
Hollins also has guard Josh Selby back after a quiet rookie season, though the coach said he sees him strictly as a shooting guard. Hollins plans to use Bayless and Wroten at both guard spots as he experiments during training camp.
Either way, the 24-year-old Conley knows he'll be getting some much-needed rest this season.
"I'm getting old man," Conley said with a smile.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.Twitter.com/teresamwalker