#IMHO: Conley’s return, Wiggins’ rise, and coach’s challenges

Grind City Media’s Lang Whitaker and Michael Wallace have been covering the NBA since shorts were short and socks were long, but their opinions about the League don’t always mesh. #IMHO is their weekly chance to weigh in on the most pertinent news from around the NBA. What’s lit? What’s lame? Find out each week right here.


From: Lang Whitaker

Date: Tuesday, November 12, 2019 at 10:53 AM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: IMHO


I think most people expected the Minnesota Timberwolves to be improved this season – after a few years of upheaval they have finally found some front office stability, and I think we all expected Karl-Anthony Towns to take a step forward as part of his natural progression as a player.

But I don’t think anyone expected Andrew Wiggins to play the way he’s been playing this season. After five seasons in the NBA, it probably just seemed like Wiggins was never going to progress beyond what he was, which was a very athletic player who was mostly inefficient and a bit aimless on the floor. But through the first ten games this season, we’ve seen a different Wiggins. As I write this he’s averaging 25.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg and 3.3 apg, while shooting 47.3 percent from the floor, which are all career highs.

I know you got to see him in person the other night when the T-Wolves were in Memphis (a game I missed to go to the Governor’s Mansion, which is a story for another day), but do you think this is just a hot start for Wiggins, or at 24 years of age has he finally turned a corner?


From: Michael Wallace

Sent: Tuesday, November 12, 2019 at 2:58 PM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

I think that’s fair to say about Wiggins, especially since he’s embracing the three-point shot for the first time in his career. The truth is, Wiggins just needed time and stability in terms of development. In those five years, he’s had three different coaches. The supporting cast, outside of the KAT, has shifted from year to year, it seems. He’s built to be more of a glorified, high-end role player and not a catalyst or franchise cornerstone.

And that’s fine. Paul George is the same way, although he’s blossomed far more than Wiggins has. I remember speaking with league execs and scouts about Wiggins when he was drafted No. 1 overall, and some were saying he’s the most dynamic wing to enter the league since LeBron. I totally dismissed that as outlandish hyperbole. Neither his talent nor temperament suggested Wiggins was on that level. But it’s good to see him finally expanding his game and having an impact on a Timberwolves team that needs him to perform at an All-Star level.

Lang, the wait is finally over. The Mike Conley Return Game is finally upon us, with the Jazz visiting FedExForum on Friday. The Grizzlies have fully embraced the transition to the electrifying Ja Morant era at point guard. At the same time, Conley deserves – and will get – a full embrace from the organization for what he’s accomplished on and off the court during his decade-plus in Memphis.

All that said, what’s your favorite Mike Conley moment? Mine will always be the “broke face” game, when Conley – souped up on medication – came back and destroyed the Warriors in that second-round playoff game on the road. He told me afterward that the only thing he feared that night was facing his mom after the game, because he disobeyed her wishes for him to sit out for at least another night.


Andrew Wiggins shooting

From: Lang Whitaker

Date: Wednesday, November 13, 2019 at 10:17 AM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: Re: IMHO

I moved to Memphis three seasons ago, and literally days after I arrived Conley had surgery and was ruled out for the season. So my first season here I mostly have memories of Kobi Simmons and Mario Chalmers running the show.

As for Conley, honestly, things like this are what I will remember about him:

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Bring your kid to work day

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One night last season I brought my son to a game, and just as we walked out onto the floor, Mike happened to be finishing his pregame shooting and heading to the locker room. Mike stopped and came over and made small talk with my son, which made his year. But it wasn’t just my son: Mike spent a good 10-15 minutes before every single home game meeting fans, signing autographs and posing for selfies. It was selfless on his part, which was typically Mike; he understood and accepted every bit of the work that came along with being the face of a franchise and a city, which is not something you see every day. Things have worked out pretty well for the Grizzlies in moving on from the Marc and Mike era, which is in large part thanks to the work put in by Zach Kleiman and the Grizzlies bball ops folks. And our loss has been a real gain for Toronto and Salt Lake City.

Mike, after starting the season 0-for-6 when using his coach’s challenges, Toronto coach Nick Nurse recently finally got one correct, after which he celebrated as though he’d won a title.

Now that we are a couple of weeks into the coach’s challenge experiment, what’s your take on how this new system is working? On the whole, it seems as though out of bounds calls are the most likely to be overturned. Some coaches, like Nurse, have no problem using their challenges, while others, like Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins, seem to be saving them for a rainy day. (The other night against San Antonio, Tyus Jones got whistled for a foul for getting elbowed in the face, and Jenkins didn’t even challenge that.)

How do you feel about the coach’s challenge era? Is it an error? Or here to stay?


Taylor Jenkins talking with ref

From: Michael Wallace

Sent: Wednesday, November 13, 2019 at 5:28 PM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

I’m mainly against anything that slows the NBA game down to a crawl, and that’s exactly what this overall replay era has done to the game. At the end of the day, I want the correct calls to be made. But I also know there is human error, and that’s part of the process of officiating a fast-paced game like NBA basketball. I’ve heard Jenkins talk about the process in place for how he approaches the challenge option. It sounded far more complicated than it should.

But all that said, coaches should have an avenue for challenging calls they believe were made incorrectly or missed completely. Just put a clock on the entire replay process. If it’s not decided in 60 seconds, move on with the call that was made – or missed – on the floor.

Lang, just when it looked like Gordon Hayward was on the verge of putting those injury concerns and major setbacks behind him, he banged his hand in a collision with LaMarcus Aldridge during a win in San Antonio and suffered a fracture that required surgery. Hayward was playing really good basketball and seemed to finally find a rhythm and fit in Boston after a mostly disappointing first two seasons there. These injuries seem to be piling up across the NBA, especially with contending teams. Eric Gordon is also expected to miss about two months now with a knee injury.

Both the Celtics and Rockets have other stars to carry much of the load, but which Gordon injury is a bigger setback to his respective team: Hayward’s or Eric’s?


Gordon Hayward on the floor

From: Lang Whitaker

Date: Thursday, November 14, 2019 at 9:13 AM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: Re: IMHO

I haven’t thought this much about Gordons since I used to watch “Sesame Street.”

Here’s the thing: Despite losing Hayward, the Celtics are actually kind of rolling, winning 9 in a row as I write this and sitting atop the Eastern Conference. It’s weird: It’s almost as though Kyrie Irving leaving has made them a better team. Meanwhile the Rockets are still playing their weird brand of one-on-one ball centered around Harden and Westbrook, which is excruciating to watch but sort of works, I guess? At least if you want regular season wins?

I guess I’ll go Hayward to answer your query. Eric gives the Rockets another shooter on the wings to knock down kick-outs, but that will always be Harden and Westbrook’s show. For Boston to sustain long-term, they need Hayward to play the way he has been early this season.

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